31 October 2005

Visual thinking practice: Expressing emotion

Visual thinking is the practice of using pictures (the viewing of pictures and the making of pictures) to enhance your ability to solve problems, think about complex issues and communicate effectively.

Are you ready to work on your visual thinking skills? You don't have to be an artist. Pick up a pen or pencil and try the following exercise.

The face is the most instantaneous and recognizable way human beings communicate their emotional state. Drawing facial expressions can help you understand them better, and also will enhance your observation and visual communication skills. Here's how to do it:

First, write the word "Faces" at the top of the page.

Next, divide a piece of paper into twelve squares by drawing two vertical lines and four horizontal lines to form a grid, like the one shown here (For Moleskine users with the small lined notebook, each square should be five lines high).

Now, in each square, draw a circle and make a simple facial expression that communicates an emotion. The goal is to draw twelve facial expressions that are distinct and recognizable.

Want to see how you did? On a separate piece of paper, write down the emotion you were trying to represent with each face. Now show your drawings to a friend and see how many they can guess.

1) Feel it. Make the face and try to "feel" the emotion as you draw.
2) Reduce your options. Think about how you might type an emoticon to express the feeling.

Email your drawings to me at dgray[at]xplane[dot]com. I'll post some of your drawings on the Visual Thinking Art blog.

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52% of workers plan to quit within two years

According to a Communication Nation survey, chances are better than 50/50 that any employee will leave your company within the next two years.

We surveyed the readers of Communication Nation about the effectiveness of communication in their workplaces. Who are these readers? Hard to say, but according to a blogads survey,

75% of blog readers make more than $45,000 a year,
54% of their news consumption is online,
21% are themselves bloggers,
46% describe themselves as opinion makers,
79% are male, and
the most common job title given is Computer Professional.

In addition, the respondents to the Communication Nation survey are pretty hard workers (or at least they say they are). Sixty-eight percent either always or almost always meet their deadlines, and follow through on commitments.

So what did we learn?

Let's start with the good news:

People know what their job is. Seventy-one percent say that they clearly understand what their job is and what is expected of them.

They know where to go for help when they need it. Seventy-one percent say they know where to go if they need help or resources to do their jobs.

And now the bad:

Half of workers don't have performance metrics. It's a pretty even split between those who have performance goals that can be objectively measured (50%) and those who don't (49%). That means they don't have an objective way to know how well they are doing in their jobs.

A surprising number of people don't think their boss is in the loop. Sixty percent feel that their boss knows what's going on in their department, which sounds great until you realize that 40% feel otherwise. "Knowing what's going on" would seem to be a pretty low bar for a boss.

Most people don't know what their boss's job is. Sixty-five percent say they don't know how their boss's performance is measured or what the expectations are for their department or group. To me this is significant. If they don't know what's expected of you, how can they help?

Many don't know where they fit in the scheme of things. More that half (55%) say they can see a clear connection between their performance criteria and the company's overall mission and goals. But I can't help wondering what the other 45% see.

They don't have much to look foward to. Sixty-five percent don't know how they will be rewarded if they meet or beat their performance goals (That tells me that it's possible they may not be rewarded at all), and only 28% can see a clear career path at their company.

They're going to leave you. More than half (52%) do not plan to be working in their current job to years from now.


So where does your workplace fall in this spectrum? And if you're a boss, what are you going to do about it? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Figure out what's important and start measuring it. It's the only way to measure progress. If you're not measuring anything, how do you know if you're getting better or worse?

Tell your team what your job is, and how it's measured. Ask them for their help in meeting your goals.

Give people something to look forward to. Plan to reward people for helping you meet your goals, and most importantly, tell what they must do to be rewarded. It doesn't always have to be financial. It can be a party, a day off, or you can promise to shave your head.

Plan to retain people in the long term. Work with your performers to design a career path that will keep them engaged for the forseeable future.

Talk to them. Let them know that what they think and feel is important to you. Ask good questions, listen, and keep your promises. Most problems can be solved with an open dialogue and a little creativity.

D-kriptik makes some excellent points in a link to this post:

"I have found these four beliefs can help to engender highly successful team members:

1. Be as transparent as possible (e.g., when people ask how the division is doing on meeting its goals, tell them, with metrics, and discuss)

2. Always (and visibly) put in the necessary (and often long) hours to efficiently and effectively produce high quality work that employees can refer to and customers praise (i.e., do as I do),

3. Mentor others, and build and encourage other mentors, in what it takes for 2. (e.g., answering questions, performing tutorials, and brainstorming), and

4. Build a genuine sense of pride in the work, customer satisfaction, and the resulting success (e.g., receiving a call or email from a customer that not just thanks you, but sings your praise, and being recognized by your peers and your bosses for it)."

Let me know how it goes -- and, as always, please post your comments and thoughts.

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30 October 2005

The Art of War, blogging and threaded discussion

The Art of War by Sun Tzu ranks among my favorite books of all time. It's quite simple and easy to read, yet every time I read it I learn something new. Over the years I have come back to it many times and it always feels fresh.

If you read many of the Chinese classics you will note a theme of commentary, or collaborative dialogue that is similar to blogging or threaded discussion. A classical text does not stand alone. Over the centuries, great minds add their thoughts and annotations to create a deep, rich, textured manuscript.

A new translation of Sun Tzu captures the essence of the original and blends it with the modern age, by adding collaboration and threaded discussion to the mix: visit Shonshi.

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The world according to Einstein

From An Essay by Einstein -- The World As I See It:

'The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.

It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.

In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."

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Sunday afternoon in the park

It's a beautiful day here in St. Louis. But if it's raining where you are or you can't get out, visit Vector Park for an enjoyable journey of the mind.

Vector Park is the brainchild of Patrick Smith. Enjoy!

If you like Vector Park you might also like this.

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How to make better presentations with story templates and storyboards

If you use PowerPoint, check out a couple of free online courses:

Story Template 101
Learn how to define and refine your story using a Story Template. We'll explore in-depth how story structure works, and how to work with each one of three Acts. [Click here to view the archived recording (Windows Media file)]

The PowerPoint Storyboard 101
Once you have a PowerPoint storyboard, how do you illustrate it? We'll cover a range of design techniques to create compositions that are easy to assemble, look at types of graphics that are appropriate to each Act, and explore a range of sources for graphical materials. [Click here to view the archived recording (Windows Media file).]

From my friend Cliff Atkinson at Sociable media: PowerPoint solutions.

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The Dale Carnegie cheat sheet

Here is Dale Carnegie's summary of his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936. In it you will find:

Fundamental techniques in handling people

Six ways to make people like you

How to win people to your way of thinking

Be a leader: how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

You will also find a great summary of the book, by Daniel Schutzsmith, here.

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29 October 2005

Games for geeks

Do any of these statements ring true?

You're a geek and don't want the great line of geekiness to end with you; you need to pass it on to your kids.

You want to learn the basics of programming and don't know how to get started.

You're having a geek party and don't want to play Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering.

You want to get into this whole Geek Chic thing.

If any of these apply to you, here's a great way to get started: c-jump, the board game that teaches programming basics.

If you like this one, here's another: the geekiest board game ever (shared by B Pipa).

Thanks Samantha!

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Beware of experts, wizards and consultants

When you don't know something, sometimes the first instinct is to ask an expert.

But I think that's a mistake: experts, wizards and consultants are fickle friends. Experts usually mean well, but they often don't dwell in the world of reality. Have you ever noticed that the more expert people are in a subject, the more they tend to get into arguments?

Expert analysis and research have their place; theories help us see larger patterns and turn observations and perceptions into meaning.

But never underestimate the power of your own common sense.

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28 October 2005

The system dynamics of technology

Kevin Kelly is one of the original founders of Wired magazine and a true iconoclast:

"I fully embrace the transforming power of technology.

Yet our family of five still doesn't have TV. I don't have a pager, or PDA, or cam-phone. I don't travel with a laptop, and I am often the last in my 'hood to get the latest must-have gadget. I find a spiritual strength in keeping technology at arm's length.

At the same time I run a daily website called Cool Tools where I review a broad range of highly selected consumer technology. A river of ingenious artifacts flows through my studio; a fair number never leave. Despite my detachment, I continue to deliberately position myself to keep technological options within reach."

This paradoxical relationship to technology is the subject of his next book. You can preview some of the thinking at The Technium:

"I'm calling this site The Technium. It's a word I've reluctantly coined to designate the greater sphere of technology - one that goes beyond hardware to include culture, law, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. In short, the Technium is anything that springs from the human mind. It includes hard technology, but much else of human creation as well. I see this extended face of technology as a whole system with its own dynamics.

On this site I aim to investigate the Technium. What does it want? Why do we embrace it? Is it possible to reject it? How does it relate to God, if at all? What kind of control do we really have on the pace and future path of the Technium itself?"

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27 October 2005

Think small

When it comes to new ventures, sometimes it pays to think small. The long tail and other niche market approaches are all examples of thinking small. But you can think small in other ways:

- Small dollar investment. Find a way to put a little money into it and see what happens.
- Small time investment. Invest a little time in a lot of places.

Small investments allow you to diversify your enegy and let Darwinian economics take their course. When the fittest ideas survive, you can then invest more time and money in the things that show promise.

The idea is that, rather than doing exhaustive analysis and testing beforehand, plant a lot of seeds and see what begins to grow. Then you can focus your attention on nurturing those things.

XPLANE started as a part-time hobby. Many great things start that way. You don't always need a business plan.

Think small.

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26 October 2005

Al Pacino and the Digg effect

At 7:30 am US Central time, on Saturday, October 2nd, Albert Pacino of the Netherlands submitted a link from Communication Nation to Digg.com. That is, he dugg it. With that click Albert started a linking cascade that caused a 20x increase in traffic to this blog and taught me a lesson in the economics of social bookmarking and the Digg Effect.

(If you're wondering what Digg is, you can read more about it on their home page.)

Here's what happened:

A post called "How easy is your writing to understand" was originally published by Communication Nation on September 19, 2005.

To set a baseline, this is a new blog and averages about 200 visits a day.

At approximately 7:30 am on Saturday, October 22, 2005 -- more than a month after the original post -- Albert Pacino diggs the post. Within hours Communication Nation was on the front page of Digg.com. By 6pm the post made the del.icio.us/popular list. At the end of the day Communication Nation had received more than 4,500 visitors; that's about 20 times more than the previous day.

By Sunday, the pace was slowing. The post was submitted to reddit's what's new page by spez. By Monday the site was no longer showing up on del.icio.us or reddit, but readers from digg were still trickling in. As you can see from the Sitemeter chart shown here, things are pretty much back to normal.

Click here for the XPLANATiON.

Now I'm suffering from Post-Digg Syndrome: Could this have happened during the week when traffic is higher or was it a fluke, a weekend effect? What could I have done to keep the traffic up? I have no idea.

I have since learned that the Digg Effect is not perceived positively by everyone. Those who pay for their own hosting, or that host their own servers, can be brought to their knees by the overwhelming traffic surge. In this case you can chalk one up to the power of the massive Google/Blogger server farms, because Communication Nation felt no pain.

I have also learned that Albert Pacino is a controversial character. He's suspected of foul play because his diggs get quickly dugg by a dozen others. His critics say he's created fictional names so he can digg things multiple times. His champions say he gets dugg so much because he's a surfing machine and he finds great links. But as far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter: either way he's a hero, for bringing Communication Nation to the masses :-)

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Charting a course for the soul

Clarence Larkin's charts are fascinating examples of information design. Charles Larkin was a preacher who spent three years of his life visualizing his understanding of biblical themes.

No one would dispute that the Christian bible is exceedingly complex, and famously subject to interpretation.

But Clarence Larkin's visualizations -- whether you agree or disagree with their contents -- are a joy to explore.

Larkin was a mechanical engineer, professional draftsman, teacher and manufacturer, and all of those disciplines shine through in the intricate detail, logic and aesthetics by which the images are constructed.

As the founder of a company that strives to convey more than just the facts -- to go beyond data to convey rich context and true meaning, it's not hard to recognize an artist at work.

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To hold people's attention, think like a gardener

Do you communicate formally or informally?

When you give a talk, is it highly structured and laid out in formal blocks, like a city? Or is it an untamed wilderness; a confusing tangle of references?

What about your website?

How about your work environment? What does it communicate?

Rigid formality has its uses, and so does wilderness. But Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems, in a beautiful essay on hypertext, suggests that we take some lessons from the architecture and landscape design when we communicate.

To get and hold that most precious commodity, attention, he says, we need to design our communication as if it were a garden -- an experience that is thoughtfully designed and meant to be enjoyed. Bernstein has designed a delightful hypertext garden which I invite you to visit. It rewards lingering.

One of the beauties of a garden is that you can enter it at any point. Here are some of the topics you might find as you explore:

The virtue of irregularity
Artful combination of the regular and irregular; awakening interest and holding attention.

Shapes of space
Crafted and pruned; rhythms with natural pauses.

The promise of the unexpected
Fluid pathways with side trails; old things in new and unexpected contexts.

Gates and signposts
Assurance that the visitor is safe; an invitation to enjoy the designer's art.

Repetition signals the designer's intent; combined with variance in artful ways, it can delight.

Establishing order
Parks gain stability through monuments; they become formal frames and gateways to enjoyment.

Statuary and follies
Structure in unexpected places.

I hope I have whetted your appetite enough that you want to enter the garden.

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25 October 2005

A visual browsing delight

Here's an interesting visual interface that manages to be useful, surprise and delight, all at once. It feels like you are rummaging around in someone's garage.

The designer, Jim Bumgardner of Krazydad, calls them CoverPops.

Mad magazine explorer
Science fiction cover explorer
1,001 best-selling graphic novels from Amazon
More science fiction

I think the interface implications go far beyond book and magazine covers and extend into other kinds of complex data sets. Spreading things out is a natural way to navigate complex information. You clean your desk by "dumping" the contents onto the floor or desk and sorting it into piles.

Imagine if this kind of visual search interface could be coupled with a "sort" component. What might the possibilities be for the computer desktop? As always I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the subject.

Via singer.to.

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Presentation tips from Japan

Some innovative methods from presentation masters of Japan:

Takahashi method: Masayoshi Takahashi uses nothing but text in his slides. The text is huge,usually numbering no more than ten characters. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig has a similar approach, sometimes called the Lessig method. Here's an example of the Takahashi method in action.

Monta method: This approach involves showing a sentence with parts of it covered or a question with the answer covered. The presenter reveals the answer after giving the audience a bit of time to think. This is a way to get your audience more involved. Here's an example of the Monta method in action.

I read about these methods at Presentation Zen, where you can read more about the Takahashi and Monta methods, as well as many others.

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24 October 2005

Do you have trouble remembering names?

Do you remember faces but have a hard time connecting them to names?

Remembering people's names is an important communication skill and very useful in business. Remembering people's names tells them that they are important, and it makes them feel valued. This is a great beginning to any interaction.

In my daily business activities I meet a lot of people, so I am continually faced with the following dilemma: should I say "nice to meet you? or "nice to see you again?"

I have blundered on this one enough to be certain that by nature I am terrible at remembering names. However, I have found a technique that seems to work well, when I remember to use it:

When the person first mentions their name, repeat it a few times in your head, and then create a simple, memorable word that rhymes with the name and will help you remember the person. For example, Caroline/vitamin; Bill/pill; Jim/dim, etc.

The time you spend trying to come up with a rhyme will cause you to focus on the name and the face intensely, helping you transfer the name/face link from your short-term to your long-term memory. This has the added value that when you first meet a person and are trying to think of a rhyme for their name, you will be looking at them thoughtfully, and it will seem as if you are profoundly interested in what they are saying.

At the first opportunity, write down the name before you forget it. On many long airplane flights, this technique has saved me from forgetting the name of the person sitting next to me.

For more tips take a look at the article from CNN that triggered the thought, Tricks to remembering names. I was surprised that my technique was not on the list. Here are the tips from CNN:

1. Be interested: Many of us don't even catch the other person's name when they're being introduced; we're too focused on ourselves. So the first step to remembering a name is to pay attention as you are introduced.

2. Verify it: Unless the person has introduced himself to you, verify what he or she wishes to be called. At a conference or seminar, for example, the name tag may have been typed incorrectly or it may be a more formal or informal version of the name they like to go by. Or someone else may have introduced you who doesn't know the person well. Asking what they prefer (e.g. "Jeff introduced you as Debbie, is that what you prefer to be called?") will not only cement the name in your mind, but ensure you are using the name that pleases them.

3. Picture it written on their forehead: Franklin Roosevelt continually amazed his staff by remembering the names of nearly everyone he met. His secret? He used to imagine seeing the name written across the person's forehead. This is a particularly powerful technique if you visualize the name written in your favorite color of Magic Marker.

4. Imagine writing the name: To take step three further, neural linguistic programming experts suggest getting a feel for what it would be like to write the name by moving your finger in micro-muscle movements as you are seeing the name and saying it to yourself.

5. Use word association: Try to connect a person's name with a familiar image or famous person. For example, if a woman's name is Jacqueline, picture her as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in a pink suit and pillbox hat. If a man's name is Arnold, imagine him as the "Terminator" or striking a body-builder pose.

6. Use it frequently: Try to use the name three or four times during your conversation. Use it when you first meet, when you ask a question and in your departure, e.g., "Daniel, it was a pleasure talking to you. Maybe we'll get a chance to chat again sometime."

7. Record the name in a "new contacts" file: Top sales representatives keep a record of new contact names and information, including where and when they met. Review it now and then, especially when you will be attending a conference or meeting where you may see these individuals again.

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Everything you ever wanted to know about business blogs

Bill Keaggy was the first XPLANE blogger. He started xblog and bblog several years ago, and today they are staples in the blogging community. How did he do it?

Check out Bill's presentation, All about business blogs for a great overview of the subject. And if you like it, check out Beyond the printed page, another presentation from earlier this year.

Note: Bill has quite a few links within the presentations that are worth checking out.

If that isn't enough for you check out Fast Company's recommendations, from Business Blogging for Beginners:

1. Make Introductions.
2. Be authentic.
3. Dress business casual [Be informal but professional].
4. Don't scrimp [on your time commitment].
5. Have a contingency plan [for times when your company hits a crisis].

You might also want to check out The Guide to Corporate Blogging.

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How to present like Steve Jobs

What makes Steve Jobs such a great presenter? It's not complicated, and, with practice, you can do the same things he does to make your presentations more effective.

- Prepare carefully. It's clear in every presentation Jobs gives that he has thought carefully about his audience, his message and the main points he wants the audience to take away. Yet as prepared as he is, he still feels completely natural, as if he's having a conversation.

- Create drama. A presentation by Steve Jobs is not just a speech -- it's an event. And the world watches. When he wanted to show how the Motorola iPod phone worked, he acted it out onstage. When he introduced the iPod nano, he pulled it out of the smallest pocket in his jeans.

- Use pictures. Not just pictures, dramatic pictures.

- Make it personal. Jobs puts himself out there for his audience. In a recent speech he spoke about his unwed mother, his adoption, dropping out of college and his bout with cancer.

- Have fun. Jobs' passion comes through in every word. He's having fun and it shows.

Here's a post on the subject from Presentation Zen; it's called Steve Jobs does it again:

"...take some time to watch how Steve Jobs used slides to support his presentation in yesterday's special Apple event at San Francisco's Moscone West. Your own style and use of visuals will be different and unique to your own situation, of course. But I think we all can learn a lot by observing Jobs and being mindful of his natural interaction with the audience and his visuals as he tells 'his story.' "

Here are some great additional points from David Crow's review of this article.

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100 words and pictures that define the time

"10x10™ ('ten by ten') is an interactive exploration of the words and pictures that define the time. The result is an often moving, sometimes shocking, occasionally frivolous, but always fitting snapshot of our world. Every hour, 10x10 collects the 100 words and pictures that matter most on a global scale, and presents them as a single image, taken to encapsulate that moment in time."

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Your writing toolbox

Peter Clark needs to be commended for Fifty Writing Tools, his excellent collection of writing tips, from the Poynter Institute:

"At times, it helps to think of writing as carpentry. That way, writers and editors can work from a plan and use tools stored on their workbench. You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here's a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on."

Here are the tools:

1. Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, and branch to the right
2. Use strong verbs
3. Beware of adverbs
4. Any word next to a period draws attention
5. Observe word territory
6. Play with words
7. Dig for the concrete and specific
8. Seek original images
9. Prefer simple to technical
10. Recognize your story's roots
11. Back off or show off
12. Control the pace
13. Show and tell: the ladder of abstraction
14. Use interesting names
15. Reveal character traits
16. Put odd and interesting things next to each other
17. The number of elements matters
18. Internal cliffhangers keep them reading
19. Tune your voice *
20. Take advantage of narrative opportunities
21. Learn how quotes differ from dialogue
22. Get ready: always be prepared to tell the big story
23. Place gold coins along the path
24. Name the big parts
25. Use repetition to pull the story together
26. Fear not the long sentence
27. Riff on the creative language of others
28. Write cinematically: turn your notebook into a camera
29. Report for scenes and place them in sequence
30. Write endings to lock the box
31. Draw parallel lines, then cut across them
32. Let it flow
33. Turn procrastination into rehearsal
34. Cut big, then small
35. Use puctuation to control pace and space
36. Write a mission statement for your story
37. Break long projects into parts, and long stories into chapters
38. Polish your jewels
39. Use active verbs -- but don't dismiss the passive
40. Use "the broken line" to mix narrative and analysis
41. Read for both form and content
42. Vary the length of paragraphs
43. Limit self-criticism at the beginning, and turn it loose during the revision
44. Save your "scraps" to use later
45. Foreshadow climactic events
46. The story's engine is the question it answers for your reader
47. Take interest in all the crafts that support your work
48. Create an editing support group
49. Learn from criticism
50. Map the writing process to focus your story

Via Lifehack

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23 October 2005

A color portrait of the English language

A Color Portrait of the English Language: "Color Code is a full-color portrait of the English language.

The artwork is an interactive map of more than 33,000 words. Each word has been assigned a color based on the average color of images found by a search engine. The words are then grouped by meaning. The resulting patterns form an atlas of our lexicon. "

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22 October 2005

Learn to love color

Color, like food and music, is not to be overanalyzed but to be savored by the senses. Relax, put on some music and play with the sliders or load random blends.

Type words from your imagination to see what appears.

Click to be delighted.

Or scroll.

The image shown here is from an optimum 16-color palette by John A. Watlington of the MIT Media Lab.

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This is just too funny

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Browse the news -- visually

The Big Picture CNET News.com: "The Big Picture is a CNET News.com special feature, connecting the dots between stories, companies, and topics within the News.com site."

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21 October 2005

What's it like to work at XPLANE?

What's it like to work at XPLANE?

Every day is different, but this short film by XPLANER and underground cartoonist Jeff Wilson should give you a bit of the flava.

And here's a day in the life from the year 2000 and the story as told by webcams, courtesy of the Keaggy.

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The art of science and engineering

Science Magazine and the National Science Foundation recently honored the creators of some dazzling scientific images, drawings, and animated presentations, in the third annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. This year's winners -- in categories including photography, illustration, informational graphics, and multimedia -- captured a striking aerial landscape, an expectant neuron preparing to fire, the radiant world of fluorescence, and the curious life of a famed insect.

Take a look.

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What's fresh and delicious?

David Wiley brings us oishii, a site that tells you what's fresh and delicious on del.icio.us -- which is fitting, because oishii is Japanese for delicious! (If you're wondering what de.icio.us is, read about it here.) David explains:

"One of the main purposes of social bookmarking systems is allowing people to see what other people are bookmarking. I frequently find things that people are linking to very interesting, and thought it would be nice to slap together a system that could tell me, automatically, what lots of other people have just bookmarked.

Thus, oishii was born. Oishii is kind of a del.icio.us mini-zeitgeist. oishii! polls the del.icio.us front page every 5 minutes, and returns all sites bookmarked by at least 30 people. In the spirit of facilitating self-organization, oishii is a kind of pheromone trail allowing me and others to find the resources other members of the hive found useful, interesting, humorous, or for some other reason worth visiting again. "

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The three stages of adoption

Here are the three stages any new idea or technology must go through, before it is widely adopted:
1. "That's impossible"
2. "It's theoretically possible, but why would anyone want that?"
3. "Of course, that's obvious, everybody knows that!"

Thanks to Toby Getsch for the post that triggered this thought.

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How to write better emails

From 43 Folders: Writing sensible email messages:

First: Understand why you're writing
Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:
1. Why am I writing this?
2. What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

Get what you need. There are really just three basic types of business email.
1. Providing information. “Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.”
2. Requesting information. “Where did you put the 'Larry Tate' file?”
3. Requesting action. “Will you call Larry Tate's admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?”

Note from Dave: I would add a fourth:
4. Confirmation. This is an email to confirm that something promised has actually been delivered, or to confirm a verbal agreement.
More on this.

Write a topic sentence that clarifies a) what this is about, and b) what response or action you require of the recipient.

Since the Larry Tate meeting on Monday has been moved from the Whale Room, could you please make sure the Fishbowl has been reserved and that the caterer has been notified of the location change? Please IM me today by 5pm Pacific Time to verify.

Write a great Subject line. Compose a “Subject:” line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid “Hi,” “One more thing...,” or “FYI,” in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:
Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm
Reminder: Monday is "St. Bono's Day"--no classes
REQ: Resend Larry Tate zip file?
HELP: Can you defrag my C drive?
Thanks for the new liver--works great!

Consider using just the subject line to relate your message. As I've mentioned before, in some organizations, such emails are identified by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line.

Brevity is the soul of...getting a response

Note from Dave: I have edited this post according to its own rules :)

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20 October 2005

Draw your to-do list

From idea*idea: How to Bubble Map:

"'I have checked off many To Dos... but I just do not feel like i've accomplished a lot...'.

This often happens to me (and you?), so I looked into the problem in depth. Then I realized that a To Do 'list' does not represent the importance of each item. Yes, you can 'A, B, C' the list, but your brain just does not catch how important each item is. In my opinion, it's justcounter-intuitive.

So a few weeks ago, I began 'drawing' my To Do list. Each bubble represents a To Do and the bigger the bubble the more troublesome it is to your mind. I named this map the 'bubble map'."

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Are you stuck?

Stuck in a job?
Stuck on a project?
Stuck on a problem?
Stuck in a rut?

It might be time to reduce your options and eliminate some resources.

Does that sound odd to you?

Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources -- even when the limits are artificial -- creative thinking is enhanced. That's because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

For example, think about the history of painting. It's hard to imagine more severe restrictions:
- It has to be a rectangle
- It must be flat
- It must be produced using a limited set of colors, derived primarily from oil, dirt and vegetable matter
- It must surprise and delight the mind and the senses

Or perhaps even "It must be painted on the ceiling."

Severe constraints: yet from Michelangelo to Picasso, artists such as Rembrandt, El Greco, Matisse, Van Gogh and Cezanne managed to comply. Yet their works could not be more different. In the modern age such constraints on "rules of art" have been completely removed, yet it seems that unique and memorable works of art are harder than ever to come by.

Unlimited resources reduce creativity. The dot coms are a perfect example. They had millions of dollars to work with and yet many of them created nothing. At the same time, people with nothing created companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

So if you need to get creative, think: what can you take away?

For example, what if you took away the power to click?

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A visual exploration of complex network maps

A stunning array of maps and diagrams that visualize complex structures and systems. The example shown here is from an org chart, circa 1924.

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19 October 2005

How to differentiate, just like everyone else

Starting a company or a new division? Launching a product?

To start with you'll need a name.

Now most entrepreneurs are really dumb and do silly things like name the company after themselves, ending up with meaningless names like Dell, Ford, Gillette, Bell or Hewlett-Packard. If they're a little bit smarter they might name the company something really boring, like General Motors, General Electric or International Business Machines. If they're a more ingenious they might come up with some kind of hybrid, like, for example, Wal-Mart.

But if you're an entrepreneur you shouldn't trust your instincts on something so important as your company's name. The right name could cost you thousands of dollars, but it'll be worth it. Just think: naming companies brought you such classics as Zobmondo, Activant, Jazelle, and Omniva.

Or you can take your chances and count on being a lucky idiot by naming your own company, like Bill Gates did.

Of course you'll need a logo. If your company name has an "i" in it, your best bet is to go to an expert who can help you turn the dot into a planet, or employ the time-tested design technique known as "ball and swoosh" to clearly distinguish you from the competition. If there is no "i" you may want to resort to the "stepping man," or perhaps "spirals and swirls."

Now for your tagline you'll need three words that represent your essence. For example: Scalable, Efficient, Secure. The experts can help you with this too.

Next you'll need a short "elevator pitch" so you and your sales team can quickly tell people what you do. Here's the formula for that:
For [industry segment or customer category], we are a [category of company] that provides [unique solution] which delivers [unique benefit/result].

Of course you will need a website with cool flash graphics and animated words (probably those "three words" that show how unique you are. And of course ball-and-swoosh business cards and brochures to match all of your other corporate materials, because everyone knows it's all about branding: the surest route to success and profitability is to become a household word that everyone recognizes.

If you follow these guidelines closely and listen to the experts, you'll be unique, like a snowflake or a fingerprint.

Just like everyone else.

There is an alternative: you can simply explain yourself.

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The long tail strategy

The long tail is already a cliche in silicon valley circles, along with other words like Ajax, web services, weblogs, Google, del.icio.us, Flickr, folksonomy, tags, hacks, podcasting, wikis, bottom-up, RSS, citizen journalism, mobile, TiVo, and convergence.

But I just learned about it last week, when it came up in a conversation with my friend Evan Williams. If this is the first time you've heard the term, read on. If the long tail is old news to you, bookmark this link and use it to answer stupid questions from people like me.

About a year ago, Wired Editor Chris Anderson wrote an article called The Long Tail, where he pointed out that only about 20% of media and services are available to the public through traditional distribution channels. This is because for big companies the 20% is the only thing that counts because that's where most of the profits lie.

The remaining 80% is the "long tail" which was previously ignored because there was no way to connect the small niche markets with the products they were willing to buy.

Web companies like Amazon, Google and Rhapsody are already capitalizing on the long tail approach, using a number of mechanisms (people who bought this book also bought...) to connect niche content providers and buyers.

The Economist recently published an article called Profiting from Obscurity that gives a great overview of the subject.

In the words of Chris Anderson, "The companies that will prosper will be those that switch out of lowest-common-denominator mode and figure out how to address niches."

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Envision the rest of your life

Avi Solomon has storyboarded his life, and uses storyboards to envision where he wants to take it.

In A Jolly, Socratic Science he writes: "A storyboard is an apt metaphor for how we make sense of our own life history. Storyboarding can be used to sense emergent patterns in our own life story and to envision the life experiences that we wish to welcome into our future."

Avi points out that making the storyboard helped him focus on what he wanted and ultimately helped him achieve it. This doesn't surprise me one bit.

I have often been amazed at the power a picture can have to focus the mind and energize people toward a future reality.

Whether he knows it or not, Avi is a member of the back-to-paper movement.

Why not try it yourself? You might be surprised at the results.

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How to screw up a reorganization initiative

You can't avoid losing some productivity when you reorganize. But many companies endure prolonged productivity losses, lose their best people, and end up worse off than they started. Don't be one of them.

A reorganization nightmare
A global network and bandwidth provider decided to reorganize its sales team, focusing some individuals on hunting (new account acquisition) and others on farming (retention and growth of existing accounts). Salespeople would be asked which role they preferred, but final assignments would be made by their managers. At the time, all salespeople were responsible for both hunting and farming.

How it appeared to the frontline
A regional sales manager called together his six-person team. He explained that the sales force was going to be reorganized and that the change would be finalized the following Tuesday. The sales team asked about compensation: Would it change? If so, how? The manager had no answers. He asked them which roles they preferred. All six wanted to be hunters. A couple of days later he came back to the team and said that the company had decided to wait till Q1 of next year to implement the plan. Did the team breathe a sigh of relief? NO.

Why high performers leave
I heard this story on a recent airplane flight, from a woman who was the top performer in her region the last three years in a row and a regular member of the president's club. She was heading for an industry trade show and — rather than selling — her primary goal was to land a new job. Why? She didn't understand the reasons for the change. She worried that she might be forced into a farmer role. She was afraid that as one of two women on the team, she wasn't a member of the “boy's club,” and as such would get the short end of the stick. She didn't understand how the decisions would be made or when. She wondered this was a management attempt to thin the ranks.

Why most reorgs fail to change anything
Companies reorganize because something is not working, but the way the company is organized is not always the problem. A reorganization initiative can be a way for senior executives to blame the system or process rather than taking a penetrating look at their management approach or strategic vision. Often the real issues are hard for insiders to see. Industry dynamics change and business ecosystems evolve in ways that can be hard to decipher.

Five things that you can do to avoid failure
Here's how you can give your reorg a better chance of success:

1. Prepare: First, determine why things needs to change. If you can't answer this question, then don't do it! If you have a good reason to change, prepare to communicate it clearly and succinctly — people must feel the pain of your current situation as acutely as you do. If possible, communicate the issues early and ask for feedback. If people feel involved in the planning stages, they will be more comfortable later.

2. Make decisions: Who will report to whom? How will compensation and metrics change, and why? Any change that affects people's pay and job roles will create deep anxiety, at least in the short term. Keep comp plans simple and easy to understand — for many, complexity implies trickery and increases suspicion.

3. Visualize the change: Show people where they will fit and what role they will play. Show them how the old way compares to the new way so they can see the benefits of change. Visualize the work flow so they can see how the change will make their lives easier and deliver more value to customers. Show them the path: how do you plan to get from here to there? What will happen, and when?

4. Draw the org chart: This will increase clarity and also help later, when you will need to communicate with suppliers, customers, partners and investors. Do it now, and keep it current moving forward.

5. Be clear and consistent: When you roll out this change, remember that emotions will be strong and tensions high. Make sure your messages are simple, brief, and the rationale for change is crystal clear — if anything is vague or uncertain, people will write their own stories.
Once you have committed to the change, don't look back. GO!

Originally published in NO2GO.

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The four toughest talks in business

"Your palms are sweaty. Your stomach is in knots. Sitting at your desk, staring at your screen saver, you play out scenarios that rival your worst nightmares. Before the day is out, you must force yourself to start one of the toughest conversations in business: 'I'm going to have to let you go.' 'I want a raise.' 'I've made a terrible mistake.' 'Boss, I can't do this.'"

Fast Company introduces us to Bruce Patton and Doug Stone, two of the Harvard Negotiation Project's directors, who believe that "intimidating exchanges become productive only when you overcome your dread."

"All tough conversations put you on the defensive. Your job is to switch to offense and work toward a solution that satisfies both sides. To do this, you must understand four truths of tough talks:

1. Straying from the real issue will always sabotage your mission.
Defense: You've decided to ask for a raise. You feel confident. You've had a great year. But your team leader fires back at you by recalling a less-than-stellar project you headed up six months ago. Suddenly you find yourself debating your role in the project.
Offense: "Most people go into these conversations thinking that they must be perfect to get a raise," says Patton. "That's not true. You must use some kind of an objective standard, such as comparisons with people who do similar jobs in-house, to prove you're being paid less than you deserve. That's the only issue being negotiated."

2. The future is more important than the past.
Defense: You've just lost the account. You've been reamed royally. Now what?
Offense: "Refocus the conversation on the future," says Stone. "Discuss ways to prevent the mistake from occurring again. This is the subtext: 'Yes, I messed up. But I'm good at my job, and I understand how important it is to get things back on track.' You're showing leadership."

3. There's no anesthesia for the pain of a difficult conversation.
Defense: You've just fired an inept but well-meaning guy in accounts services. You feel awful about it, and now you're trying to find something to say that will lift his spirits.
Offense: "It's not your job to persuade the guy that things will get better," says Stone. "Your job is to let him go. His feelings are immaterial to the outcome. If he says, 'I'm hurt because you were my mentor,' then that is something to talk about. Tell him that you're also hurt, because he let other people down. Sharing views is important. But you can't take responsibility for changing his feelings."

4. Defending the weak parts of your argument is a waste of time.
Defense: Fear underlies all difficult conversations -- people are afraid of sharp rebuttals and an argument's repercussions.
Offense: In any tough conversation, no one is 100% right or 100% wrong. "Each side has weaknesses, and you must admit your own shortcomings," says Stone. "That way you won't put a lot of energy into defending your weakest positions when you start the conversation. Acknowledge the problem. Take responsibility for your fair share. Focus on the solution -- that's what keeps you centered."

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How to assert yourself

Do you have trouble saying no, even when you really should?
Do you feel like people walk all over you?
Do you have trouble keeping your temper under control?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you might find it really helpful to learn about assertive communication.

Here are some tips from a University of Iowa handout on assertive communication by Vivian Barnette, Ph.D.:

There are three parts of each assertive intervention:
1. empathy/validation: Try to say something that shows your understanding of the other person's feelings. This shows them that you're not trying to pick a fight, and it takes the wind out of their sails. For example, "I know that you get anxious when you're all ready to go and I'm not … ."
2. statement of problem: This piece describes your difficulty/dissatisfaction, tells why you need something to change. For example, "… but when you do that, I get all flustered and take even more time. By the time we get in the car, we're mad at each other and not much in the mood to have a good time."
3. statement of what you want: This is a specific request for a specific change in the other person's behavior. For example, "From now on, let's be sure we know what time we want to leave, and if you're ready before I am, will you please just go to another room and read the paper or watch TV?"

How to be effectively assertive:

Use assertive body language. Face the other person, stand or sit straight, don't use dismissive gestures, be sure you have a pleasant, but serious facial expression, keep your voice calm and soft, not whiney or abrasive.

Use "I" statements. Keep the focus on the problem you're having, not on accusing or blaming the other person. Example: "I'd like to be able to tell my stories without interruption." instead of "You're always interrupting my stories!"

Use facts, not judgments. Example: "Your punctuation needs work and your formatting is inconsistent" instead of "This is sloppy work." or "Did you know that shirt has some spots?" instead of "You're not going out looking like THAT, are you?"

Express ownership of your thoughts, feeling, and opinions. Example: "I get angry when he breaks his promises." instead of "He makes me angry." or "I believe the best policy is to…" instead of "The only sensible thing is to …"

Make clear, direct, requests. Don't invite the person to say no. Example: "Will you please ... ?" instead of "Would you mind … ?" or "Why don't you … ?"

Special techniques for difficult situations:

Broken record: Keep repeating your point, using a low level, pleasant voice. Don't get pulled into arguing or trying to explain yourself. This lets you ignore manipulation, baiting, and irrelevant logic. Example: You are taking something back to a store that you know gives refunds, but the clerk first questions your decision, tries to imply that there's something wrong with you because you changed your mind, tells you that she can only give a store credit, etc. Using the broken record, you walk into the store and say "I decided I don't need this and I'd like my money back." Then no matter what the clerk says, you keep repeating "I decided I don't need this and I'd like my money back." If she doesn't get it, simply ask to speak to a manager and say the same thing. Trust me, it works!

Fogging: This is a way to deflect negative, manipulative criticism. You agree with some of the facts, but retain the right to choose your behavior. Example: Mom: "Your skirt is awfully short, don't you think you should wear longer skirts? They're the style now." You: "You're right, skirts are longer now." Agree with as much of the facts as you want to, but don’t agree to change your skirt length. Fogging is great for avoiding fights and making people stop criticizing. With significant others, when you need to keep living together, it's best to quietly hear them out, then assertively give your response.

Content to Process Shift: This means that you stop talking about the problem and bring up, instead, how the other person is behaving RIGHT NOW. Use it when someone's not listening or trying to use humor or a distraction to avoid the issue. Example: "You're getting off the point. I'm starting to feel frustrated because I feel like you're not listening."

Defusing: Letting someone cool down before discussing an issue. Example: "I can see that you're upset, and I can even understand part of your reaction. Let's talk about this later." Also, if they try to stay with it, you always have the right to walk away.

Assertive inquiry/stop action: This is similar to the content to process shift. "Let's hold it for a minute, something isn't working, what just happened?, how did we get into this argument?" This helps to identify the real issue when the argument is actually about something bigger than the immediate topic.Example:
"Can you help me with this statistics problem?"
"Man, will you just get off my back? You know how much I have to do today!"
"Why is it such a problem to take 15 minutes to help me with this? You told me last night that you would!"
"I get so tired of you always asking me to do these things right when I'm in the middle of something!"
"Whoa, let's take a break here. How did we get from my stats problem to you being tired of my interruptions?"
The real problem is not the stats problem, it's timing. Now that topic is open for discussion and they're becoming aware of how their arguments escalate.

Summarization: This helps to make sure you're understanding the other person. Example: "So what you're trying to tell me is ... ."

Specificity: It's really important to be very clear about what you want done. This helps prevent distractions. Example: "The thing I really wish is that you'd pick your clothes up off the floor."

Here's more from Assertiveness - Stress Management Techniques from Mind Tools:

LADDER describes a six-stage process for handling problems in an assertive way. These are:
L – Look at your rights and what you want, and understand your feelings about the situation
A – Arrange a meeting with the other person to discuss the situation
D – Define the problem specifically
D – Describe your feelings so that the other person fully understands how you feel about the situation
E – Express what you want clearly and concisely
R – Reinforce the other person by explaining the mutual benefits of adopting the site of action you are suggesting.

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What do artists and entrepreneurs have in common?

Bill Strickland on artists and entrepreneurs - Signal vs. Noise (by 37signals): "Artists are by nature entrepreneurs, they're just not called that, Strickland says. They have the ability to visualize something that doesn't exist, to look at a canvas and see a painting. Entrepreneurs do that. That's what makes them different from businesspeople. Businesspeople are essentially administrators. Entrepreneurs are by definition visionaries. Entrepreneurs and artists are interchangeable in many ways."

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18 October 2005

Writing it down forces you to think it through

In Functioning Form, interface designer Luke Wroblewski points out that writing things down forces you to think them through:

"Writing down my design decisions enables me to:
Solidify my design approach: Within application design, there is a tendency to locally optimize (per feature, per screen) interactions and information displays. When you go back and articulate why those decisions were made, application-wide patterns often emerge that enable greater consistency.
Articulate my rationale: Designers need to explain how their solutions address business and user needs as well as how they address technical opportunities and limitations. Writing out your design rationale requires you to compose the story behind your product vision. That story is invaluable for communicating your design to stakeholders.
Ensure clarity: If you can't easily describe how an interface or feature works, chances are users will have a hard time understanding it."

Luke has a great point. Writing things down is simply a way to capture knowledge that's in your head. But because your writing is intended for other people to read, the process of doing it forces you to slow down a bit. As you work on the flow of the document you start to process it the way a beginner would. This can help you identify gaps in your thinking you may not have seen before.

We do this intuitively. We all know that taking five minutes to make a simple to-to list can help you organize your thoughts or your day.

Career coach R0bert Gatling says "write it down" was one of the best tips he ever got.

This is also one of the reasons having a blog can make you a better manager. By writing down your management philosophies and recording your best management conversations you can make your blog a database of best practices and ideas.

And yes, the picture is a random page from my sketchbook.

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Is PowerPoint good or evil?

PowerPoint. People either love it or hate it. There is no doubt that Powerpoint has had an influence on the world -- but is it a positive one or a negative one? And who decides?

Here's what the experts say:

The case for evil:
Edward Tufte, information design expert and author of several books on the subject, recently wrote an article excoriating PowerPoint in Wired magazine, entitled PowerPoint is Evil. In it, Tufte compared PowerPoint to tools of propaganda and control:

"PowerPoint's pushy style seeks to set up a speaker's dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?"

He goes on to make the argument that statistical data should be presented in one slide as opposed to several:

"When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons."

The case for good:
Donald A. Norman, former Apple Fellow and author of The Design of Everyday Things, responds in defense of PowerPoint:

"Tufte is a statistician and I suspect that for him, nothing could be more delightful than a graph or chart which can capture the interest for hours, where each new perusal yields even more information. I agree that this is a marvelous outcome, but primarily for readers, for people sitting in comfortable chairs, with good light and perhaps a writing pad. For people with a lot of time to spend, to think, to ponder. This is not what happens within a talk. Present a rich and complex slide and the viewer is lost. By the time they have figured out the slide, the speaker is off on some other topic."

PowerPoint, true to its name, is a powerful tool. It can be used for good or evil and it can certainly be misused. Abuse of the tool is so common that it has become synonymous with the tool itself: Peter Norvig's excellent satire, The Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint Presentation, makes the case especially well.

But who's to blame?
Should we condemn the tool because people misuse it? We can't in good conscience blame the tool or the well-intentioned people who try to use it. They are simply following the guidelines, templates and wizards within PowerPoint.

"Wait a second!" you say. If PowerPoint is neither good nor evil, and the people who use it have good intentions and are trying their best, why are there so many terrible PowerPoints out there? Who's fault is it?

It's the wizards.

The wizards and templates within PowerPoint lead us astray. PowerPoint is a visual tool, yet the default setup is text with bullet points. Most of the "design" templates are cluttered or badly designed. The content wizards serve up bland, bullet-point-ridden generic outlines and seem to "autochoose" the ugliest design templates available.

They coach us towards bullet points, chartjunk, "meeting by template" and a thousand other "deaths by PowerPoint." Microsoft makes great tools but when they try to deliver content they seem to fail. A more successful strategy seems to be partnering with content providers as they did with MSNBC.

Wizards, like consultants, come in all flavors, and the ones that dwell in PowerPoint are particularly capricious and not to be trusted. Follow their advice at your peril.

How do you feel about PowerPoint? How do you feel about the wizards? Please share your thoughts.

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17 October 2005

Find an expert on any subject

How would you like to have an easy way to find an expert on any subject, and see what websites they're bookmarking?

Check out CollaborativeRank, a search engine that identifies subject-matter experts based on what they bookmark, and how popular their links are. This tool offers you some real benefits:
1. You can search on any subject and get excellent results
2. You can identify experts in the subject on which you are searching
3. You can subscribe to that expert's bookmarks

How does it know what people bookmark? It's getting the information from a service called del.icio.us, which allows you to bookmark sites for later use by giving them tags.

How can you subscribe to an expert's bookmarks? You subscribe via RSS (Real Simple Syndication). If you're unfamiliar with RSS you can read more about it here.

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16 October 2005

HTML for dummies

HTML Tutorial: "Many of the items you will find in these pages are very basic, but are necessary to learn before moving on to the more advanced subjects. "

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15 October 2005

Saturday night fights

Tonight, Communication Nation turns the spotlight on the inhuman sport of Catboxing.

Kitten War is the main event for the evening. You're the judge, and it's your job to decide which kitten is cutest: may the best kitten win.

The most difficult part of being a judge is dealing with the guilt of deciding who wins or loses the contest of cuteness. When you've judged a few matches you may want to visit the Hall of Losers to see whom you have condemned to a life of low self-esteem and possible criminal behavior.

If you are an especially cruel type of person, and like to see cats humiliated by being treated as dolls or furniture by their "loving" owners, check out stuffonmycat.com (and may god have mercy on your soul).

If you are a science type you might enjoy the Infinite Cat Project, which started with a cat watching a flower and has expanded to, well, the goal is an infinite number of cats looking at pictures of other cats (You'll need Flash).

Or you can just relax and watch some more crazy cat antics.

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14 October 2005

The Three-Step Memo

As you try to get your thoughts down, you are distracted by dozens of competing concerns and preoccupations, including the co-worker in the hallway who is describing in intimate detail his marvelous mid-winter vacation in the Cayman Islands. A hour later, after two people have walked into your office and five people have called you on the phone (each needing an immediate response) you have completed your memo, which is supposed to be an articulate, organized, cogent statement of your purpose in writing.

So what's new?

The next time you find yourself trying to write a memo in less-than-ideal conditions like these, try organizing your thoughts using this simple, three-step formula:
1. Purpose
2. Support
3. Proposed action.

It is more than a time-saver for you. It also ensures that you are stating your purpose clearly and getting to the point quickly for your reader. Here's how it works:

Organize your message into three paragraphs beginning with these phrases:

I am writing because (or to) . . .

The facts are . . .

I propose that you . . .

From Wilbers: The Three-Step Memo.

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13 October 2005

Looking for an outbreak of common sense

Have you heard any of these questions in your workplace recently?
"Who's responsible for that?"
"Why didn't this happen?"
"I thought that we already decided to do that?"
"How could we miss that?"
"What do you mean we don't know?"

At the end of the day most companies are looking for amounts to this: an outbreak of common sense! How can you achieve an outbreak of common sense?

Companies often lack clarity on fundamental things. The larger the company the more likely this is the case. A lack of clarity causes a lack of structure, resulting in a fog of confusion. The fog of confusion means slackers can hide between the cracks, and hard-working people either don't get noticed, or they focus on the wrong things because they don't know what the right things are.

If you want to bring clarity to your work environment you need to focus on four things which we call the four cornerstones of clarity.

The first two cornerstones are roles and goals:

Roles: Define the functional work that needs to get done and divide it up into clear "accountability sets" that can be owned by individuals. Develop a "one-pager" for every role. A role description should include a summary of the accountabilities, a summary of the activities involved and skill-sets required, and succinctly define how success in the role is objectively measured.

Goals: Starting at the top, define clear, objective, measurable goals that can "roll down" through the org chart. Create a "scoreboard" where people can see how effectively the organization is performing against those goals. If the goals "roll down" effectively and roles are clearly defined, everyone's performance can be measured on the scoreboard.

The next pair of cornerstones is streams and teams:

Streams: These are the work streams connect the roles into functional flows; they define how the process works. To define your streams, you first need work with the people involved to depict the "as is" state; that is, how things functionally work today. It's very likely this will include many practical "workarounds" that are not defined anywhere in the company's manuals or documentation. Much of XPLANE's corporate work involves defining and visualizing such workstreams.

Teams: In this context, a team is a cross-functional group that can look at the organization as a whole, or view a work stream from end to end. Bring your teams together to look at the "as-is" state and map how it could be improved. It doesn't help to assemble a team until you have defined roles, goals and streams. Why? The team needs to have a clear starting point, clear objectives and clear building blocks to work with. The streams form the starting point, the roles are the building blocks and the goals form the objective.

Before you create your next grand strategy or install the next big technology, take a look at the four cornerstones of clarity and see if you can't engineer an outbreak of common sense.

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12 October 2005

How NOT to make a chart

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show points out the problem with this chart from FEMA. When disasters happen, FEMA's approach is
- Response
- Recovery
- Mitigation
- Risk reduction
- Prevention
- Preparedness


The underlying visual structure of your charts is important. Before you make a chart, think about what its composition might imply to your audience.

Thanks to Andrew Crowley for the link.

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11 October 2005

And the winner is...

The winner of October 2nd's caption contest is Zing, who offered the following caption for the picture shown here:

Woman: As you can see from the reports the paperless office initiative has saved the company nearly $.18.

Man: Outstanding work, Smith.

Congratulations Zing! Please contact me to claim your prize.

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