Better Communication for All: Must Know Phrases – Part 1

The key to success is not technology; although in today’s markets it typically plays some role. None the less, it’s still not the key. Nor is the key to success having the greatest idea ever; there are probably more exceptional ideas than there are stars in the sky. Innovation? Over-rated. Passion, dedication and execution? Oh. Now we’re getting warmer.

We are closer to the heart of the matter because regardless of what you might think the keys are, those contributors sit on the same foundation. The foundation for success is:

Culture + Communication + Collaboration

The best organizations understand the value of C+C+C, and are forever trying to curate and encourage it. A great idea without the proper support of C+C+C is probably doomed. Also, notice I referred to C+C+C as “it.” That’s because when properly assembled the whole (i.e., “it”) becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Just the same, if one is compromised, the other two will be negatively affected as well. C+C+C equals one.

Most importantly, above all else, C+C+C is about people. People make up your organization. You market and sell to other people. Put aside all the hype (e.g., innovation will bring you business salvation) and we’re left with one of life’s few absolute truths—cliche, yes—but still true: People make the world go round. In short, you can’t have innovation without C+C+C. You can’t have innovation without the right people brought together, at the right time, in the right way.

A robust set of tools for communication is what separates humans from the other creatures on God’s great earth. However, with power also come responsibility. Communication ain’t easy. Begin human is a full-time job; at least for me it is. No one will accuse me of being a great communicator. I try. I get it wrong more than I’d like to admit. We all do, don’t we? What I’m trying to say is: Within the context of C+C+C, Communication is the foundation of Culture and Collaboration. Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Ironically, much of this came up, in some form, during a series of lunch and post-work conversations I had with a trusted colleague. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I said to myself, as I’m fond of doing, “There’s got to be a better way.” A day or so later, while taking the train to NYC for a couple of meetings with clients, I sketched out a checklist that became the basis for this mini-series: Better Communication for All. Naturally, I want to share my finding with others. I hope you’re wanting to collaborate on this as well.

Please note: These are in no particular order. For now let’s get the ideas on the table, from there were can refine and reorder.

• “I see it differently.”

Often, in the course of a conversation, when we see a point to push back on we almost naturally default to, “I disagree with you,” or even “I think you’re wrong.” These are words of division. They don’t foster resolution. They fuel tension and bitterness.

Instead, “I see it differently” allows you to make your case without making it adversarial and personal (i.e., directed at the other person). Yes, you can dive into the minutiae of facts and figures later, but lead with your open-arms contribution first. Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Also, this simple phrase gives you a fail-safe should further discussion determine that you were wrong to say they were wrong. It’s easier to save face by saying, “Oh. I see it more completely now. Thanks. Yes, let’s…” Back peddling from “you’re wrong” might not be so easy. We are human, and things do go wrong sometimes. I’ll eventually cover that later in this series.

• “What do you mean by _____?”

We all know the knock on assume. Yet how often do we try to cut conversational corners and automatically fill in the blanks when clarity wanes? So rather than fall victim to assume, “What do you mean by” gives the message sender the benefit of the doubt. Assuming can be dangerous; while clarity mitigates human communication risk.

In addition, when a conversation escalates and perhaps even gets heated, this question slows things down. It not only offers the opportunity for clarity, but it can be used as a subtle way to derail the current trajectory. Perhaps there really is a misunderstanding somewhere along the line?

Who knows, it’s possible the sender isn’t completely sure either. “What do you mean by” is a great tool that buys needed pause, as well ensures everyone is closer to being on the same verbal page, so to speak.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “What I mean by ____ is…”

• “Why do you believe _____?”

As human to human communication goes, expressing what is relatively routine. Much of our day to day interactions are of the what variety. Ordering food or coffee is a what. On the other had, as they say, the devil is in the details. In the spirit of not assuming, often it helps to understand the why of the other(s). Perhaps their ideas are based on misinformation? Perhaps you’re trying to sell them on Z when their major concerns are P and Q? Perhaps they literally missed a memo?

On a more fundamental human level, done correctly, asking why also extends the olive branch of empathy. It’s taking the extra step to develop a deeper understanding and connection. Why is personal. But be careful, you don’t want to be interpreted as questioning the basis of their input. The purpose here is to build bridges (i.e., understanding and common ground), not walls.

Always be mindful not to assume you know why they are thinking what you think they are thinking.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me explain. I believe _____ because…”

• “Can you show me an example?”

There’s a reason we have the cliche: A picture paints a thousand words; as well as: Seeing is believing. Some human minds are better than others with the abstract. And nearly all prefer real over theory. When in doubt, ask for an example.

Here’s a simple example. (See what I did there?) Someone says, “We want the logo to be blue.” Well, there’s sky blue, royal blue, midnight blue, etc. Asking for examples can eliminate a lot of guessing. Nothing is more exact than an example.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me show you an example…”

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s big. Bigger than the Super Bowl big. The it is The World Cup. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I believe that football / futbol / soccer is much like life itself. You’re not always moving forward to reach the goal. Sometimes you’re on the defensive. Sometime things are slow, sometimes fast. Sometimes what looks like bad news suddenly turns good. It challenges both the body and the mind. In short, football is fluid. It’s like a chess match. A thinking man’s / woman’s sport. A creative man’s / woman’s sport.

As you probably already know, this year’s winner was Germany. And while it’s too early to declare a dynasty there are some well known “tricks” that went into Germany’s process for achieving this massively difficult milestone.

  1. You need a plan. Accidents rarely result in victory—on or off the pitch.
  2. You need a team. Be mindful of the fact that a collection of individual players does not necessarily mean you have a team. As Jim Collins said in the classic Good To Great: “Get the right people on the bus.”
  3. Don’t be star struck. Germany has some serious footballers but none draw the same level of media attention as some of the sport’s (individual) superstars. It’s worth mentioning that Spain—the winner of the 2010 World Cup—had a very similar approach in terms of team development.
  4. Good things come to those who wait. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. In order to be successful you have to be willing to grind it out. Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina for The World Cup 2014 was 14 years in the making. Yes, 14 years!
  5. Be humble. From the three articles listed below if nothing else please be sure to read: “Mesut Özil donates World Cup winnings to 23 children’s surgeries in Brazil.” You’ll be touched, impressed, and ideally also inspired.

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

A Simple New Year’s Resolution for a More Successful 2012

We’ve all done it. We aim high and mean well but end up not reaching our own expectations. Sometimes it’s frustrating being human. Yet there’s got to be a better way. And there is!

As the story goes, a couple weeks back I came across an (audio) interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson (author of “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently”) via Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast. From there I drilled down and around a bit and found an HBR article that I presume to be more or less a synopsis of her book. Then within that article were links out to other supporting articles.

When all was said and done I found the whole bundle insightful, relevant and (given the time of the year) highly share worthy.

The simple New Year’s resolution is this: resolve to consume these six articles. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did. Don’t panic, they’re all bite sized.

“What Successful People Do Differently”—An interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz

“Get Your Goals Back on Track” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List” by Peter Bregman

“How to Teach Yourself Restraint” by Peter Bregman

Dig in. I hope you find this collection as valuable as I do. Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Are you a big duck or a small talker?

In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.

I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.

It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.

The bottom line…

If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.

The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.

In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.

Fast. Cheap. Right. Pick Two and a Half

Anyone who has gotten within ten feet of a project of any size understands the classic adage:

—Fast

—Cheap

—Right

Pick two.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you go with Fast and Cheap. Fair enough, not every effort demands or allows for the premium package. F & C is also a sign of the times. Budgets are tight and markets are as fluid as ever. However, not picking Right does not mean you should abandon all sense of best practices and PM common sense.

For example, let’s say you decide to refinish a chair. The ultimate solution would be to take it to a professional with the proper experience and equipment and let him/her work their magic. Your next choice might be to get the right equipment yourself (or borrow it from a friend), buy a “Furniture Refinishing for Dummies” book and slot out a weekend to get the job done. But maybe its a chair of not much value and all the top choices would be overkill.

Again, fair enough. You just want to give the old chair some new life. None the less you probably shouldn’t ignore all sense of Right.  At the very least you should sand the chair down a bit, give it a thorough washing and possibly slap on at least one coat of primer before you repaint. Deciding to completely bypass Right and just paint the chair “as is” in most cases would be a mistake. The type of mistake that you will eventually regret. The type of mistake that will just have to be redone again the minimal Right way.

On a more practical level, let’s say you want a website and you want it Fast & Cheap. These things happen sometimes and you have to deal with the cards in front of you. But that doesn’t mean all sense of Right should be abandoned. In fact, in order to keep Fast & Cheap on target there still needs to be a minimum commitment to Right.

Here are a few rules I’ve come up with that will help your Fast & Cheap project shine:

Fast & Cheap Rule #1 – Remove as many unknowns as quickly as possible. This is essential. Looking at the map while you’re flying forward is dangerous. For example, if your core team is familiar with web host X, CMS Y and copy writer Z then stick with those. Unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason to switch horses then stick with what you know as much as possible. If someone doesn’t have a working understanding of a particular tool or element, get them up to speed ASAP.  Mitigating unnecessary distractions is essential to efficiency. Avoid shiny new objects and any other unknowns as much as possible.

Fast & Cheap Rule #2 – Define the destination as quickly and as tightly as possible. There’s no sense embarking on a high-speed journey if you don’t know where you’re going and what provisions you might need to get there. Running fast for the sake of running fast might be fun in grade school gym class but it’s no way to get a quick & dirty project done on time and within budget. Be smart! Figure out where you’re going before you turn the key and stomp on the gas. One or two wrong turns at high-speed could result in undesirable and costly consequences

Fast & Cheap Rule #3 – Ask Why. Then ask What. Before you ask How. Obviously, closely related to Rule #2. For example, don’t start talking about the website’s design until there’s an agreed upon Why and What. For iproperty development the boilerplate I also recommend using is:

1) Who is the target audience?

2) What are their expectations?

3) What content and functionality is necessary to meet those expectations?

4) How does that correlate to the wants and needs of the brand?

Again, it doesn’t matter how Cheap and Fast you’re moving if you get to the wrong destination. It doesn’t matter if you pick a website design that looks nice if it’s ultimately inappropriate for the Why and What. You could get lucky. But why rely on luck when investing in a bit of time can do the trick? Yes, there is no doubt design is important. But its true value exists within the context of the business needs (i.e., Why and What). If you believe that defining the Why and What is too overwhelming then proceed at your own risk. Some might say, “We can’t afford the time for that.” No actually, the reality is you can’t afford the risk of not filling in these blanks. Ultimately the time invested now will be a bargain to what you pay later if you don’t get lucky.

Fast & Cheap Rule #4 – Listen to your able and trusted resources. Let’s say you take your car to the shop because you’re having a problem. The mechanic takes the car for a short drive and then puts the car up on the lift to have a closer look. Shortly thereafter he/she comes back and says you need services X, Y & Z. Do you say no thanks and then specify he/she replace A and/or B? Or do you ask for an explanation and then more likely than not proceed as recommended? At the risk of repeating myself a slight bit, unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason not to listen to your able and trusted resources then stick with what they recommend as much as possible. A quality resource is not going to speak just to be heard. If the idea sounds feasible and their explanation reasonable then follow their path.

Fast & Cheap Rule #5 – Hit the expectations reboot button. Once you’ve run through the previous steps, do a quick loop back around and share what’s been documented in order to get everyone—resources and stakeholders—on the same page. It’s going to be worth reminding everyone that the meal is closer to fast-food than it is white table cloth fine dining. Even so, someone at some point is going to be tempted to discuss the wine list. Simply put, there is no wine list in this phase. Therefore, start a list for future enhancements. Not only will this list eventually come in handy, but it will also be a polite and positive way to say no not now.

Conclusion – Pardon me if this sounds a bit direct and honest but Fast & Cheap is not an acceptable excuse for being mindless. Sometimes cutting corners is necessary. But doing so with no seat belt on and while wearing a blindfold is foolish at best. Some times it’s necessary to be fast and be cheap but there’s no need to top that off with a stinky pile of hasty.

A Final Note – While this article focused on Fast & Cheap, the truth is many of these concepts apply no matter what two and a half options you pick from the list. And while you can’t have it all, the fact is there are smart ways to get the most from what you do have. All you have to do is look and think before you leap.

Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld.com, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Make Your Next Website Your Best Website

“Tips for Successfully Managing a Website Redesign” by Phil Edelstein (WebsiteMagazine.com, February 2011). At this point there are plenty of organizations that are on their second, third or maybe even fourth iteration of their website. What’s interesting is that there still seems to be a noticeable number who are not satisfied with the results they are getting. This article on Website Magazine makes a number of good points. However, I’d like to take a moment to supplement and refine Phil’s recommendations.

First, let’s start with the idea of redesign itself. To simplify what is now such an essential tool to be just a matter of “design” is understating the context and significance of the matter. While I’m certainly not going to belittle the skills and education of my design colleagues and friends, developing an effective iproperty in 2011 takes much more than attractive aesthetics. I would suggest using a term like “re-launch” or “re-architecting” over the misleading “redesign”.

Once you have embraced that shift in mindset, inventory your business needs, expectations and short and long term objectives. Phil suggest you figure out what you want. Frankly, I’m not a fan of wants. There are plenty of organizations that got what they wanted but not what they needed. I firmly believe the goal is to figure out what you need.  Remember, this next investment isn’t just about design. This means that your resources—both on your internal team, as well as anyone from the outside you might engage—should be capable of defining and discussing business needs. It is also ideal that you have some internal discussion and agreement about needs before you reach out to anyone else. The list you compile will serve you well when you’re building your team.

However, don’t do too much before you pull in a vendor. Ideally the vendor you hire should be able to add value by being both objective as well as offering new ideas. They shouldn’t just listen and take notes (i.e., about your wants). They should be able to participate and help you move past wants and define your needs. The better your business needs are understood and universally agreed upon, the more likely they are to be met. There’s no panacea here other than communication and collaboration. This step is essential so don’t focus on how long it takes. Focus on getting it right, whether that’s two weeks or two months.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the idea of wireframes and how that fits into the process prior to actual design. I will say, yes do wireframe. Even if they are sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. Nowhere is it written that wireframes have to be formalized in Visio or a similar tool. The point is to take your needs and render them visually without being distracted by a formal design. Sure, there are some great tools for testing the actual interactions but let’s not go there today.

At some point things will progress and you’ll be ready to discuss and define the design slice. Some of you might scold me for saying this but don’t be afraid to look at the gazillion templates and themes that are already available. I’m not suggesting you purchase some generic off the shelf design. I agree that brand and branding is important. However, I am suggesting that it makes sense to collect multiple reference points and give your creative proper direction. They should have to start in a complete void. Be sure to look at site in other industries as well. Quite often you can pick up an idea or two that will help. And finally, when evaluating a design don’t look at it from your perspective, look at it how others are going to see and use it. Often you might be making a first impression. For example, the flashy Flash intro might be cool but those get tired pretty quick.

Most of all, be available, be willing to participate and communicate, and never lose sight of the fact that you are making an investment. This isn’t going to just happen overnight, nor is it going to be all fun and games all the time. Chances are good you’ll have other priorities you’ll have to juggle. There will be some difficult decisions and probably even some rattling of swords. But this is serious business with what should be a fairly healthy budget investment behind it. Don’t underestimate the need for teamwork, agility, participation and communications. Ultimately, you’ll only get out what you’re willing to put in.

In most cases a website is marketing and/or selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might an idea or a non-profit’s mission. But ultimately, it’s selling. In order to get your ideal salesperson and/or marketing manager you’d invest a reasonable if not significant amount of time. You’d be thorough and diligent. You wouldn’t just take the first person that walks in off the street. Nor would you just throw your new hire at a desk and say, “Okay, get to work.” Start your relaunch process with the hope of hiring the employee you never had but always wanted. There’s no doubt that’s going to take more than just “design.”

80% is the new 100%

“Use the 80-20 Rule to Increase Your Website’s Effectiveness” by Oleg Mokhov (SixRevisions.com, 2 September 2010). While we apply the rule somewhat differently, Oleg and I are certainly in agreement. It’s the ultimate rule to follow because it can be applied to everything, not just web sites.

Three other good rules that all play well together are:

— Divide and conquer.

— You can’t be everything to all people all the time.

— How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

For example, if your business is about a particular set of core services, focus on communicating those 80% of the time. when sending an email blast target it such that it connects with the interests and expectations of 80% of your list. If the web site is about selling those services then put 80% of your time and effort into defining those pages. That’s not to say shouldn’t trust your gut and igore your hunches. Just be fully aware that you are doing so when you do.

If you get distracted by the 20% you will ultimately only dilute the 80% that really matters. Stay focused! As a general rule, as you are fine tuning X, shoot to get it 80% r complete and correct. When that dust settles, go back to the remaining 20% and attack 80% of that. And so on, and so one. As a result of focusing 100% on only 80% you will  be more effective. In addition, you and your team will  have more senses of accomplishment more often. Good motivators are always a good thing.

The bottom line is that in all likelihood you will  build a customer base such that 20% yields 80% of your business.  80% of your team will be happy 80% of the time, and so on. Now if only life were so easy.

It’s like building a house

“The Requirements Payoff” by Karl Wiegers (DrDobbs.com via Information Week, 9 July 2010). As is tradition around here, don’t let the subject matter fool you. This is not just about building systems. The lessons here can be applied across the board. We are all familiar with:

— Look before you leap.

— Measure twice, cut once.

— Do it right the first time.

— Haste makes waste.

The one caveat here is that Karl is focused on user requirements, when the focus should be business needs. Defining what’s wanted (is easy) and defining what’s needed (not so much so) is not the same thing. Being human, we’re all guilty of letting emotions get in the way, eh? The focus needs to be thorough and objective. Not some pie in the sky brain dumping.

In short, have a plan. Then review that plan to ensure the journey you are planning will get you to where it is you are wanting to go. Opps, I meant needing to go.

What is the sound of one man clapping?

Collaboration. Networking — Social or otherwise. Crowdsourcing. Team building. Etc. Etc. Etc. Sound familiar?

As it was once said:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)

Here are three intriguing perspectives on technology, islands and life as we know it in 2010:

“Interview: Jaron Lanier – Why Crowdsourcing Isn’t Always Wise” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 25 March 2010)

Your book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, challenges the value of crowdsourcing. What’s wrong with the hive mind on the Internet?

It does work sometimes: A crowd of buyers sets a price in a marketplace. But it only works if you want output of a single result. Otherwise, you get design by committee. You get features added to services without anyone looking at the whole complex picture of what you’re trying to build.

“The Grill: Andrew McAfee” by Sharon Gaudin (ComputerWorld.com, 5 April 2010)

What are the best ways that businesses are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology?

They’re taking advantage of it in a few different ways. They’re using it to let people broadcast their expertise: I’m going to tell the organization what I’m doing, what I know and what I’m good at. I’m not filling out fields in a database. I’m doing this by blogging. That lets me narrate my work.

— “Build Up Your Influence” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 17 March 2010)

Cora Carmody, Jacobs Engineering, “Whether you want to influence your own team or an external partner, you must show them they are important to you.”

And what tools and approaches do you use to make you work life and your home life a better place?

Staying on task

“How to Get More Work Done In Less Time” by Lexi Rodrigo (FreelanceFolder.com, 16 April 2010).Time, there’s never enough is there? As, “More with less” continues to be the mantra of the moment, the usage of this fixed resource becomes even more critical to success. So whether you freelance or not, Lexi has shared a worthy set tips. Hopefully you have the time to read them.

While you’re there, see also: “10 Productivity Tips That Work Surprisingly Well” by Ritu.

More is less. Less is better. But more is not better.

“E-mail is Making You Stupid” By Joe Robinson (Entrepreneur Magazine, March 2010). Funny, wasn’t technology supposed to make us all more productive? But it can. Just take a few minutes to step away from the Facebook updates and focus on this article. Great stuff! Especially helpful is Joe telling the truth about multitasking. Not only is it overrated, it’s actually unproductive.

As you’re walking, chew on this:

The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously.

In short, it’s a quality issue. Focusing on less and completing those tasks before moving on will actually yield more.  Trying to do it all at once is a mistake. The human brain is wired to have a limited span of control. Overstep that bound and output and quality actually drop.

You should find this useful as well:

E-mail multiplies like rabbits, each new message generating more and more replies. Want fewer distractions? Send fewer e-mails. Here are some helpful rules.

— Turn off all visual and sound alerts that announce new mail.

— Check e-mail two to four times a day at designated times and never more often than every 45 minutes.

— Don’t let e-mail be the default communication device. Communicating by phone or face-to-face saves time and builds relationships.

— Respond immediately only to urgent issues. Just because a message can be delivered instantly does not mean you must reply instantly.

— Severely restrict use of the reply-all function.

— Put “no reply necessary” in the subject line when you can. No one knows when an e-conversation is over without an explicit signal.

— Resist your reply reflex. Don’t send e-mails that say “Got it” or “Thanks.”

— Use automatic out-of-office messages to carve out focused work time, such as: “I’m on deadline with a project and will be back online after 4 p.m.”

Go team!

“Teamwork: It’s About Trust, Not A Technique” interview of Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene by Jonathan Erickson (Dr. Dobbs, 20 February 2010).While this interview/discussion centers about programming teams, the idea certainly apply to all teams.  The most interesting point was:

Dr. Dobb’s: Can tools alone turn an ugly team into a beautiful one?
Stellman: A good team tool can help a good team be better. But if you’ve got a team that’s deeply flawed, just adding a tool won’t fix the problem. At best, it will help you make mistakes faster.

Also from Dobb’s was “Team Building Goes Viral” by Jerry Tubbs (21 February 2010). It’s another quick read with the biggest piece of the take away pie coming from this list:

7 Key Factors: Effective Development Teams Start Here

1. Common Purpose Get everyone on the same page.
2. Commitment Do what’s necessary to get the job done.
3. Trust Establish trust,because it’s mandatory even when you don’t always agree.
4. Understand The Process Master the tools and processes before coding begins.
5. Communication Share knowledge and information constantly.
6. Resources Have adequate resources at the outset so team can focus on the project, not the tools.
7. Leadership Ensure leaders are in place to make technical or business decisions.

In a word… Brilliant!

Seven strategies you need to unforget

“Keep Business Cooking” by Tony Conway, CMP (Sante Magazine, Holiday 2009). Too much to do? Too little time? While this quick refresher doesn’t look to cure your time management ills, Tony does lay down seven simply great ideas to help you regroup and recharge. There might not be much new here but that’s alright. Quite often the tried and true of keeping it simple can be the “new black”. In other words, sometimes it’s the forgotten fundamentals that need to be unforgotten.

Sounds like a plan, man

“Using Checklists to Prevent Failure – Interview of Dr. Atul Gawande” by Harvard Business IdeaCast (Havard Business Review, 22 January 2010). This 15+ minute audio interview is going to save you hours, if not days as well as avoid excessive stressful moments. A classic case of what should be obvious and second nature is really a handy reminder. Thanks doc!

In a nut shell: Think ahead, develop a plan, keep it simple, write it down,  communicate, get and keep the rest of the team on the same page, avoid getting bumped off track by refering to the plan but be flexible.

Further proof that more often than not best practices are not rocket science.

Everybody in the pool

Depending on where you fall on the Geek IQ scale, you may or may not have heard about Google Wave (http://Wave.Google.com). The buzz around this beta release has been building over the last few weeks. Some love it. Some don’t. And most seem to be somewhere in between. While it’s too early to pass judgment my prediction is that trend will build towards love it.

Google’s pitch line is that Wave is what email would be if it were invented today. In a Made to Stick sense, that’s probably an accurate and easy to consume marketing pitch. But as user friendly as the email reference might be, Wave is not email. The analogy to the postman/woman doesn’t hold water very long. Wave is a multi-vectored communications and collaboration platform that excels in real time, and is still better than email even when it’s not. It’s a bit clunky right now in implementation but the theory behind it, simple as it might be, is stunning.

Ultimately, Wave is a collaboration tool, and collaboration depends on bodies. Where as email’s effectivenss degrades as more people get added to the To: list (i.e., the famous Reply Alls from hell), Wave increase in value as your network of collaborators grows. Unfortunately, currently Wave is a limited, invite only, beta. So unless your fellow collaborators also have Wave accounts then Wave, as it stands today, is obviously not going to be very effective.

However, as Google lets more people use Wave the more Wave’s value will increase. And thus the trend towards more people loving it. What do you think?



Multitasking is overrated

“Staying Productive in the Information Age” by Sharon Lowenheim (New York Enterprise Report magazine, November 2009). We are all trying to do more with less. More and more work with less time and less budget to do it. Quality, value and efficiency continue to be the mantras of the moment. Doing it all might not be possible, so doing the right things becomes the next best choice.

Truth be told, there’s not much new in Ms. Lowenheim’s suggestions but a friendly reminder on the topic of productivity isn’t going to hurt either. The best bit might actually come in the last paragraph:

Don’t multitask. Every time you switch tasks, your brain has to close out one task and boot up the other, resulting in lost time. Trying to do two things at once ultimately takes you longer and will produce substandard results. Instead, use your prioritized task list to guide your activities, and work on one thing at a time.

There is a reason why a production line is a production line. The human mind does better when it’s focused on less, not more. That is, quality and completion, not quantity and loose ends. Unfortunately, multitasking is probably one of the most overrated must-haves in business.

Finally, there are two other suggestions we like to add. One, be sure to take breaks. Aside from needing focus, the brain also needs to catch its breath from time to time. Less can in fact be more. Two, find work that you enjoy. Some say you don’t have to love your job. That’s bull! In terms of waking hours a person probably spends more time at work than he/she does with their kids. Is it alright not to love them too? Probably not.

Yes, work hard — and smart. But don’t sell yourself short. Love what you do and who you do it with.

Jam on it

Start here: “Building a collaboration strategy” by Rob Koplowitz (KMWorld.com, 28 October 2009).

And you’ll be glad you ended up here: “Wiki tools are not all the same” by Tony Byrne (KMWorld.com, 28 October 2009).

The power to simplicity ratio of wikis is amazing. When it comes to true collaboration on a project a wiki beats email just about every time. By their very nature wikis  keep eveyone on the same page, literally.

To Mr Byrne’s list (at the end of his article) we’d like to add the offerings from PB Works (www.PBWorks.com) and Zoho (www.Zoho.com). These might not be the perfect fit for all projects but in terms of quickness in getting up and running, as well as simple ease of use, they’re both quite efficient.

Survival of the capable

“Interview: Andrew McAfee — Writing the book on Enterprise 2.0″ by Hugh McKellar (KMWorld.com, September 2009). The book might not be due until December (from Harvard Business School Press) but this interview should help you to warm up to Mr. McAfee’s ideas now. Here’s a free sample:

HM: So, you’re quite confident that the Enterprise 2.0 movement is a fundamental shift in the way that organizations can share knowledge and gain collective intelligence and ultimately increase the bottom line?
McAfee: I am very convinced of that. I am also convinced that not all organizations are going to share that view. Even if they do, not all of them are going to be equally capable at deploying the new technologies and the new styles of collaboration and getting people to change the way they work. However, for the ones that actually can get through that process, I think some brilliant capabilities await them.

So either you’ll have it, or you won’t. And if you don’t then don’t expect your struggle to get any easier. What’s it going to take? Read the interview.