From September 2010

Could more information mean less knowledge?

I just read Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows – What the internet is doing to your brain. In it he takes you through the history of media, beginning with the earliest scribes – when words ran together because that’s how we talked. Spaces were added after people started reading to themselves to improve cognition. Each advance has altered how we consume media – and changed our brains in the process. The internet today, because of the endless labyrinth of links, clips, and sheer volume of content, has reduced our ability to focus for extended periods of time. In fact, Carr admits it’s made it hard for him to read books – and many other literary types experience this as well. In fact, we don’t read anymore – we scan looking for the key points and move on once we get them.

I do it. You’re likely skipping through this text, looking at the bold before deciding whether to read more. Being a voracious consumer of information, the noise in my head often becomes deafening and I’ve started pruning the blogs I read and things I focus on. Whenever I find myself clicking without focus, I snap out of it and go back to my list of action items to keep me grounded. Otherwise productivity plummets and I fall off the info hamster wheel dizzy.

Spread too thin and you don’t add value to others or yourselves. You simply consume information. What good is that? I’m not advocating  becoming narrow-minded – it’s always beneficial to read subjects outside of your core interests to be well-rounded – but just be aware of whether or not you’re putting your new-found knowledge to use. Does it enhance your life? Does allow you to add value to others? Or just add clutter. I ask these questions both when consuming and creating.

Three key thoughts stood out for me:

  1. More information can mean less knowledge - we’re not going deep, nor synthesizing what we read. He notes how researchers today tend to cite fewer and more recent sources rather than going deep. And stop more quickly when they’ve found the prevailing opinion rather than forming their own conclusions. No longer to we peruse stacks of books in the library and happen upon a long forgotten passage that adds dimension to our thoughts. The connections formed between thoughts may be weaker.
  2. Our brains become calmer and sharper in quiet rural setting versus the city. Your brain relaxes when not being constantly bombarded. I find this true for me, sometimes thinking most clearly when I’m on a walk away from the computer. In fact, simply looking at images affects us: people looking at nature scenes could exert more control over their attention than when looking at busy urban scenes.
  3. The more distracted we are the less empathy and compassion we have for others. The net reduces are ability to contemplate, changing the depth of our emotions and thoughts. There’s concern we’ll lose touch with our human selves at some point. This goes to the heart of effective communication – at home and at work. When we’re not fully present we’re not able to form and maintain strong connections – and have difficulty building meaningful relationships as we skip along the surface.

This is not a call to go backwards. We never will. I certainly don’t want to give up my access to the connectivity the net offers before me. But I want to manage it rather than have it manage me. It’s important to be aware of how the manner in which we gain information and consume media physically alters how we process and communicate and form relationships. And the more distracted we all become, the harder it’s going to be to get others’ attention. Shouting louder from the mountain top isn’t going to work, either. We can only process so much at a time, and we’re currently being taxed to the max.

My takeaway? Carve out time away from technology. Find your solitude. Be present with those you’re with face to face. And listen with intention. Pay attention to emotions – what others might be feeling as well as yourself. You’ll think more clearly. Your brain will thank and reward you. Communication will be more constructive. Wait. Communication might just happen.

Just like the slow food movement, maybe it’s time for the slow info movement.

Specialize. Be Vulnerable. Don’t Panic. We’re all media junkies. And imagine the future of books. It’s my Friday roundup.

I’ve missed the past couple of Fridays due to our user conference last week. Seems there’s always many last minute details that consume your precious time when you’re hosting 500 people face to face. Fortunately we have a wonderful team who all came together to create successful event. We’ll use the learnings from this year to make next year’s even better. That said, I have to share our funniest technology story – in one of our breakout sessions, the presenter plugged their own laptop, inadvertently flipped their presentation upside down. Instead of flipping it back, they turned the projector upside down and ran their session!

Joe Pullizzi has carved out his specialty in content marketing – and extols the benefits of specialization. His key point is that no one differentiates themselves as a generalist. While geared towards marketing executives, the same applies to every business. You have to find out why you matter and to whom. If this post doesn’t do it, read Jack Trout’s Differentiate or Die (Amazon affiliate link).

I read this the other day and reread it again. It’s a powerful post on leadership and why the best leaders may be the most vulnerable. Read it. Bookmark it. And read it again. It’s about how the best leaders are those that aren’t really seeking the power. They set aside ego and lead because they’re compelled into action. I’ll say no more because Lisa Petrilli says it so much better.

Google instant isn’t really going to kill SEO after all. As someone who spends a great deal of time on SEO and PPC, I’ve been watching with interest how Google Instant might affect both. The chatter was deafening almost immediately after they launched it, but I, like many, believe that time will tell what the real impact will be. This post is a great sanity check, I believe. In other words, a change by Google, which most should realize is always a given, doesn’t mean you gotta panic. As the famous British WWII poster urged, Keep Calm and Carry On.

You spend more time consuming media than working or sleeping. Mitch Joel points out this startling fact in this timely post. Just as I’m finishing Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows – What the Internet is doing to our Brains. In short, we’re being rewired to hop, skip and jump our way through and endless labyrinth of information. We devour it nonstop and are losing the ability to focus long anywhere.

I love the printed word. The tactile feel of fine paper and the knowledge contained within. But we all have heard about the demise of print and traditional publishing. Between the Kindle and iPad, the way we buy and consume books is changing. Fast. Although I’ve not yet made the plunge outside of Kindle on my iPhone, the ability to instantly download a book, tag it, share it and search it is enticing. So is the ability to carry a library in my pocket just like my iPod holds my entire CD collection. What are those silver disks anyway? IDEO reimagines the book. Take a look at what the future (Tomorrow?) might hold.

Connecting with 8-year-olds when you’re not Justin Bieber

This is the third year I’m coaching girls’ soccer. I started when they were first graders and hadn’t quite grasped the concept of the game. While they definitely get it this year – and are playing on bigger fields with goalies, it’s a completely different dynamic. We’re finding it harder to get them to pay attention and listen to the coaches. They’re less respectful in many cases. More sassy.

Seems the secret is to keep them constantly moving so they don’t have time for chatter. To wear them out. I started coaching because I thought it would help me become a better manager and leader. I thought it would build patience since effectively communicating with kids is way different than adults.

Right now I’m struggling with the right way to engage with the team. On the one hand, you want them to want to be there. To want to practice and learn. I’m pretty sure they want to be there – but think most of the time they’d prefer to chit chat than focus on skill building. You don’t want to yell them into submission. But if you’re too soft and lenient, they’ll roll right over you. Yelling is rarely an effective means of communication with anyone anyway – not with kids nor your spouse and coworkers. In fact there’s a great book on this for the work place. You have to command respect. It’s a delicate balance. I had it figured out the last two years, but so far, haven’t found that middle ground. They’re simply not much interested in listening to us coaches.

I need to adapt my style – and am working to find out the right style. It’s a challenge and the reason I’m doing this. It’ll make me a better communicator if I can figure it out. How can I instill the right attitude on these 8 year olds? How can I make them want to listen? To pay attention to what we coaches are trying to teach them? Certainly they don’t care that the three of us are racing from work two evenings per week to coach practice. I never thought about that when 8. And how do you know if you’re making a difference?

Same goes with managing people. You have to adapt your style to each person. To find that entry point. The emotional connection. Hire great people and your job is much easier. You can spend your time leading vs. managing and accomplish so much more. Many don’t like to manage people. They hate the politics and HR aspects of it. Gets in their way. Sure, managing those that don’t care is no picnic, but again, it goes with the job.  You do have more leverage here than with kids and customers. Customers can easily go somewhere else.

Engaging with customers and prospects is similar to communicating with these 8 year olds. You cannot control them. They really don’t care what you have to say. They really don’t have time to listen. You have to adapt. You have to find a way to motivate them to part with their valuable time to care about what you have to say. By making their jobs easier. Talking louder will never work. Just adds noise. It’s hard work and requires understanding their customer personas – what makes them tick. What their problems are. Just as I need to do (or at least try) what with these 8 year olds aside from Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa. I need to be kid-centric and wow and delight while teaching Soccer skills just as companies need to be more focused on wowing customers than touting how great they are and operating solely from spreadsheets.

I thought it would get easier as they get older, but am seeing that it’s getting harder. 6 and 7 year olds are very different creatures than 8 year olds. If I can find that way with my other coaches to wow and delight these kids this season, I’ll let you know. My work is cut out for me. But if you have any secrets you want to share about motivating kids, I’m all ears.

The problem with copycat branding

I had the chance this week to meet and talk with a highly respected blogger who’s developed a strong brand for herself. So strong, in fact, that there have been a few others trying to trade on her unique name by using derivations. On the one hand, clearly she’s created a compelling brand if others want to trade on it. Beyond the catchy name, there’s the quality of her writing, observations and strategic thinking. And perhaps some think they may get a jumpstart on the perception of their own brand if they’re mistaken for the association. (I’m speculating here as I’ve not talked with these others, but before meeting her, had stumbled across them and paused briefly).

While there may be no license, necessarily, on such derivations, that other people email her sometimes with confusion on the association, or to comment on how close the name seems is where the problem lies. It’s a highly memorable name and one not easy to forget. Nor easy to pass off as an innocent coincidence when you’re operating in the same niche. Too close an association always looks suspicious.

This goes for any knockoff brand. Imagine if I were interested in starting a shoe company. Perhaps one that made hip athletic shoes. I’d researched the market and come to really like that shoe company in Beaverton. What a great name I think. They’re pretty successful. So I create a new company named Snike. Would that fly? Beyond the fact I’m sure I’d hear from a lawyer or two, how hard would it be for me to EVER mount a successful brand launch? Or get people to not be confused by the name? And if I somehow managed to create products that were better, why would I want the other company to get the credit? If my products were shoddy and I got people to buy them by mistake, do you think they’d return for more? Not likely. Either way, I lose. Only someone looking for a short-term boost might think this was wise.

Or maybe I wanted to create my own mp3 player and started a tech company with a friendly human name. Perhaps I’d call it Pear because there’s that other tech company with a fruity name. So maybe these are extreme examples, but hopefully you get the point.

What I find curious is the rationale for copying a successful brand – particularly in the blogosphere. Such a close association makes it really hard to stand on your own. To be recognized for your contribution. Your voice. To successfully differentiate yourself. Why operate in another’s shadow? Why not come up with your own creative, meaningful name that represents what you offer and brand it. Sure, it might take a little work but get it right and you’ll have a fighting chance. Couple your own great name with incredible products and now you’re building a valuable asset. One that’s your own – not trading on someone else’s coattails.

I also had the privilege to hear Bill Rancic speak this week and two things he said resonated with me about why some people succeed and others fail.

  1. Successful people make decisions. Right or wrong, they choose. They don’t get hung up on analysis paralysis.
  2. They execute. Many people talk about their great ideas, but few really execute. Or execute well. Because that’s really hard work.

Respect the successful brands around you in your space. But create your own. With your own voice and personality. Copy someone else and you just made it really hard to earn trust and gain credibility. No matter how good your content might be. You’ve planted the seed of doubt in the reader’s mind: is this person’s thoughts their own or also ‘borrowed’. The online world is already crowded with me too chatter.

Successful bloggers work really hard on their content – consistently giving their readers valuable content and advice – for free. I don’t post often enough here because I need to invest more focused time organizing my thoughts and getting them down. The blogger I reference above meticulously researches her content and often spends 6 hours crafting a great post. You can tell she executes. Consistently. You gain a lot of points if you cite your sources, giving credit where it’s due. How would you feel if the tables were turned? And the hard work you poured into your content was simply ‘borrowed’.

Copycat branding in the online world especially is a lose-lose proposition. It may seem a convenient short cut in the near term, but it’s not worth the damage to your reputation or lost connections with those you’ve copied. Nor does it allow you to differentiate yourself long-term as someone to respect and support.

Five for Friday, September 3

How Social Media saved Cisco $100,000 on a product launch. This is a great case study showing the positive ROI companies are looking for with Social Media. It’s no longer just fluffy conversation about what you had for lunch. You can measure it. You can integrate it into your marketing tool kit. But first, you must understand how it works. How people (i.e. your customers and prospects) use it. And how they want you to use it to talk with them before rolling out your strategy.

Jeremiah is always a worthy read. And this is perhaps the best overview I’ve seen on how social media fits in with traditional marketing tactics. Yes, there’s still a big role for these tactics. Social Media is another tool.

I still hear how Twitter is a waste of time. And questions on what could it be good for as “I don’t want to tell people what I had for lunch.” I understand how people who haven’t engaged on Twitter feel this way. It looks like a time waster. But anyone who knows me, knows how much I value Twitter for the connections you can make and the information sharing taking place in the various ‘neighborhoods’ as @shelisrael talks about in his book Twitterville. But did you know it’s also a great search marketing tool? Read on to find out how!

Developing creative that gets results today is not so much about the big idea, but the little things you can do to enhance conversion. And that requires a shift in thinking argues Mitch Joel. It’s really time to embrace the wealth of data available from the web to create campaigns that resonate with your audiences. Or you can settle for creating useless noise and wasting that shrinking marketing budget. Sure, pure creatives might resist, but savvy ones will embrace the constraints that force them to be even more creative. Me? I’m geeking out on all of this data.

Are you a digital athlete? I haven’t thought of it this way, but like how Adam Cohen packages the basic tools required to become one. A message I get – and believe in – is that you must be nimble because the digital landscape is always evolving. Which the greatest athletes always are.