Lord of the Slides…

There are few things as terrible as showing you have more than a passing competence and even the most marginally technological task. Once you have crossed that boarder between the digital world and the one that exists only on paper, you have doomed yourself to endless days of PowerPoint. Create, review, edit, review, edit, review, edit, review, publish. It will drive the tempo of your day and haunt your dreams in the darkness. It is the very beating heart of what is wrong with us.

No matter how good you are, no matter how skilled you are at filling the white spaces, by the time you distill a complex idea into three or five bullets (it’s always an odd number, by the way. An even number of bullets looks awkward on the page), you’ve eliminated its identity as a complex idea. Now it’s just two syllable words on a screen dumbed down to the point where even the slowest guy in the room can draw some conclusions. It’s perhaps the most depressing bit of technological innovation ever.

Just the thought of the three slide sets sitting on my desk right now waiting to get punched up almost makes me physically ill. The lesson here is to shoot for mediocrity. Do too much and no one ever leaves you alone. Do too little and you’ll be the first of the dead wood to fall. Find that sweet spot in the middle and you can ride out a career with as few problems as possible. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, never under any circumstances let anyone know you can build an awesome deck of PowerPoint slides.

The problem with pamphlets…

There are a million metric tones of management consultants who will tell you that the biggest problem for everyone is communication. For a species that relies on communicating to do everything, we’re remarkably bad at it. We’re even worse at it in large groups, where there’s a fine line between getting your message out and bashing the couple of people who are still listening over the head with a brickbat. I won’t even get started again on modes and methods. You people out there who are afraid of email know who you are and there’s nothing I can say to save your souls.

I could write a dissertation on elements of communication and strategy to get your message out. Fundamentally, all of them rely on having some kind of message discipline – that is, build your message calendar and don’t let anything, no matter how seemingly important, take you off the message of the day. If the day or week is focused on training, every word out of your mouth should be focused on elements of training. Any question asked should be spun to reflect those same elements. Message discipline is what makes people sit up and notice even a low budget political campaign. Lack of discipline is the kiss of death even when you’re well funded. Get on point and beat the message into the ground and only change the tune on your own terms. Asnd for God’s sake, don’t confuse the message by running off on a tangent every time someone else wanders by and distracts you for 30 seconds. You’re going to end up with two dozen different messages that were only received by one person each rather than one message received by two dozen people.

For the record, a pamphlet is piss poor communication. If you’re lucky someone looks at it once and throws it away while maybe, just maybe remembering that they saw it at all. The chance of them remembering content: almost zero. Just the way it is. Flyers are good for a quick attention grab, but don’t expect much more from them. Of course it helps if there aren’t three people trying to design the exact same pamphlet based on ever so slightly different direction. Then what little return on investment you’ll get from the end product is diluted due to the increased labor hours expended to come up with three versions of the exact same bloody thing. Throwing a lot of manpower at this kind of thing is fine if, and only if, you have bodies to spare and nothing else that needs done.

In summation: 1) Communication is more than wandering around dispensing wild eyed, half-formed ideas; 2) Disciplined communication carries the day; 3) Pamphlets are, as a rule, stupid; 4) Using three people where one is sufficient is redundant. Knowing these four simple things could go a long way towards making those eight hours in the middle of the day seem less arbitrary and capricious.

Limits of multitasking…

I’ve worked in some professional capacity now for a little more than a decade. At 22, I was pretty confident that I could take the world by the throat and work my will. At 32 I’m a little more willing to recognize my limitations. Make no mistake, my friends, we all have limitations; things that are just simply beyond out ability. I came face to face with one of mine this afternoon: it is physically impossible for me to multitask nine separate actions at one time. Who knew, right?

I’m not saying that nine is an outrageous number when given time to adequately research, prepare, and execute. But it is out of line when there are another half dozen or more coming down the line tomorrow, and the day after that, and so fourth and so on. And some of those projects, though seemingly small, will contradict assignments that were given the day before.

There’s a certain degree of madness in it. Repeat for day after day and it isn’t long before it turns into something of a farce (or is that tragedy). The overwhelming tide of stupid is leavened a bit by the fact that the dozen or so people you work most closely with know exactly what’s on your mind with just a look… And they’re all thinking the same thing. It makes the endless days tolerable.

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Perspective…

Sometimes you don’t notice how things change until you have the chance to look at them from a different perspective. Last week I was on the road. The details are mostly inconsequential, other than to note that what I saw was an office that gave all outward appearances of being cohesive, professional, and productive. More to the point, the people I was observing genuinely seemed to be as happy to be at work as one could reasonably expect. That’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. Actually, it took me the better part of the first day to realize what I was seeing. When you’re in the moment, you don’t ever get to stop and see just how radically dysfunctional things really have become. All you see is the ebb and flow of day following day and the general sense that something isn’t right. You don’t catch that colleagues don’t smile when they greet each other. You don’t notice that the only kind of humor passing around the office is gallows sarcasm. The rampant desire to get eight and get out seems like something that’s just normal.

That’s what made getting back to the routine this morning a shock to the system. I mean, I knew things were bad, but I only realized how bad after I had seen things on the outside for a few days. I’m too much of a relativist to ever suggest that anything is ever all bad or all good, but I know what pretty damned bad looks like when I see it… and I got an eye full of it today. No end to that situation in sight, so now it’s all about keeping a low profile and doing your best to stay out of the direct line of fire. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

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Escape artist, revisited…

Leaving the dogs somewhere never seems to go without incident. Yesterday afternoon, the vet called to let me know that Maggie had somehow managed to rip off most of one of her toenails. They cleaned her up, started antibiotics and painkillers, and just wanted to let me know so I wasn’t surprised when I picked her up this morning. With a lab, those things are to be expected. The took care of it right away and didn’t try to charge me for the vet visit. It helps that the kennel and the vet’s office are all run by the same people and sit about 20 yards apart.

Nothing seemed unusual about this episode until I actually got to the kennel and the girl running the reception desk mentioned that I had an escape artist on my hands. Ok, you’ve got my attention now. It seems that sometime Wednesday night, Maggie, my reliable, loving, and incredibly low key lab decided she was going to stage a break out. Apparently she spring both latches on the run she and Winston were in and the staff found them both wandering around the back rooms of the kennel when they opened up Thursday morning. Fortunately, losing her nail seems to be the extent of the damage.

So yeah, now my dogs have a flag on their “permanent records” letting everyone know that they need special attention and more robust lockdown procedures. Good to know I’ve raised delinquents.

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500 Million…

Facebook has 500 million active users. That’s half a billion unique users per month. For someone whose site rakes in 40-50 unique users on in its busiest month, that’s a staggering number. That’s something like 1/13 of all the people on the planet or a little less than twice the population of the United States. It’s a ridiculously big number. Get it?

Of course it also means that Facebook has become, essentially, a utility… like the phone company. And in tech, there’s nothing sexy about being a utility. That’s what leads to my next question… What’s after Facebook? Growth can’t drive on forever simply given the relatively finite number of people on the planet. Is there a next big thing out there somewhere that early adopters are streaming towards? If there is, I haven’t found it yet. Then again, early adopters can be annoyingly difficult to pin down.

Perhaps a more important question altogether: at what point does government make the determination that a company life Facebook is “too big to fail” or rather “too big to be unregulated.” Like most users, I like my interwebs government free, thanks. But I can easily see a not too distant future when Uncle becomes so concerned about corporate protection of personal data that they start passing helpful laws that “look out” for the people and their privacy. Given the choice between a government that wants to protect my privacy and a company I can opt out of giving information to in the first place, I’ll throw my lot in with the corporate fat cats every time. Sure, a corporation can do some nasty things with your data, but ultimately, if I’m not satisfied with how I’m being treated, I and the other 500 million users can vote with our feet.

I tend to think that people forget that business stays open only through the good graces of the people who purchase their products or services. When enough of those customers are displeased, the business model adapts to the new reality or it is starved either in the consumer marketplace or by displeased shareholders denying it capital. That’s an overly simplistic explanation, of course, but you get the point.

There’s so much of the power of the internet and interconnectivity that remain untested, but I think it’s safe to say that organizing in the cloud is the next logical step in the internet evolution. This milestone for Facebook is a good indication that the world is finally becoming comfortable with tech… if not the bleeding edge, at least the basic consumer type. This is progress. Let’s hope we manage not to derail it by applying 19th century governance to 21st century issues.

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Bible belt identity crisis…

The south/mid-west, for good reason, is largely known as the bible belt. If you’ve ever spent any time here and have seen the epic size of some of the churches they build, you know it’s true. This morning I had the opportunity to spend five hours driving from Memphis to St. Louis… and what I noticed most strinkingly was that every couple of dozen miles there was one of two billboards… the first were advertisements for what can only be described as a prolific density of “gentlemen’s clubs” and adult novelty stores. The second billboard type were more of the “sinners go to hell” or “end abortion now.” I wasn’t counting, but I’d estimate that easily 1/5 to 1/4 of all billboards along one 50 mile stretch of I-55 were for one or the other of these. Apparently the bible belt has a bit of an identity crisis, as I suspect at least some of the same butts in the pews on Sunday are the ones in the VIP room on Saturday night. I’m not making a values judgement there, by the way. I don’t care one way or another where someone is on Saturday night or Sunday morning, as long as they’re not at my house.

I hate to break this to both sides, but your signs aren’t making much difference (but the guy leasing the space appreciates your efforts). The wanna be pimps at the clubs aren’t going to change en mass because of this media blitz, that given the fading I saw on those signs, has been going on for a while. At the same time, the holy rollers funding those big new churches aren’t going to suddenly decide they need edible panties while driving down the interstate. You’re arguing past one another because neither one really gives a damn what the other side thinks.

I propose a compromise; a truce if you will. There’s room enough for all of us here and plenty of space for reasonable human beings to have a difference of opinion even on what seem like important issues. Truth is that I’ve got maybe 40 or 50 years left on this rock and I’m going to do what I want to do, signs or no signs. Some days that might be going to a club and other days that might be educating myself on the dogma of the faith. Life’s too short to think that it has to be all one way or all the other. In the immortal words of Rodney King, can’t we all just get along?

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