In Praise of Short Meetings

There were three messages: safety, inclusion, company performance. In that order. It was all over in about 15 minutes, and we were asked to chat to our colleagues and get to know someone new.

I wasn’t what I expected from a company meeting about annual results, and I wasn’t the only one, some colleagues who are also in their first year with the company were also surprised.

It was brilliant. It was effective. Everything about it spoke of the company’s priorities, and there was lunch.

When was the last time you joined a meeting that covered the promised agenda, inspired you, gave you lunch and finished on time?

Three things to think about when planning a meeting

What is the purpose of the meeting?

Meetings can have different purposes – informing colleagues, making decisions, problem solving, or consulting. Try to keep your meeting to just one purpose, it will make the next questions a lot easier.

Who needs to be in the room?

Steve Jobs famously asked people not specifically needed in a meeting to leave. That makes sense for consultative or decision-making meetings where increasing the number of attendees slows both processes down. However if your meeting is about informing people or problem solving the numbers matter less, and for informational meetings the audience will be somewhat self-selecting.

What is the minimum content?

A meeting is not the place to provide really in depth reporting, people can’t absorb and work with detailed data in a 30 minute time-slot through which everyone will be speaking. So go minimalist on what you present – and provide the resources/data/files later. If you’re using powerpoint create high impact slides and use appendices for the detail. The meeting I mentioned above did use powerpoint with key figures – 2 or 3 data points at most. We all walked out understanding the direction of the company and with the priorities clearly impressed on us.

And one last sneak question; do you really need a meeting? Many decisions can be made without putting an hour on everyone’s agenda. This is one area where time is money and it’s rarely factored into project costs, there are tools out there to help you measure the cost of time spent in meetings, and other tools to help you manage meetings better.

Go for a shorter meeting, your team will thank you for it.

Image: stopwatch via pixabay 

The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test is series of experiments on delaying gratification in children. Researchers tested whether children could delay eating a treat when told that delay would mean an extra treat.

Researchers then followed the children’s development and found that those who had been able to delay gratification for a greater reward had been more successful by various life measures including academic achievements.

Would I have passed the marshmallow test? Easily, I’ve never liked marshmallow. I’d do less well if the temptation involved chocolate, even now.

Can the “Marshmallow Test”  be applied to companies?

There is pressure within companies to meet monthly sales targets, project deadlines, quarterly results – multiple drivers of short-term performance requirements. A company’s strategy should provide a longer arc but the relentless pace of change compresses even this.

Are there companies out there that refuse short term revenue or profit to build long term gain?

Don Pepper identified 3 “small” examples in a Linkedin Post which got me thinking about specific incidents where I’d deferred instant result for a better result in the future.

I came up with three;

  • delayed a high impact project, that had some urgency, until I could get a knowledgeable project manager in place. A good decision.
  • rolled a mobile deployment of an intranet tool into a larger project, thinking that it would be easier to solve the significant security challenges once and the outcome would be a better user experience. A bad decision, two years later it still wasn’t done.
  • turned down an excellent candidate, because I didn’t think it was the right role for him – and hired him a year later for the right role. A difficult, but good decision.

In all cases I feared missing out on an opportunity when I made the decision, in two cases it was a good decision, in one perhaps not. I try not to give into the “fear of missing out” factor, and one way to do that is to imagine what I will think in six months if I say yes, vs saying no. You can also take time to imagine what it will take to deliver if you say yes now – in the first example I had to defend a delay, but had I taken on the project I had no resources for it’s unlikely the project would have been delivered any earlier or any better.

Have you deferred short term benefit for long term gain? If so, what was the eventual outcome?

7 Ways to Get Inspired this Weekend

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With so many people working such crazy hours how do we get inspiration? Here are ten ways you can get some inspiration this weekend.

1 Learn Something New

I’ve become a big fan of podcasts lately, partly because I can listen while I do domestic tasks. Here are a few of my favourites;

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage; a witty take on big science questions, the panel includes experts in the theme of the programme.
  • Click; ranging widely over topics in the digital world, including social and ethical issues.
  • Hidden Brain; more science, more on the human or psychological side.
  • The Broad Experience; women in business, partly discussion on the realities of the gender divide in business and some coaching style advice.

2 Break from Digital

Do something, anything, that doesn’t involve a screen. No TV, computer, phone, or kindle for at least an hour.  Leave your phone at home and go out. Read a book, one made with paper. Bake a cake – get the recipe from a book not a website.

It’s easy to get so absorbed online, there are always more posts to read, more videos to watch, more photos to see. But it is a time sink and it can be bad for our health.

If you struggle to stay off the screen try “gamifying” it, either give yourself a real life reward or try the Forest app, it’s designed as a productivity aid to monitor the time you’re not checking your phone and reward you with virtual trees. But you can also use it to break your phone-checking habit.

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3 Be Creative

And that’s Creative, with a capital C. Take a pottery class, write poetry, paint a portrait, write, paint, pottery, play music, photography find a creative hobby. It does our brains good to use them for something creative and it’s a stress reducer.

One easy way for me to feel a little bit creative is to go for a walk and take photos for Instagram, I love this city and have fun finding new views of it. Plus the walking is exercise. And you can be surprisingly bad at taking photos and it’s all OK on Instagram.

4 Exercise

You knew this was coming! It doesn’t really matter what form the exercise takes, but exercise has benefits beyond physical health. It improves your immunity, lowers your stress, improves your sleep. You know all this. What you might not know is that regular exercise improves your thinking.

5 Music

Years ago I had a neighbour who played the piano after work, somehow it was always Beethoven when he’d had a really tough day. It was Beethoven quite often.  Music can be a de-stressor and it’s good for us in multiple ways.  Listening to some music outside your usual collection – search on YouTube for “classical music for exercise” for playlists of energetic tracks for example.

6 Change Your Surroundings

Best option is a city break; one of the joys of living in Amsterdam is that I’m a train trip away from Cologne, Brussels and Paris, and a short flight from any European city. A couple of days exploring a new city can give you a mental boost. I love Budapest for this – it’s a surprising city, lots to do but somehow not too touristy.

If going away is not an option trying changing up where you do things, take a book to a cafe, take your lap top to the library. Change it up for a new view on your world.

7 Laugh

Every day. Every day.

Laughing can relieve stress, among other health benefits.

For me there are four options;

What’s your “restart” button for new inspiration this weekend?

Image: Idea   |   Daniele Marlenek   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Brand Story

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, was founded by two guys; Ben and Jerry in 1978.  They ran the company until it was bought by Unilever in 2000. They come across as a couple of regular guys, and they were the authentic face of the company for more than 20 years.

In contrast Häagen-Dazs is a name invented to sound Danish, and included maps of Denmark in its original branding.  They’re not the only company to hijack a nationality for their products, Australian Homemade, a chocolate company, was founded in the Netherlands by a Belgian.

Other companies have invented a company backstory to give their company a nostalgic veneer to their company’s branding. The Hollister clothing company rests on a fictitious founder John Hollister Snr, and uses a date of 1922. The company promotes a hippy-ish nostalgia and encourages employees with stories of the founder’s adventures “He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring ‘the works of the artisans that lived there,’ and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919.” The only problem? The guy apparently never existed and the company was only founded in 2009. Does it matter? Teen-aged shoppers don’t seem to care.

Liberty's of LondonIn the 1920s Liberty’s of London built a wonderful mock tudor department store in the heart of London. I’m sure that anyone who thinks about it realises the building is 500 years old, but it does give the company an air of age and stability beyond its establishment in 1875. As creative backstories go it less explicit than creating a founder with an adventurous past.

All the best business books talk about authenticity, all the communications and branding talks about authentic stories. Yet customers are buying a feeling not a truth. So do the brand stories need to feel true or be literally true?

Image: Megaphone  |  FietzFotos via Pixaby  |   CC0

 

Community Manager Appreciation Day

Your online presence is often the first “place” customers go to talk to your company, and the first “place” potential customers meet you. The people managing those communities fulfil a very important role for your company, and there are lots of reasons (I wrote about five) to show your appreciation for them, and Monday is the day to do it.

It’s Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD) on Monday so if you manage community managers here are some ways you could show your appreciation.

1 Say Thank You

Include some specific examples of posts that have been important, significant discussions/events or initiatives that have helped the company. You could, particularly in internal communities, post in your thanks to the community.  You could also make a public notice to go on the water cooler/coffee machine. If you don’t want to do this publicly, an email of face to face thanks also works.

2 High Level Recognition

You community is delivering value to business, find a business leader who can say this in email to your community managers. Many community managers take on the role as an “add on” to their usual job, if this is the case include their managers in the email list.

3 Buy coffee/tea

Not every company has free coffee on tap, your social media/community managers will appreciate the coffee/tea of their choice. Ask the barista to write “thank you” on the cup.

4 Invite them to join the CMAD webathon

The group behind CMAD has a day long programme of speeches and lectures all relevant to the role of a community manager. You can see the whole agenda and sign up on the site.

5 Run Your Own Web Event for Community Managers

I have done this, we ran an online meeting in two sessions (to cover Asian and American time zones), we had expert sessions on webcare, content calendars, and examples from round the world on local challenges (this was the most popular session).  If it’s too late to pull this together for this year how about announcing it on Monday, and making it a showcase for other colleagues to understand the role of the Community Manager.

6 Bring Cake

Yes, I have done this. It might be my colleague’s favourite  😉

If you make a small occasion of cake with coffee and say a formal thank you it’ll be a very personal way of showing your appreciation.

7 Small Gift

Put a card on the community manager’s desk with gift or an appropriate gift voucher inside, your thanks will have more impact if you add a written acknowledgement of specific achievements. If you’re not in the same place look for an email option – there are plenty of online gift voucher options.

8 Join the Community Manager Roundtable

The Community Manager Roundtable has a wealth of resources, training and research that can help your community managers improve their work, and professionalise their role. They can also contribute to the annual survey on the state of community management.

If you’re a member of a community you value take time to post a message thanking your community manager. If you can, ‘@’ their manager in the message to increase the recognition for their hard work.

If you’re a community manager pat  yourself on the back, and take a moment to reflect on how your community has evolved and grown in the last year, then plan one thing you want to improve in your own arsenal of awesome community manager skills.

Big personal thank you to the wonderful community managers I’ve worked with, it’s been a pleasure and I’ve learnt from you all!

Image: Thank You  |  Pierre Metivier  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

Blockchain

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Blockchain is the technology behind cyrptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Namecoin and Titcoin. These currencies work as any other currency in terms of spending them, but their creation is a little differently and relies on cryptography,

When I first heard about bitcoin I was working for a financial services company, and the person telling me was gleefully announcing it would be the end of banks. Lots of things have been touted as the end to banks over the years, this was just the latest. I admit I had a bit of a mental block about it, I couldn’t see how value was encapsulated in the bitcoins – which is probably exactly how people felt when paper money started to be issued by national banks.

It’s a little complicated so here’s the best explanation I’ve been able to find on the internet so far.

(Want to know more? Here’s an even more detailed version from the same expert.)

Blockchain is a distributed decentralised ledger recording transactions. At its heart it provides a mechanism to encode the trust on each side of a transaction.

It’s that documenting of trust that has led to further consideration of the blockchain technology starting with central banks themselves. Blockchain solves two problems for established banks and central banks (1) transactions become faster (2) transactions become more secure. Because the transaction is recorded in a distributed manner, and because the transactions form a sequence, it’s extremely difficult to create a fraudulent transaction.

There are other areas where documenting trust is important, The Economist reports on changes coming to the land register in Honduras that will use a form of blockchain. By distributing the land register in a blockchain system the country will finally have a single land register.  IBM is part of a consortium working on a “hyperledger” that will allow private use of an open distributed ledger to track a variety of transaction. They note that a transaction dispute can take 40 days to resolve, but with an open ledger that time should be reduced.

Using Blockchain to verify contracts, sometimes called “smart contracts” could have uses in multiple industries. In this podcast from the BBC’s “Click” programme they explored the idea of using blockchain in the music industry to codify ownership of music, and enable simple payment.

MIT (who else?) have been looking at using blockchain as a certification mechanism on qualifications and memberships. They’ve written on the background and purpose of this project. If you’re a nice honest person who never lies on their LinkedIn profile you might struggle to see why this is important, however there are lots of CV ‘exaggerations’ out there and it is important to be clear about what qualifications, experience and memberships a person holds when they apply for further education, a job, or enter public office.  In the future our CV may come with blockchain codes to verify our statements.

Lastly governments are examining the potential of blockchain. The UK Government released a report on blockchain technology this year in which they state the potential power it has in government business;

Distributed ledger technologies have the potential to help governments to collect taxes, deliver benefits, issue passports, record land registries, assure the supply chain of goods and generally ensure the integrity of government records and services.

In fact Estonia is there already, their digitally-savvy president, Toomas Hendrik, has overseen significant use of blockchain technologies in securing identity and health records within his country and he’s working for a closer integration with outer countries across Europe.  There’s a broad vision Estonia’s digital programme, and the implementation has simplified a great many processes for its citizens.

In the future some form of blockchain technology will be behind how you access government and financial services. It will be more secure, more able to protect your privacy, and less likely to disruption or loss of data.

Image: Chained  |  Danna § curious tangles  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Book of the Month: Non-Obvious

I have both the 2015 and 2016 editions of this book, it’s not necessary to buy both as the 2016 edition covers everything in the 2015 edition. This is book of the month for May.

Non-Obvious 2016 Edition – How To Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict The Future

By: Rohit Bhargava

This book tries to do two things; teach you how to collect your own trends and secondly discuss the trends they’ve collected and see as important. Maybe I’m too lazy to be a trend curator – I preferred the second part of the book.

In the mass of news it can be challenging to sort out trends for fads, which Bhargava recognises in naming his method “The Haystack Method”. He likens the mass of information to a haystack, but considers the insight you apply to the information to be the needle, and sets out five steps for trend curation.Trend Curation Process

Gathering is simply saving interesting ideas from the mass of content that surrounds his, he prints out the ideas and labels them with a sharpie, finding this easier to work with in the aggregate step than online options. (I’m a fan of online options – Pocket being my current favourite).

Aggregate is grouping the ideas into clusters, looking for broad ideas affecting multiple unrelated industries, perhaps focusing on a human need rather than a technology. Give each group a working title that conveys why the grouping is interesting.

Elevating is looking for the big ideas across your clusters, connecting ideas from different examples and determining which ones represent a shift in business practices. It’s the toughest step, and may result in you disturbing the clusters from step 2.

Naming a trend in a way that is both understandable and memorable. Bhargava often uses word mashups, alliteration and twists to create something that works. Examples in the 2016 edition include “B2Beyond Marketing”,  “Reverse Retail”,  and “The Reluctant Marketer”. I’m generally not a fan of the word mashups.

Prove check that the trend you’ve identified really is a trend. Bhargava looks at the strength of the underlying idea, the impact on behaviour and the potential acceleration of the idea.

In each section he provides tips and tricks to help you follow the process, and provides some examples of how he’s approached each step. Even so the guidance is rather high level, and since the underlying assumption is that you collect ideas and read widely I’m not sure that this really works as  guide.

The second, and larger, part of the book discusses the trends, and this I enjoyed more. Each trend is explained in context, with industry examples and closes with “How to use this trend”, which mostly made me want to do more research.

My two favourite trends for 2016 were I’ll point out a couple of the trends that appealed to me.

Mainstream Multiculturalism

Mainstream multiculturalism

My worlds collide in this one trend, I’ve now spent more of my adult life outside my home country than in it, and I’ve lived in five different countries, my friends are from all over, and speak all sorts of languages so I never really fit the mainstream wherever I am. I think the patterns of migration, the rise of the children of migrants and the increased opportunities all feed into this.

The other side of my life, the geek side, makes this all possible; technology now delivers a range of platforms where anyone can contribute, so we have more “voices” in entertainment.

But the trend goes beyond entertainment, into our food and our politics with Justin Trudeau commenting that the make up of his cabinet, and specifically the gender balance was important “because it’s 2015”.

In “how to use this trend” Bhargava points to new hiring practices, instructing you to hire for unexpected diversity, but is light on the “how”. I saw an interview with a filmmaker recently about building more diversity in films who made the very good point that it’s not enough to just hire diversity, you need to mentor and train and listen to the stories being told.  (I should have written down the filmmaker’s name, I only remember her words!)

Strategic Downgrading

Strategic downgrading
Our consumerist mentality assumes that the new shiny thing is better, that more functions are better, that more data/information is a good thing. But some consumers challenge that, rejecting complicated functionality, or valuing one characteristic over all others or favouring single function devices.

Farmers apparently are rejecting the most technologically advanced tractors, favouring instead a more robust model, perhaps one that is easier to use and easier to fix.

Consumers valuing privacy may choose the “Blackphone”, which puts privacy first. There are a number of “un-smartphones” out there with no internet functionality and no camera – but battery life greater than 24 hours.

I could read e-books on a laptop, a tablet or my phone, I don’t, I choose to read either paper books or on my kindle, because when I read I want zero distractions. We’ve recently seen a rise in sales in print books, perhaps as people rediscover the joy of being absorbed in a book and rejected the screen experience.

I doubt I’ll ever be a trend curator professionally, however I found inspiration amongst the trends discussed and some reassurance that my chaotic collecting of ideas might be useful. I like the presentation of the trend chapters with the wide range of industries covered, the blending of ideas in to a human trend and the “how to” sections to guide future use of the trend. I think the “how to” sections following each trend should be seen as inspiration for your next steps rather than specific actions to take.

I did find several errors in the book that seemed to hint at overly-fast production. The diagram of the Haystack method has the steps in the wrong order, and Noma is mentioned as being in Amsterdam (it’s in Copenhagen) are two that grated.

Overall the book is thought-provoking, the trends are characterised on a human need level – rather than the tech-heaving “VR is big” type of trend often seen – and cover a wide range of industries. I think this makes it easier to see applications of each trend across other businesses.