Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A valentine to the creative class

"If you tell one person to bring you a dozen roses you’ll probably get a dozen roses. If you tell a dozen people to bring you one rose you probably won’t get any.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

                                                  Wayne Gretzky

A couple in their 30's were recently discussing end-of-world scenarios at a bar. Global instability. Emerging threats. The loss of America's pre-eminence. The scope of change makes them uneasy.

I remember feeling the same way during the oil embargo of the 70's. In college, we were told Japanese interests would soon own every major U.S. corporation. The economy was bleak.

Yet people survived those times.

Americans have survived much worse - a civil war, food and water shortages, a world war... and those survivors would tell you the same thing: life goes on. Change always delivers new opportunities, despite the chaos, decay or destruction we experience in the small space around us.

It might seem like the end of the world to some. It's not. It's just change. Another opportunity will emerge somewhere.

Here's what I tell my kids about all this: Don't be afraid, be curious! Take a risk. Travel. Experience the changes going on outside our four corners. Listen. Learn.

Then take your best shot.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Values, Needs and Relationships

Last night I attended a meeting to plan a community-wide appeal - petitioning neighbors to support a new zoning overlay. At stake: a positive, arts-based initiative that most people will support at face value. The goal is significant - two-thirds must support the initiative - yet very achievable.

During the meeting, one well-intentioned and passionate volunteer consistently used militaristic terminology to outline his desired approach to the task. He used terms like "lemmings", "sheep" and "obstacles" to describe his neighbors and "target", "slaughter" and "attack" to frame the actions required. He's a decent person and I'm not certain he was aware of the impression he created.

Sometimes sales people (or those tasked with a specific objective) forget the real opportunity: to develop and nurture relationships, using actions and words that stimulate positive, productive interactions well into the future.

Consider this approach: Use language and actions that are common to your audience's  values. Map the benefits of any initiative to the needs of the community and make it the #1 goal to develop stronger relationships through a shared sense of purpose.

Perhaps the group could utilize terms like "porches", "local economy", "creative", "party", "friends", "exciting", "opportunity", and "shared values" to re-frame the discussion.  Words and actions like these are more likely to win converts and result in both short-term and long-term gains.

As most of us already know, there is greater opportunity to convince someone to accept a new idea or try a new product when they do not feel they have a target painted on their back. (One person down. On to the next...)

Check out this concept further in my book... Selling The Moment: Values, Needs, and Relationships: Turning Ordinary Sales into a Lifetime of Success 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creative Thinking, 2011-style

Here's a great comment by Michigan Govenor Rick Snyder, a former Gateway Computer executive and venture capitalist, made during his visit to the Detroit Auto Show.

It is companies, it is innovators, it is entrepreneurs that are going to create a better future for Michigan,” Snyder said. “We are committed …to creating the very best environment in the world to create that environment for success.

During the opening for the new Dali Museum, I had the good fortune to speak with an artist who rips apart old guitars to make new, better sounding and better crafted electric guitars. His goal: "I want to make guitars that kick ass."

Keep in mind, the former American icon, Fender guitar, is now made in China. That's as bad as saying Harley Davidson is now made in Taiwan. Good grief.

The only way to bring business–and jobs–back is to place your bets on young, brash artistic entrepreneurs like the one I met last night. And by the way, the very cool museum kicks ass, too.

Buy from a local artist. Visit the new Dali. Both decisions are a good bet on our economy and a great experience as well.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

App-y New Year!

Fresh off the holidays, it's time to take a look at one trend that is re-shaping the way we create and distribute learning: mobile apps.

Recently, I championed the use of a really cool smartphone app (Qrank) to fully engage employees - and customers! - in content related to organizational development. Although the client is - self-proclaimed - still living in Learning 1.0, they realize technology has moved well beyond simple eLearning pager turners. As a culture, most corporations are also well beyond the point of trying to keep "learning behind the wall". Today's learners: employees, leaders, customers, vendors, etc. are surrounded by online resources that deliver relevant information quickly and easily.

Why pretend employees can only learn the "secret recipe" from a corporate course or some internal site published by the organization? Very often, employees obtain the same (or similar) information from competitor sites, You Tube, peer blogs and customer emails faster than the CEO can compose the official press release.

Here's why this social media app is so appealing...

QRANK (sounds like crank) is a social media app that offers everyone a five minute brain scratch in the form of 15 trivia questions.

The standard Qrank game invites players to choose 15 of 20 cards that have questions from seven categories: business and government, entertainment, history and place, life, literature, science and nature, and sports. Points are awarded based on the difficulty of question and the speed at which the user chooses the correct multiple choice answer. Once players complete their final question they see how they rank among users in their city, state, country, and globally.

Now...it didn't take me long after stumbling on this game to see a huge possible application for learning. Rodney Gibbs, CEO of Ricochet Labs, was quick to listen to my proposition for using his game engine to educate and fully engage an organization's customers and employees.

Imagine using an application like Qrank to:

  1. Quickly create and host a trivia contest at a sales center or at multiple retail locations. Invite guests to play onsite for additional prizes and a chance for employees to engage them in branded conversations about products or special offers.
  2. Forego the traditional newsletter or email blast and invite members to compete in an industry-related quiz.
  3. Launch a series of contests throughout the year, with sales people (or any department for that matter...) to see which employees are staying on top of new product or industry knowledge. A final competition or annual event could cap the year's effort.
  4. Last, just use it as a distributed quiz that tests knowledge. Simple enough. Oh, and by the way: you can track results using any SCORM compliant Learning Management System.
Not bad for an application that is fast and free to download, carries a small footprint and is addictive to play. Another big plus is the instant localization (local, regional, national or global stage) Qrank and other social apps offer as I design the learning.

I'm not the first to see a huge upside to using game engines like Qrank. And the developers I have met are eager to extend their program's usability. I'll be updating my blog with progress on Qrank and other apps, to see how I might be able to apply them quickly and affordably and create more meaningful learning moments...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This Thanksgiving: thankful to be learning.

Last month, I decided to enroll in a creative writing class at the professor’s invitation. My instructor, Anda Peterson, is also a member of my writing group. Our small team, affectionately known as the Prose Posse, consisted of accomplished academics and journalists. I was the only technical writer in the bunch–the odd man out.

Writing mostly for corporations, I have learned tasks I will never perform directly. Technical writers will tell you that some subjects stay in their heads long after the project ends. Like a YouTube kitten or snippet of music that loops mercilessly, pulling the memory through one ear with a wire hanger eventually seems like a good plan. I wish I could forget how to perform Upper Extremity Sonography so I could make room for the name of the craft beer I sampled yesterday and quickly forgot. It’s most likely hanging out with my lost wallet and my third grade teacher, whose name I cannot recall.

Technical writing and instructional design is also a highly structured and deliberate process. My inner editor is a style guide that screams line-by-line revisions and keeps me on a strict budget. Deliver key objectives in line one. Select images that reinforce performance. Use quizzes to verify comprehension.

In truth, that box we love to hate and long to think outside actually gives us something to work with - a canvas on which to express ourselves. As a friend once told me, "creativity is our ultimate expression within defined parameters." I love trying to be as creative as possible, even when working with corporate or regulated material. However, open-sky, unlimited vistas are another matter. That blank sheet of paper can be a daunting partner.

So, I was immediately humbled by the burgeoning talent in Anda's classroom. Students in pencil thin jeans cranked out prize-worthy prose mere hours before class. A volunteer would recite lyrical lines, revealing yet another captivating story. Earnest and callow hearts searching the evening stars for answers or diving into the abyss for dinner. I panicked. My first submission was due in two weeks. My creative vocabulary felt limited by comparison, reduced to words like “happy," and “really." Pulling dead weasels through a rusty pipe would have been easier and more entertaining.

Despite my trepidation, the class seemed to respect every submission. I discovered creative writing courses are possibly the most life affirming event beyond kindergarten. Everyone brought something to share and then applauded. I don’t remember ever clapping in accounting or project management classes. Charitably, my classmates withheld the withering criticism my work fully deserves, an act of kindness typically reserved for the disabled or elderly. Based on the stories they submitted, I wondered if one or two of them were receiving community service hours for listening to mine.

Last night, I shared my experiences with a neighbor and how I hoped to live long enough to read something published by my fellow students. In return, I owe them the favor of purchasing their first published work, as payment in kind for helping me learn.

Thanks Anda. And to my classmates - a very special thank you!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Creating an Atmosphere of Collaboration

Improv teaches us to work with anything we are given (a prop, a line, an opportunity, a rejection, a bad economy…). No matter what it is, your FIRST answer is always yes. I want to use television as a metaphor for work.

Whose Line Is It Anyway is an improvisational television show - a great example of working with anything and having fun doing it. The performers respond affirmatively to anything shouted out by an audience member. They work with what they are given and make us laugh. The energy seems to grow and grow.

Now think about the reverse situation. Reality TV is an emotional wasteland where participants scream at each other and argue constantly. Sure, it's a human train wreck, and fun to watch for fifteen minutes and a beer, but would you really want to live there, 24 hours a day? You can almost feel the energy draining out of the room...

Where would you rather work: at the IMPROV or the Jersey Shore? What kind of office environment have you created?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Forming a Great First Impression

Every Chef knows that how the food looks is as important as how it tastes.

LIkewise, you may be prepared to sell a service, but does your customer see preparation in your delivery? Or, does your customer see a wreck of a website or a nervous person sitting in front of them.

In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell confirms years of research into first impressions and then takes it one step further. He says our decisions occur much faster - instantaneously or in less than two seconds.

In Gladwell's research, he finds we do this whenever we meet a new person, or when we have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. "Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. They are also unconscious."

When we meet a person, our primal instincts are hard at work trying to gauge if this person is a threat or not. We are unsure how to interact with them. We don't know their temperament and basically we want to figure out if they will hurt us or help us.

Our minds act with lightning speed, calling upon all of our senses during any first encounter. We listen to the timber and tone of the stranger's voice. Our eyes focus on movement and other non-verbal cues and our noses try to detect any foreign or threatening smells.

While our brains are busy sorting through all the input the other person's brain is doing the exact same thing. In the case of the web-based sale, emerging systems track customer movement and make recommendations to the administrator.

Although it sounds like a joke, that last sensory input (smell), may be the final frontier of the online experience. It's hard to imagine, but sooner or later, scent will become part of the online experience. I just hope it's not a two-way technology...