Monday, June 10, 2013

It's All About the People

With the evolving efficiency of technology...

With the reliance on email...

With buying from submitted offers and proposals...

With the voicemail 'barrier' to talking directly...

It is easy to lose sight of:

It's the people, not the paper. A face-to-face visit beats a pile of paper to get the right result.

Getting the News

The New America Foundation hosted Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen to speak about the New Digital Age, sharing their views about the growing effect of the internet on individuals, nations, and the global community. One interesting topic was a forward look at where we will get news in the future.

When I was growing up, most of my friends' parents read two newspapers each day to get the news – this was before television; radio spotlighted Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite, but mostly was 5-minutes of highlights on the hour.

Television entered the scene as 'moving picture newspapers', evolving to at least two broadcasts per evening – dinnertime and bedtime - with the news anchor reporting facts and offering a commentary view of the story. After a while, families dropped one newspaper, relying more on the broadcasts from ABC, CBS, NBC, and some local newscasts.

Cable added explosive growth in news programming with an emphasis on being 'first on the street' and digesting the story into soundbites. Quick and easy access to the distilled news was readily available all the time – an enticing alternative to spending time reading and watching the news.

Blogs have expanded the field even more – individuals share news, comments, and opinions on a wide variety of topics of current importance and have replaced paper and television sources for the connected community.

Recent events demonstrate the significance of individuals in the news process - phone camera images, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media updates are scooping other sources in 'getting to air' first.

Schmidt and Cohen prognosticated the changes will continue to morph, with individuals (amateur and professional) as the source of the 'on-the-scenes' instant coverage and the traditional news organizations offering verification and fact-checking of initial reporting.

Like deja vu, readers are again seeking multiple sources and drawing their own conclusions about what information to retain and discard. Traditional news sources are simply data points instead of the definitive source of news.

As in education, the developing skill is effective filtering of a growing volume of inputs; the result is knowledge and a goal is it's practical application (let's make something useful).

Save the Date

Nowdays there's a tool for this – an app for that – and web platforms for doing tasks that had required several people many hours to accomplish. is a web-based system which takes the drudge out of holding an event. Load in a contact list and it takes just minutes to distribute an announcement of the event, send reminders, print check-in lists, and name tags. Attendees can register on-line and click to load the event info on their calendar.

Peter Corbett manages the monthly meetings of DC Tech Meetup with this platform for about 1,000 attendees. For this group, the Meetup site serves as a website with information about the group, events, pictures, and member profiles.

Corbett sets up meetings on Meetup 6-months or more in advance – at times some details are TBD (to be determined) – the regulars register and load the date on their calendar as a placeholder for the event (easy to update later when plans are final).

This method is handy for the event organizer – the date and known info is distributed to all, and the recipients can respond and click to update their calendar – simple and easy – fewer cracks for things to fall through in finalizing the event.

Isn't this more effective than an email asking you to save the date?

How to become wise in 5 minute increments –Rainmakers.

Brainstorming or A Scavenger Hunt

Michael Starobin – 1AU Global Media, LLC gave a brilliant presentation about creativity in leadership at the Leadership Breakfast of Maryland recently.

One question he asked: 'brainstorming' – is this a creative exercise?

And offered an observation: “it stinks.”

WOW! This is popular exercise for organizations – business and otherwise – all you need is a flip chart to record what the group is saying. The facilitator writes what's been said, sometimes asking for clarification.

Unfortunately, the initial results resemble a marching band that has no leader and no practice, so each member does their own thing. Chaos!

IF the group gets to problem solving, it is likely to be rushed in the final 30 minutes of the session and may not be addressing the real problems at all.

Years ago I was meeting with key managers about upgrading our network and computers and trying to figure how to get the biggest bang for the buck. Money was an issue (of course) but productivity was waning due to network/hardware failure. My brainstorming group was moving steadily to a three year phase-in of complete replacement, funded from cash flow, when another manager stuck her head in the door to see what we were up to. Hearing we were working on the problem of updating the network without sufficient funds, she asked if we had considered leasing the software/hardware.

BOING!!! We were solving how to stretch cash, but she saw the problem as investing in productivity and effectiveness. Switching gears, we got all the equipment and solved the right problem as a result of that change in focus.

Isn't it more useful to charge the stakeholders with defining the problem – getting a panoramic view of it from the group. This output is not just a 30,000 foot overview, it includes specifics about how the issues affect different parts of the organization and its processes. That established, a solution to the problem can evolve from the discussion.

Seems logical that defining the problem and seeking a solution is the better why not travel this route?

Problem definition is not fun stuff – it's hard work. And it's risky for the leader or manager to be candid, since solving problems is at the top of their job description – will they be blamed for not doing their job?.

On the other hand, the facilitator and participants enjoy the BS of brainstorming – shouting out first thoughts, coming up with would-be solutions (“what's your first thought – no bad contribution here”), having huge pages of notes taped all over the wall – it's a day of thinking fast, responding verbally, and being agile in direction and movement of the discussion – sounds like that marching band.

Personally, we get better results when we focus on an issue, and ignore the other 'noise' around us. The same applies when a group collaborates to identify and solve problems.

Entertaining experience – watch the Sales Lab Video Channel