Tag Archives: communication

Google Glass and ALS

It’s been said the eyes are windows to the soul, and most of us can recognize much from looking into another’s eyes. We can sometimes communicate intricate thoughts and feelings through our eyes. Imagine, though, they were your only window to the world; the only method by which you could communicate, with anyone. Further, what if you were in a position where it was nearly impossible for you to initiate a conversation and, therefore, unless you had a way to get someone’s attention, you had to wait for others to anticipate your needs? Worse yet, once anticipated, that other person would have to use a method requiring them to initiate nearly every aspect of the conversation.

This is precisely the situation for thousands of people suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), MS (Multiple Sclerosis), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), or any one of several other conditions that result in the inability to move and talk . . . or write . . . or use sign language.  All they can do is acknowledge your greetings or answer your questions with a wink, perhaps a nod. How would you communicate?

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet someone in that position. His name is Ismail Tsieprati, and he is one of the longest-surviving sufferers of ALS, having had the disease for thirty years. I first met Ismail’s caregiver and wife, Cheryl, at a local Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast. She had recently left a long-time position in corporate training and was looking to establish a web-based business as a training consultant. She asked if I could help her promote her business through social media, and also suggested she help turn some presentations I had done into webinars. I agreed, and we worked together for a short while. As life would have it, before we could finish she was offered a full-time position in corporate training, and I was coming to the painful realization I had been chasing a pot devoid of gold.

We trekked off on our separate trails, as casual business relationships often do, but we remained in occasional contact, through Facebook and comments Cheryl would make in response to one of my sporadic blog posts. One of the several projects I had been working on was editing and proofreading a book – Age of Context – authored by Shel Israel, a longtime author and tech journalist, and Robert Scoble, an authority on bleeding-edge technology and startups.

Toward the end of the project, I was given the opportunity to invite a number of friends to read an early, limited release of the book. In exchange, I asked them to provide an honest review on Amazon.com. Since Cheryl had been one of the people to occasionally comment on my blog, I thought of asking her to read and review the book. She was an excellent prospect because she is not a techie and readily admits to being somewhat befuddled with technology.

It turned out to be a good choice, in more ways than one. Cheryl was one of the few people, of the many to whom I sent a link to the early release, who took the time to write a review—a thoughtful, useful review at that—not merely a quick stab at providing an obligatory yay or nay. She also was hit between the eyes with some of the stuff she read about. Particularly relevant to her was Google Glass. Shel and Robert had devoted an entire chapter to it, and there were numerous references as well throughout the book. I’ll let her explain, in this excerpt from a chapter of the book about their 30-year journey with ALS she and Ismail are working on:

“The greatest fear for people living with ALS is there will be a day when they become “locked in” – so completely paralyzed in the late stages of the disease that even the simplest of muscle movements have been stolen from them and they will be unable to communicate in any way with the outside world.  Those who are “locked in” survive in complete isolation.  They can see and hear everything around them, comprehend everything, think complex thoughts, experience joy, sorrow, and pain, and yearn to communicate with their loved ones and caregivers – to express their feelings, their discomfort, and their desires, but they are hopelessly trapped inside their bodies with no way of communicating with anyone.  For Ismail and me, as well as for others with ALS and their families, overcoming communication barriers and fighting off the “locked in” syndrome is a lifelong battle; an absolutely essential one.  After all, Ismail loves to talk, and he has a lot to say.  He’s not going to let ALS or anything else shut him up!”

                            – Tears, Laughs, and Triumphs: A Thirty-Year Journey with ALS

What struck Cheryl was the knowledge that Glass could recognize eye movement. She was very excited about the possibility of making eyeglasses with eye gaze technology available to Ismail and people in similar situations. Current eye gaze augmentative communication technology involves much larger and more complex systems, which require careful placement and frequent adjustment. Cheryl wanted to talk about it, and I wanted to know more. We met for coffee and, after a bit of discussion, I told her I’d like to write about their situation. We decided I should meet Ismail to better understand his world and I was invited to their home.

Ismail and Stephen Hawking - August 14, 1992

Ismail Tsieprati with Stephen Hawking, Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills, California, August 14, 1992
Photo by Lynn Klein

I had mixed emotions about the upcoming meeting. I was to meet Ismail for the very first time, and I was somewhat nervous about the prospect. I had never met someone with ALS, and mostly knew about it through the story of baseball legend Lou Gehrig and one of my favorite theoretical physicists, Steven Hawking.

Cheryl had invited me to lunch. After meeting Ismail and talking to him and Cheryl about this post, I sat down at the dining room table while Cheryl went into the kitchen briefly to dish up the meal and bring it out for us to enjoy. In doing so, she left me sitting alone with Ismail. The silence was deafening. I felt extremely uncomfortable, as I was struggling with how to approach this unique (for me) situation. I had never communicated in this fashion before and it was awkward.

I hadn’t learned the process Ismail and his caregivers use, which involves what they call a “spelling chart”. Ismail can initiate communication in only two limited ways. One is by grinding his teeth, which ensures getting Cheryl’s or his other caregiver’s attention, provided they’re within earshot. The other method is to modulate his breathing so as to trip the alarm on his ventilator. This works at a greater distance than tooth grinding, but likely is more stressful on Ismail.

Once Ismail has someone’s attention, he communicates by using his spelling chart. Everyone who communicates directly with Ismail has memorized this chart, which appears below. Since the chart is in everyone’s head, there is nothing to carry around, set up, or adjust. It’s a quite simple and efficient system, but it’s time consuming and requires patience. This is how it works: The alphabet is divided up into six rows.  Row number 1 is “A-B-C-D,” row number 2 is “E-F-G-H,” and so on. The person talking to Ismail calls out the number of each row of letters until Ismail blinks to select the number of the line containing the letter he wants to use. The person then calls out each letter in the selected row, until Ismail blinks again to select the letter he wants. The person then starts all over again, calling out numbers of rows, then numbers or letters, as Ismail builds words, then sentences, then paragraphs. If Ismail selects number 7, he’s telling the person it is the end of a word or a paragraph.  If he selects number 8, he wants to give the person a number or a date. People can also ask him “yes” and “no” questions. One blink means “yes,” and two blinks mean “no.”

Spelling Chart used for communication

Spelling Chart used by Ismail and his caregivers for communicating.

There are other methods of communication available to people who cannot speak or use their hands. For example, years ago Ismail wrote a screenplay by using an infrared switch attached to his glasses that he operated by blinking his eye.  The switch triggered the selection of letters and numbers on an alphabet grid displayed on a computer monitor. The design of the chart was similar to the one Ismail and his caregivers use today.  Scanning technology highlighted letters one at a time to allow the user to select one. The program had word prediction, which made sentence-building faster, and a voice synthesizer that could speak words he typed or had programmed into the system.  The software program and voice synthesizer were similar to those used by Stephen Hawking.

Since Ismail’s eye blink may eventually grow too weak to be a reliable method of communication, eye gaze is the technology that provides hope for the future for him and others like him.  He has been practicing with an eye gaze system that is a communication device, speech generating device, Windows XP computer, and environmental control unit, all in one. The system allows Ismail to select letters and numbers by gazing at them for a programmable pre-set number of seconds. He can also select icons or images that trigger a voice synthesizer to speak words and sentences for him. The system also has the capability of accessing Windows and the worldwide web. But Cheryl says that Ismail becomes tired after practicing with this system for only a few minutes and grows frustrated trying to navigate around its screens.  It takes time to set up the equipment and reposition it properly every time he moves from one place to another, so the device is bulky and time-consuming to use except for those times he’s sitting in one place.  Although it’s possible to attach the unit to his wheelchair with a special bracket, the machine still needs to be moved out of the way during transfers, then readjusted again.

Enter Glass. What if it had the same total eye-gaze control capabilities that Ismail’s bulkier, less user-friendly equipment has? What if a complex communication, web-surfing, environmental control system could be worn in a pair of eyeglasses and operated by the movement and gaze of an eye? Since Glass contains a built-in display, there would no longer be a need for the much bulkier external devices that are currently used.

“My eye gaze equipment can be slow and tiring,” Ismail says.   “It is difficult and time-consuming to use. I hope there will come a day when technology will improve for many people like me who are paralyzed but want to continue to talk to the world. I hope that day comes soon.”

The question now is not if, but when. It’s also a question of priorities, I suppose. I’m not sure if Glass has the capabilities Ismail and others require, but it surely won’t be long before they’re realized. The other question is, are there developers who have both the skills and the desire to create such an app. Also, Glass is not the only device that can provide the necessary functionality. In addition to wearables like Glass, there are companies working on interpreting brain waves. Emotiv is one of them and they are working on a device called Epoc that currently provides limited capability. Right now, they are concentrating on game playing and some forms of gross manipulation, but it shouldn’t be long before their system (and others like them) become more sophisticated. They are also licensing an SDK for people who wish to write their own systems.

If you have any interest in this kind of thing, there are some golden opportunities out there. Perhaps there isn’t a fortune to be made, but the possibilities of helping tens of thousands of people live more productive and engaged lives despite severe disability are immense and will be, I have no doubt, enormously satisfying.


A Slight Change of Course

Since my presentation to the American Oil Chemists’ Society at the end of April, I’ve been seeking out other engagements to talk about using social media for managing communities within an enterprise. All of my experience heretofore has been inside the firewall of a large (very large) aerospace corporation, and it was the essence of my presentation to the AOCS.

I haven’t been actually hustling engagements; rather I’ve just been suggesting I’m available and that I might have something worthwhile to say. Today, nearly four months later, I finally had the opportunity to present to an organization that could use social media to improve their ability to achieve their goals, which are manifold – but not commercial.

The organization I spoke with today is a local Rotary Club that has two major fund-raisers each year. Originally, I had spoken with my friend and former Manager who, since retiring, has joined this Club and had suggested I might present, about the one I gave to the AOCS. However, after having dinner with the President of the Club it became clear he wanted to at least partially address the difficulty he’d been having with getting the membership to “like” their Fan pages and join and engage with their group page.

So . . . I put this together somewhat hastily and concentrated primarily on the benefits social media provide for communicating and sharing knowledge, as well as addressing the issue of reluctance to participate. I finished with a little info on how its use is disruptive and pointed out how they could use Clayton Christensen‘s concept of Jobs-to-be-done (disruptive innovation is one of his as well) to address the direction they might take their new efforts in.

I also prepared the presentation exclusively using Google Docs; the first time I have ever done that. The only exception is that I imported a couple of slides from my AOCS preso, which I originally prepared using PowerPoint. I also heavily annotated the slides, which I do not normally do, and printed out a copy of them and the notes. However, I did not use them during the presentation. Once I got going I just winged it, which seems to fit my style perfectly. Having the notes kept me from being nervous, but turned out to be mostly superfluous. I only experienced one moment when I couldn’t think of the right word I wanted to make a point, but it came to me reasonably quickly.

So . . . here ’tis. I don’t know how intelligible it is without the notes. Especially considering I made these slides last close to 25 minutes, I believe. I guess having a long history and lots of stories comes in handy when you tend toward loquaciousness. :)

One more thing. I uploaded the .pdf to Slideshare in the early evening and shortly afterward received an email from them that my presentation was the most talked about one on Facebook (where I had shared it) and so they were featuring it on their home page. Frankly, I didn’t see any evidence of the discussion, but the preso had been viewed close to 180 times last I looked, so maybe I’m getting some traction there. Hope you enjoy it.


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


Would You Pass Up Free Advertising?

Foursquare Logo

Attract New and Reward Loyal Customers

I’ve been concentrating on a couple of new clients and have neglected to post for a couple of weeks. During this time I’ve been thinking about some of the subjects I’d like to cover. One of those is the use of Foursquare for small, retail businesses. Actually, it can be used for virtually any type of business, but the usage model it presents is most applicable to businesses with lots of traffic and churn. I see them as being in somewhat of a pyramid. For instance, those businesses that will get the most value from Foursquare are restaurants, bars, and clubs. Next in line are retail outlets and, finally, service businesses with a brick and mortar location.

Other types of businesses can use the service to get some free advertising, but if your business isn’t amenable to friends sharing the location (primarily because they want to enjoy each others’ company), it’s not going to have the same kind of value for you. As an example, there are Dentist’s offices who use it to present teeth cleaning and whitening specials. I am pretty sure people don’t check in to their Dentist’s office because they’re having a bang-up time and want to share it with their friends. However, everyone who uses Foursquare on their phone is going to get an impression of the special the office has created. You never know and, after all, it’s currently free!

Thanks to a heads-up from one of my friends, @mor_trisha, I read an article at ClickZ (authored by )  making essentially the same points I wanted to make. I’d like give you my version of why I think Foursquare is an important channel for small business to use, with a bit of local flavor for examples. I’d also like to expand a bit on how to use the service if you are a business owner considering using it.

First, let me say a few things about Foursquare in case you aren’t aware of what it is and how it’s used. Foursquare is a location-based, check-in application that consumers with smart phones can download and use to find nearby locations their friends frequent, as well as check-in when they are there. In addition, those merchants who have taken the time to “claim” their venue using the website provided for their use can create specials to entice new customers and to reward the loyalty of their ongoing customers. More about that in a bit.

As a user, Foursquare provides you with the ability to “check in” at a restaurant, pub, retail outlet, or service provider’s location whenever you are there. Using your phone’s GPS system you are provided, through the app, with a list of those venues that are close by. You can also see if any of your friends (or anyone else for that matter) is at a particular location so you can join them if you wish. In a rural environment or in a small town with few users, this capability is probably not all that useful. In my hometown, which is relatively small, the usage is now growing to the point where enough people are checking in for it to be useful. I imagine in large, urban areas it’s very useful – and likely lots of fun for some. There is also a couple of gaming aspects (points, earned badges) to using the service, but I’ll save that for another post.

Foursquare Globe

Think Global, Check-in Local

For business owners, Foursquare provides some interesting capabilities that are available for free. You cannot access them, however, until you take a little time to “claim” your venue. This is a relatively painless process that involves creating an account if you don’t already have one, finding your location on their website,  and clicking on the link that appears on the right hand side of your screen. It says “Do you manage this venue? Claim here.” Once you click on the link you will have to answer a few more questions, then agree to receive a phone call where you will be given a four-digit code to enter on another screen. After that, you will have access to some useful tools, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Now, I said relatively painless for a reason. I have had several instances where a business that’s been around for a long time was unable to use their phone number because Foursquare said they couldn’t verify it belonged to them. Since they had the number for quite some time, I’m unclear why this happens. Nevertheless, it isn’t the end of the road. Foursquare will give you the opportunity to have them contact you by snail mail, in which case you’ll receive the code you need as well as a cling to put in your window to advertise your presence on the site.

Once you have claimed your venue you will have access to their “Manager Tools”. These include venue statistics, which will show you number of check-ins, social reach (whether or not the info was sent to Twitter or Facebook), time, gender, and age breakdowns (as available), and the profiles of your visitors. This information can be presented in numerous time slices, e.g. today, last week, last 30, 60, & 90 days, or all. All of this information is useful for understanding the penetration and coverage you’re getting with people who use Foursquare.

However, in my opinion the most useful tool of all (and the one that will really make the stats worthwhile) is the ability to create campaigns and specials. To start a campaign you simply add a special, of which there are five designed to attract new customers and two designed to reward the loyalty of existing customers. These specials (with my suggested ways they might be used) are as follows:

  • Attract new customers
    • Swarm Special (If 10 people check in at the same time you all get 20% off your meal, etc.)
    • Friends Special (Check in with 3 friends and dessert is free for the group)
    • Flash Special (The first 10 check-ins after 8pm get a free beverage)
    • Newbie Special (Get a free appetizer on your first check-in)
    • Check-in Special (Get a half-price beverage every time you check in)
  • Reward existing customers
    • Loyalty Special (Get a free appetizer every fourth time you check in)
    • Mayor Special (The Mayor gets 25% off their entire bill)

Foursquare also provides some nice, printable flyers to hand out to your customers and your employees, so everyone knows how it works and what an “opened” special looks like. Hint – if it’s in black and white, it hasn’t been unlocked. There’s also a lock icon that appears as unlocked when it is.

Ms. Jenning pointed out four good examples of how to (and not to) use Foursquare specials to get the results you’re looking for. I’d like to do the same for four locations in my neighborhood.

Aeropostale

They offer a standard check-in special. Each check-in gets you $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. With a purchase of exactly $50 that works out to a 20% discount; large enough to entice new customers. Frankly, I would have used a straight 20% discount, perhaps with a min (maybe even a max), rather than a minimum purchase. As it stands, if you spend $100 (and who spends only $50 on clothing nowadays?) you’re only getting a 10% discount. Maybe not enough to bring in new business.

Cherry on Top

They also offer a check-in special of 10% off with every check-in. This isn’t a bad deal. Most people are going to go for ice cream or frozen yogurt after a meal, or as a summer-time treat, when they feel like it and, all things being equal, I would go to the place that offers a discount. Most don’t, so I suspect this is at least marginally helping them compete with the other venues in town.

Limon Latin Grill

This one is somewhat similar to the example given by Ms. Jennings of Bangkok Joe’s. It’s a bit puzzling to me why they think this would entice anyone. They actually offer three check-in specials presented as one. Your first check-in is worth $2.00 on a drink, the second is $5.00 off any entree after five check-ins, the third is a free drink after 10 check-ins. This is not an inexpensive restaurant and I believe a normal meal, especially if it includes a drink, will cost at least $20. This makes the second of the specials worth about 5%; not exactly something to write home about. The same goes for the other ones. None of them seem very enticing. I’d be curious to know if they’re getting much action at all. I actually used the first one, but only because I went there to see a friend’s band playing. The waitress was unfamiliar with the entire concept, which leads me to believe they aren’t getting much traction out of the campaign. I’m not surprised.

California Pizza Kitchen

This venue is using a Friends Special, stated so: “Show you phone to a manager and get 20% off when you and 3 friends check-in to the same CPK! Excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity, gift cards. Not valid w/other offers. Valid at participating locations.” What I get from this is the place is probably micromanaged, as I find it a bit mystifying they don’t trust their wait staff to validate the check-ins. It’s also a bit comical to me they feel the need to qualify the offer so carefully. Lighten up! Nevertheless, 20% off isn’t a bad deal for a mid-priced meal with 3 of your BFFs.

There are numerous other examples of specials being offered, many by venues you probably wouldn’t expect to find using them. I want to think about them a little more and maybe drop in to a couple to find out how they’re doing with them. The lesson here – if you’re running a restaurant, bar, nightclub, or a retail store with the potential for lots of foot traffic, your venue has probably already been entered into Foursquare’s database. Now you need to get out there, claim it, and start providing some specials to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, IT’S FREE, but that probably won’t last forever. Why not take advantage of it while you can? You’re welcome.


The Hell It’s Not About The Tools!

Hand Axes

What Would Lizzie Borden Do?

I had lunch a while back with a former colleague from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. He is also a fellow cohort member from my Masters in KM program, from which we both graduated in late 2009. We have worked together extensively. After eating we were discussing the situation at my former (and his current) place of employment, which is a bit unclear at this point.

As I shared my thoughts about the value (as I see it) of using social media to increase the organization’s capabilities (you know, the innovative, collaborative, communicative ones), he said something he had said to me over and over while I was still a colleague . . . “It’s not about the tools!”

Now, essentially I agree with him – at least to a point. Tools are, by themselves, absolutely useless unless they’re used to get things done in the manner for which they were designed. Even better, if you can figure out how to use them creatively they can be even more powerful. Try pounding a nail into a stud with your bare fist, though, and then tell me it’s not about the tools.

Nevertheless, this argument is valid when taken in the context of an organization where people think that throwing tools at a problem will somehow, magically I guess, solve the problem confronting them. I have personally seen this happen quite a bit and, in fairness to my friend, it did seem to be a common occurrence at our place of employment.

On the other hand, we’re probably all aware of situations where the simplest of tools served an organization well in dealing with a particularly difficult situation. This can only happen, I think, when the people confronting the situation are open and honest about what they’re facing and how it’s affecting the processes and people who are tasked with dealing with it.

This means they have to be able to think both critically and creatively. Too often people get to thinking in predictable ways and they pigeonhole the problem, thereby confining their possible solutions to the things they’re familiar with and have previous knowledge of. This usually leads to failure.

The thing about tools, though, is that they frequently give us the ability to use a bit of lateral – or even sideways – thinking. In the case of social tools such as Jive or Socialcast or Yammer, we’re also given the possibility of working together and sharing our information and knowledge in ways not previously possible.

A perfect example of how not to do it is the way in which the company I used to work at shared their knowledge of rocket engine design and manufacture. It was always the case that younger Engineers would send email requests to their older counterparts, requesting information on design intent or material properties or manufacturing techniques, etc. The older colleague might spend days researching and crafting an answer, which would then be sent back to the requester in an email.

The problem with this was that access to all this wonderfully useful information was now confined to the two (sometimes a few more, depending on who was included initially) people engaged in the conversation. Usually, within a short while the information and knowledge so thoroughly and carefully created was lost; frequently even to the original person asking the question. This was because there was no useful method by which email could be easily searched.

Nowadays we can do much better. We have tools, applications, and systems available to us that provide functionality like instant broadcasting (micro-blogging), collaborative creation (wiki, even Google docs), and ubiquitous indexing and search. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not taking advantage of as many of these tools as is reasonably affordable – taking into consideration the culture of an organization and its tolerance for experimentation and change. Frankly, from what I’ve experienced and from what I learn from friends and others who are engaged in community organization and leadership, there are ways to introduce, champion, and develop these kinds of tools in just about any organization.

So I would wish to characterize the use of tools just a bit differently. I would say it most definitely IS about the tools, but it’s just not entirely about the tools. Having functionality available that was not possible five or ten years ago can change things dramatically. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and, sometimes, dramatic changes in the culture of an organization. Nevertheless, the pain associated with change is usually ameliorated by the newfound capabilities the change brings; the possibilities of developing innovative processes and organizational structures and of increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of those things we engage in. If anyone tells you it’s not about the tools, as if to say they aren’t important, ask them when was the last time they combed their hair with a fork!


Considering Attending IBM’s Social Business Jam? Here’s How!

I am a VIP guest taking part in a unique opportunity to engage in an interactive discussion about the growing influence of social technology in business.

On February 8-11, 2011 I will be joining IBM to host their Social Business Jam where we will cooperatively explore the value of social technology in business, the mitigation of its risks, and the management system required to drive the social transformation required for its use.  This web-based event will provide an unrivalled opportunity for thousands of leaders from around the world to pool their knowledge and experiences, and to examine this next generation of business.  I urge you to participate. Learn more here: www.ibm.com/social/businessjam

There will be 5 discussion forums occurring simultaneously, where participants can join any time during the event. The subjects of these forums are:

     

  • Building the Social Business of the Future
  • Building Participatory Organizations Through Social Adoption
  • Using Social to Understand and Engage with Customers
  • What does Social mean for IT?
  • Identifying Risks and Establishing Governance
  •  

Participation does not require your full-time involvement during the 72 hours of the event.  You can log-in to the Jam whenever you are available, and spend as much time as you want to comment, read or engage in topic areas you find most interesting. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Please join me in this exciting conversation about the new era of business:
1. Register for the Jam: Please register for the Jam via this link: http://ibm.co/joinsbjam
2. Spread the word about the Jam: Please help us generate buzz about this upcoming event via Twitter (#sbjam) and other channels of communication you have access to.

Thanks.


The Ubiquity of Communication

Don't bother me.

The guy has it tough, yeah?

The other night I was sitting in the family room and our (formerly) male cat, Zack, was sitting on my lap enjoying me showering affection on him. As I’m petting him I’m talking and, mostly, using his name and telling him how much I love him and what a good cat he is . . . and he is, perhaps, one of the best cats I’ve encountered in my life. He is one of those cats that craves human company and follows us around the house seeking it. He’s really a great cat.

I was just relaxing, no doubt getting as much out of giving affection as Zack was out of receiving it, and I found myself thinking about how I communicate with him. He clearly knows his name, or does he? He responds when I call him, frequently by loping over from wherever he might be to receive a quick pet or a scritch. However, he’ll do that pretty much regardless of whether I’m saying his name or using some other term of endearment – and there are many, including just cooing at him in stupid, abject drooly-talk.

He seems to recognize all of them, so is he responding to his name, one of his many nicknames, some blathering expression of unbridled affection, or just the sound of my voice, which he no doubt also associates with food? Actually, given that I’m not really engaging him in meaningful conversation, does it really matter? He seems to always get the message. Maybe it’s just that he’s a slut for affection. I know all about that :).


Obvious to Him . . . Perhaps?

The Obvious?

Euan Semple is a friend of mine; at least in the sense we are “friends” on Facebook and we are “connected” and have engaged in an email conversation on LinkedIn. I also follow him on Twitter and read his blog (somewhat infrequently, I must confess). I know he’s read my blog at least once because he commented on a post of mine. We have not yet met face-to-face, nor have we had an actual conversation where we could hear each other’s voices (each others’ voice?), say . . . over the phone or with Skype.

This morning I came across an item on my Facebook wall from him. It was a link to a video of his Do Lecture, shared through his blog, “The Obvious?”. I don’t see too many things from Euan in Facebook, so it caught my attention. I clicked on it to open a tab with the link so I could view it later. Many times I don’t end up viewing the item I’ve set aside, but this time I did. I’m very glad too. You can listen yourself here.

Euan is probably best known for his introduction of forums, blogs, and wikis to the BBC and now spends his time advising organizations on how to integrate these and other “social” applications into their businesses. You can learn more about Euan from his blog or from his website.

As I’m writing this I see one of his friends has commented on the original Facebook post. She says she finds his talk bitter sweet, because he says what she’s been saying too . . . to no avail. I have to admit to feeling the same way, though I did manage to get some traction in changing the organization I spent nearly a quarter century with.

Euan clearly knows what makes an enterprise tick. He also is keenly aware of the numerous ways in which traditional organizations and management waste time and energy and, actually, hinder progress in most every enterprise that’s built on the traditional, hierarchical business model we’re all so familiar with.

I strongly suggest you listen to his lecture yourself. It’s only about a half-hour and it’s quite enlightening and entertaining. He’s a wonderful storyteller. I actually took some notes while I was listening – which is not like me at all – and here are some thoughts that stood out. I’d sure be interested in hearing any of yours.

Euan points out that fear of messiness is troubling. I forget his exact word, but I wrote down the thought it triggered for me, and that was fear of messiness stifles creativity and, therefore, innovation. In addressing the fear that using social media would get out of control, he reasonably points out we still need middlemen to make sense of all the data and information out there. I have heard the people I believe he’s talking about referred to as curators or gardeners. He goes on to point out what we don’t need are gate-keeping middlemen who add no value at all.

He makes quite a few points about culture and how best to deal with the inevitable resistance and fear one encounters when even talking about social media. One of them is a reference to the concept of Trojan mice, i.e. unobtrusive, small things that generate change through their adoption and use. Another comes from one of the few slides he used with words – “Easier to build a tool for the community than a community for the tool” – though he expresses a bit of distaste for the way many view communities. Here he points to the difference between conscripts and volunteers and, for me, invokes the value of emergence, that communities spring up from recognized, shared needs and desires, not from the dictate of management.

I think my favorite thing he talks about is the dreaded ROI argument; one I was beaten about the head and shoulders with for many years, both in terms of knowledge management and later regarding the use of social media (which I have argued elsewhere is what KM is really about; surely the kind of KM I’m most interested in!) to connect people. In a sense, it’s what the entire lecture is about, but he offers up what he calls a Scotsman’s tip about ROI – “Keep the I really small and no one will give you shit about the R”. I got a kick out of that.

So, please take a half hour of your time (plus however long it took you to read this far) and check his lecture out. It’s quite good. It helped me get to know Euan a little better, as well as reinforced my thoughts about so many things I don’t know where to begin. It is, indeed, bitter sweet for me as well.


It’s Getting Chilly, or How I’m Planning on Doing Some Cold-Calling

Well, I’ve finally decided to go out in earnest and get some clients. I don’t think I’ve mentioned much (if anything) about what I had hoped to do with my life after leaving Rocketdyne and, frankly, it was a bit amorphous in my mind for some time as well. I keep looking for ways in which the knowledge I’ve gained over the years can be put to good use for others. I’m beginning to see some fairly clear outlines of just how I might be able to do that. It isn’t all about “clients” either.

Today I met with the Principal of my youngest daughter’s school, Sycamore Elementary in Simi Valley; on Friday I am meeting with the Principal of my other daughter’s school, Vista Elementary also in Simi. I decided a while back I wanted to see if I could bring something to the table that might improve the educational system . . . some small but significant contribution I might offer that would take advantage of my Knowledge Management, Social Networking/Computing experience, as well as my overall skill set acquired from well over four decades of business experience.

Today’s meeting was a bit of serendipity, actually. I take my children to school every morning, dropping the older one off first, then dropping my youngest off on the way back home. Today I also walked the youngest in and watched her play a bit before class started. I then went into the office to talk to the Principal. My intent was to have essentially the same conversation I had with the Principal at Vista. After all, it resulted in an appointment to delve further into the issues. All that I could have asked for. I discovered today was the one day out of only a few in which she has set aside some time to have coffee and a chat with whichever parents happened to show up. Lucky for me!

Double lucky . . . the President of the PTA was there as well. She was very interested in what I suggested which, btw, was that I learn how they do “business” with an eye toward discovering ways they can take advantage of new tools, services, and techniques that might relieve them of any pain they’re experiencing. I know they’re experiencing it. You can’t be paying attention and think the schools and their ancillary organizations aren’t suffering from any number of headaches and problems which would improve the educational experience for students, teachers, parents, and administrators alike if they could be even partially solved.

So that’s what I offered to give to both schools. I have suggested I can afford to put in at least four hours a month per school and I am both willing and eager to do so. I plan on taking the same attitude to commercial and industrial establishments as well. I believe there are lots of ways in which social computing can be put to good use for small, medium, and large businesses. I also believe there are a lot of people out there who are holding themselves out as Social Media “Experts”. I am not doing that. I’m merely saying I think I can help – first and foremost – understand what kinds of problems any particular organization has that they want to address. Only then can they even think about what tool, service, process, or technique might serve to do so.

In order to drum up business that will actually make me income, I have developed my first piece of “Collateral” to leave behind after visiting the organizations I offer my services to. Anyone who is following me on Twitter, is my friend in Facebook, is connected with me through LinkedIn, reads this blog, or connects with me in any one of numerous other ways probably knows I’ve shared a few presentations I’ve given in the past – when I was still an employee of Rocketdyne. They can be found on Slideshare, here. I want to share what I’ve done in creating a brochure to leave behind after an initial conversation with a prospect. My intent is not for this brochure to introduce me, but rather to serve as a reminder of the conversation I expect to have with whoever it is I’m discussing these things with.

I know, from my years of pursuing knowledge in this field, through literally hundreds of conversations on the subject, and from following and reading the work of dozens of people whose intelligence I have nothing but the deepest respect for, that almost anyone; every process; every business; yes, even every institution – up to, and including, those of government at any level – could be improved through the intelligent application of social computing. Of course, every situation is different. The City Council here in Simi surely would neither benefit from, nor require, the same thing that might benefit the U.S. Senate, and a small restaurant surely doesn’t require the same capabilities that a large manufacturing or distribution enterprise would find helpful.

So . . . that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Below are the two pages of a three-fold brochure I’m going to get printed shortly and start bringing with me as I literally knock on doors. It’s not the only method I intend on using, but it gets me out of the house, and that’s a good thing. I’d be interested in any feedback those of you who might read this post have to offer. I’m a work in process. Aren’t we all?

Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version

Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version

P.S. – Special thanks are due to my friend Luis Suarez, who was kind enough to look over what I had done and make some very useful observations and suggestions. Thank you so much, Luis. You are one of those people whose presence I value dearly.


But, I Thought you Meant . . .

Why do some people seem to think that language can be treated like art . . . always? Language, of course, frequently finds its expression in art; witness poetry, musical lyrics, etc., but it is not – by itself – a pure art form. Language exists, surely in the context of business and economics, philosophy and religion, as an endeavor of some precision in communication and, dare I use the word, collaboration. People can’t share what they know, or work together on a project for which the outcome they seek is collectively desirous, without having the ability to communicate absent misunderstanding or, at the very least, with a minimum of misunderstanding.

Mathematics is a form of language. Imagine if someone argued that an expression might be used sort of willy-nilly, depending on how one was feeling at the moment. Imagine someone saying, when confronted with the misuse of a mathematical expression, “well, you know what I meant.” Yet, people do this with language all the time. As for my real peeve here, it seems I am often accused of being too “lawyer-like” when I insist on the accurate use of words. I just don’t understand this. Why do people think dictionaries or thesauri exist? For entertainment purposes?

I am not here talking about the incorrect use of “to”, “too”, and “two” or “your” and “you’re”, maddening as those may be. I am more interested in the misuse of synonyms, especially when there are crucial differences – subtle as they may be – between one word and another. There’s a reason those words exists and it is directly related to those differences. For instance, let’s look at the differences between the words “lucky”, “privileged”, and “promising” – all three synonymous according to Merriam-Webster online. “Lucky” means “having good luck”. It could easily refer to one instance, however small the result, or an entire lifetime. “Privileged” means having or enjoying a special capability or position based either on happenstance (which would be lucky) or through hard work and successful endeavors. “Promising” means one might become privileged at some point, or successful, but there is no guarantee and it looks to the future, not some result of the past. Both “privileged” and “promising” may contain elements of luck, but they aren’t proper substitutes for the word “lucky”. They are somewhat imprecise synonyms for it.

Now, lest I be accused of a level of curmudgeonliness far exceeding that I am actually guilty of, I am merely attempting to point out how cavalier some can be with language and, when they’re called on it, how adamant I have found some to be in defending what is, in my opinion, an indefensible position. Call me a member of the language police if you will, but I like as much precision in my discussions as possible.

PS – This post was “incited” by a conversation with my wife; a conversation that recurs every now and again :) Do you think I’m too sensitive? Do you think I used the word “incited” improperly; that I should have used “instigated” or “stimulated” or maybe even “inspired”? Just wondering.


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