Waste Ad Space, Lose Customers!

Today, there is a vast landscape out there of real estate for marketers to try and sell us on their products.

Billboards, newspaper ads, TV, banner ads, those little, annoyingly persistent popup ads that swallow up your screen and hide the “X” so you don’t know how to get rid of them (what are those CALLED, anyway?), and more. The Internet has made it inifinitely easier for marketers to reach their target.

With the explosion of ways to reach your customer, wouldn’t you want to make sure you have the most effective message you can have, thereby maximizing your return on investment in whatever your chosen marketing media (what I’m referring to here as marketing real estate) is?

What about your return on investment in your target customer’s attention span? That’s even more precious (and hard to come by) than space on a billboard, or an email campaign.

It hurts to see companies waste resources (time, money, ad space, HIGHWAY CLUTTER) by creating marketing that is just wasteful. Think of the environment, people! Do we need even more useless, empty words an images polluting our roads, newspapers, and online journeys through cyberia?

NO.

Discount Tire is a great company. We have been buying tires from them for years. The thing that keeps us coming back is their customer service.

They fix our flat tires free of charge.
They rotate our tires free of charge.
They put air in my tires and calibrate the pressure free of charge.
They have a great system that keeps track of us as customers and they can quickly look us up and provide the service we need, even across different states.
They treat people like PEOPLE.

Driving on the highway today, I saw a billboard for Discount Tire that just made me sad. All it said was:

DISCOUNT TIRE
CHEAP PRICES

Seriously?
There are SO many things that make Discount Tire stand out from its competition that could have been highlighted in that space above the road.

Also, isn’t the price point advantage (i.e. cheap prices) already built into the company’s name????
Hello, it’s called DISCOUNT Tires.

Price advantage, in my opinion, is no longer a competitive edge that companies should rely on in their marketing.
These days, you need a more human edge. 

On the other hand, the first time I saw Chik fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin” billboard (see below), I probably laughed for a full 15 minutes (and then many many other minutes later when thinking about the billboard).

Part of it was just the absurdity in seeing cows look like they were painting a billboard and trying to convince people to eat chicken instead of beef, but mostly, it was the genius in the framing of their core message:

Chik Fil-A really just wants you to eat more chicken. (At their restaurants, preferably).

The company has come up with a number of other campaigns that are offshoots of the above message, but again, I think most of them are just a waste of marketing real estate and trying to copy/mimic the success of the billboard above.

As Seth Godin says in his book Purple Cow, sometimes, doing nothing is better than doing too much, or doing something that is not effective. (More on Purple Cow here).
Yes!

Marketers – please stop wasting your precious marketing real estate!
As the world gets more and more connected, online, and distracted, you need to think harder about how to get and keep our attention and interest.

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Identifying passion

If you’re anything like me, you have trouble answering the questions “What is it that you love to do? What is your passion?”

Part of the difficulty in answering this question lies in the fear of commitment.
By saying that you are passionate about writing software, or teaching, or fashion, or human resource management, or LOLcats, are you suddenly and forever branded?
What if you change your mind 6 months, 1 year, or even 10 years from now? What if your interests change?

Perhaps indicative of some form of Attention Deficit Disorder, I always felt torn (and defeated) when asked to identify what it is I am most passionate about doing. I constantly berated myself for not knowing, as others seem to know, what it is that I want to do, and who it is that I want to be.
It kept me up at night, and kept me wondering about my future.

– Would I ever be extraordinary if all I ever did was stick to what I knew I could do well (or at least well enough to keep making an income)?
(Side note: That strategy – only doing what I know I can do well – is precisely what keeps me from ever trying to play computer games with my family, thus missing out on all the fun and laughter I see them experiencing when they play together. Perfectionism and the need to do well – and WIN – have held me back from living life to the fullest.)

– How would I ever know what I was meant to do if I never gave myself the chance to explore, to try new things, to take a chance?

Ironically, worrying about being held back from exploring has, in effect, held me back from exploring. It has held me back from finding my own truth, my purpose, and my authentic voice.

In that regard, the past few days have been a revelation to me.
I had the opportunity, through a couple of separate events, to be surrounded by inspirational people who love what they do, and do what they love.
It helped me realize that in order to take the next step and make the leap from good to great, I need to get over my fears of commitment, of imperfection, and of making the wrong choices.

The secret to finding my passion is not locked away in some obscure formula that I haven’t yet found. It is not neatly tucked away in some magical place of employment or custom-tailored job position that I just haven’t discovered yet.

The answer is right here, staring me in the face, asking me to acknowledge it. The answer lies in the common thread between all the different things I am interested in, and it has been there all along. The answer is versatile enough for me to be able to apply it no matter where I am.

I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead, and realize that at the very least, recognizing what it is I love to do will give me a purpose for each of my interactions moving forward.

That purpose will be to bring people who have a common goal together, to help them realize their full potential, even beyond what they envision for themselves.
I believe people underestimate their abilities, and I want to inspire them to reach higher, push harder, and challenge themselves to do more.

I have some ideas about how to manifest this passion, but I realize that it might take some time to execute those ideas. And guess what?

That’s perfectly okay with me.

Cheesy? Maybe.
Real and from the heart? Totally.

Motivation, animated

You guys have to watch this video. I read Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us a few months ago, and recently was directed to this animation that summarizes the main concepts discussed in his book.
I’d never seen anything by RSA Animate before today, but I’m definitely going to be watching some more of these videos – what an innovative way to spread thoughts, ideas, and information!

What do you think? What’s your main motivator when doing the things you do?

On becoming Agile

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Are you confused yet?
Are you struggling to guess what the connection between being Agile and a quote by Mahatmi Gandhi could possibly be?

Let me explain.

Bear with me as I go through a brief background of how Agile became an evolving part of my life and a framework which I hope will become a defining characteristic of my career.
(And for those of you who have no interest in any of this, my apologies in advance. Truth is, this stuff excites me – nerd alert! – so be prepared for more to come!)

The word Agile is so heavily loaded with preconceptions of what it is or isn’t that I find it necessary to clarify what it means to me, and how I relate to it as a concept.

These days, Agile is used in many instances as a branded, highly marketed way of communicating that you (and/or your organization) follows one of the many Agile methodologies/processes for executing projects.
It’s typically used in the context of software development projects, although as a concept it is really a set of values (guided by a number of principles) that, when translated into a way of being, determine how an organization gets things done.
A number of different methodologies (most famously Scrum, eXtreme Programming, and Lean, although there are so many others) advocate certain practices that result in agility, but being agile is so much more than simply following the guidelines of one or the other of these methodologies.

(More detail regarding Agile’s set of values and principles can be found at agilemanifesto.org.)

People will argue about the pros and cons of any one particular Agile methodology, but what matters most is realizing that it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.
To me, the most important result that comes out of adopting agility as a concept is learning the best ways to achieve effectiveness, adaptability, and how to respond to change.

If you read that again you’ll notice that I said Effectiveness.

NOT Efficiency.

Effectiveness.

This is a big shift in mindset for those of us that have had to deal with processes whose main objective has been to ensure that we achieve a predefined result (one that usually ends up not being what the customer needs or wants by the end of the project), by some predefined deadline, in the most efficient way possible.
Learning how to get results in the best way possible (effectiveness) has, over time, trumped my natural tendencies to want to blaze forward and just get things done as fast as possible and with as little overhead as possible (efficiency).
Now, I believe that if I’m going to get things done, they better be done right.

For years I thought that one of the most important (and marketable) skills I had to advertise to any employer was my perceived ability to multi-task.
Like, seriously, multi-task. I thought I was so clever to be able to follow 6 instant messaging discussions at the same time as taking notes on a conference call that I was leading/facilitating, while maybe shopping for shoes online in the background.
(Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I obviously would NEVER shop for shoes while on the job, and it may have been more like 9 instant messaging discussions but who’s counting.)

The problem: Which one of those things was I doing really well, to the best of my ability, resulting in a better end-result for myself as well as those I was working with?
Honest answer: None.
(Ok maybe the shoe-shopping one because seriously I could do that well even in my sleep. Just sayin’.)

If you haven’t heard about or read the latest studies that indicate that actually, we’re not so good at multitasking, then let me be the first to tell you:
Actually, we’re not so good at multitasking.

I am certain that I could have gotten more high-quality work done by focusing on one task, even one project, at a time instead of agreeing to take on as many projects as my bosses would throw my way in an attempt to appear to be a high-output project management machine.

I know better now.

Multitasking just meant I was switching between too many things way too quickly, and not giving any one of those things enough focus and attention to really be executed properly. The overhead of having to context switch (a fancy way of saying switching between tasks, but taking into account the need to save into memory the information/thoughts/state of being of the current task and preparing yourself mentally to enter a new task) was not worth the gains in getting more than one thing done at once.

Realizing this led me to investigate the idea of focusing on one thing at a time, which led to reading more about mindfulness, and subsequently setting the intention to be more mindful in every aspect of my life, including but not limited to the way I work.

So I started working on myself and changing the way I approached and did things, until I had a major realization.

I could set my intentions on being effective, focusing on one thing at a time, and managing projects in an agile way until I was blue in the face, but it didn’t matter one bit the second I went back to working on 3 projects at the same time, while also cranking out side pet projects for the bosses in my ‘spare time’, and adopting the expected status reporting/push-people-to-get-things-done type relationship with the software development teams in the organization.

Agility, focus, and effectiveness just flew out the window, and I have just failed at living and promoting these values and finding better ways of doing what we’re doing.

Unless
I actually live by my beliefs and do something about it.

Enter Mahatma Gandhi’s quote.

I had to come to the belief that actually, I am not powerless in the face of corporate culture. I can make a difference by standing for what I believe in and by demonstrating how to live by those values, thereby teaching others how to do so as well.

The best way to create change is to live that change.
By doing so, you give people permission to be different, to go against the grain, and to have the courage to be authentic.

So nowadays, I say ‘No’ more.
I am more willing to turn down (or at least resist) requests (of myself as well as the teams with which I work) to do 30 things at once by explaining the tradeoffs in the quality of the outputs and the resulting risks.
I am more committed to convincing an end user tester that yes, they DO want to test multiple times in the lifecycle of the development of their product and its features, in order to ensure that they get what they truly want in the end-product, and to give them a chance to evolve their own ideas of what it is they really want and need.
I am more willing to state my discomfort with a pre-determined deadline of non-negotiable feature sets, and promote the empowerment of teams to determine what can be delivered when.

In related news, in a couple of days I am going to attend a Certified Scrum Master training course offered by CollabNet. I met the instructor at an event held by our local PMI chapter last year, and found him to be an inspiration in his personal commitment to the message of Agile.

I am so excited to brush up on my Scrum knowledge and skills, and hopefully continue on the path towards being an agent of change for organizations and teams that have the desire to develop and evolve their practices.

Slacking Off Productively

So I don’t have anything urgent to work on (at least not urgent to my current, sleepy state of mind), and I’m committing the ultimate job-related sin: I’M READING STUFF OFF THE INTERNET THAT DOESN’T CONTRIBUTE TO MY JOB-RELATED SKILL SET.
On the other hand, I guess it does contribute to making me a more well-rounded person, which can also be an asset at work? (I don’t really need help getting any more well-rounded right now, that’s just happening on its own thank you very much unborn child). 

While browsing, I found this: Space Invaders: Why you should never, every use two spaces after a period.

I totally agree. Two spaces is a waste of typographical real estate, and is ANNOYING (just like words that are typed in all-caps).
*Shudder*
=====================================================

In other news, I must be growing an world-class eating champion inside of me, since for the first 7 hours of the day it takes all the strength I have to prevent myself from attacking the closest source of food (fridge, pantry, vending machine, store) and consuming everything and anything in sight!

In other baby-related news, Mr. Big Brother seems to be a lot more accepting of the idea that we’re going to be giving him (well forcing him to tolerate) a sibling…

I think it might have to do with the fact that we kind of told him that after the baby comes we will be able to travel again? I.e. “We can’t go on the airplane now, but maybe after the baby comes!”
Translation in Big Brother’s mind: “Mama pops baby out, we grab it, get in our car, and go straight to the airport and use our TICKETS to ride the AIRPLANE!”

I think I have some explaining to do…

Later slackers (ok maybe it’s just me).

Projects Done Wrong

It’s been a rough week.

I am deflated, and am fighting feelings of failure, even though I know the end-result will actually be a win for everyone involved, and even though I know I did the right thing.

The background: I’ve been spending endless hours on a project that was supposed to go live this week. I worked really hard on it, rolled my sleeves up and got into the nitty-gritty, and demanded the same level of committment from all the project participants. We built a great working relationship and really had a high caliber of teamwork going on.

Unfortunately, there were things we couldn’t have known until we got into the test environment and really experienced things firsthand. The team was blind to the end-result until it was almost too late.

As someone who’s worked with different software development models, this frustrates me.
This is exactly the problem with development and testing that are not done in an iterative fashion. Not knowing until the end. Guessing. Making judgement calls without having all the required information at hand.

I was the one who raised the red flag and said “No, we are not doing this.” Others were willing to maybe give it a try (in Production!!), and “see how it goes”. I knew instinctively how much of a mess and burning at the stake that approach would cause, and simply could not allow things to move forward.

I presented my case to management, explained the risks of going live with the project/development in its current state, and they agreed with my approach. Relief.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of people have spent a lot of time to get things to where they are today, and that I’ve let them down. I know we will have an opportunity to set things right, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. It’s hard, though, because I don’t like to be in this place.
I like to be winning, making everyone happy, and making projects come alive.

Time to reflect for a bit and turn inwards, so that I hopefully come back stronger and wiser…

The Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

If you’ve ever worked the Wednesday right before Thanksgiving, you’ll understand the completely-checked-out-and-useless syndrome I am suffering through at this very moment.

You start your day optimistic and sunny, thinking about turkeys and pies and days off of work. You sit at your desk, typing furiously for the first hour or so of work, banging out emails with a general sense of cheer and goodwill. You are beaming, and you don’t even know it yet.

You’re feeling good – on top of the world even, and a simple concept such as breakfast sounds like the most brilliant idea you’ve ever had. You spend another half an hour sipping that coffee like it was the most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted, and taking delicate bites of your sandwich/donut/apple/muffin/falafel/McMuffin, savoring every moment. Then, 9 o’clock rolls around, (or maybe 10 if your work day starts a little later than mine does, or anyone else’s who also works for the Anti- Work-Life Balance Movement, (a.k.a Bloodthirsty Time-Suckers International).
The morning cheer starts to wear off, just as the breakfast sugar-crash starts to make its way across your brain. Your fingers get a little slower on the keyboard, and at this point the smile on your face is just perma-etched on there since you were smiling so hard while eating the Best Breakfast Ever.

You look around and realize that 67.5% of the office is empty, and remember that, Hey! It’s a holiday tomorrow! Nobody’s REALLY going to be doing work today, are they? You start imagining all the things you are going to do with the extra time off, like how much you are going to sleep, or eat, or read, or watch TV, or go to the movies, or a combination of all of the above!
(Or, if you’ve become an old boring anal parent like me, you’ll be thinking about how much more time you’ll have to clean your house and do the laundry and re-organize your cabinets and teach your pre-school children to read the encyclopedia and recite the capitals of all the countries in the world.)

So, you turn on your brain’s cruise control and start browsing the Internet, keeping your browser window down at the bottom of your screen, alternately covering it up with your email Inbox, and then throwing all caution to the wind for a few minutes and just doing your thing, checking out what the celebs wore at the AMA awards. (For SERIOUS, what WAS Ke$ha thinking???) 

Or, you start playing with MS Paint and writing on your blog.
TOTALLY not a work-sanctioned activity. But, Hey! It’s a holiday tomorrow! They’re probably FINE with it. RIGHT?!?!

RIGHT?!

Oh, who cares. Is it time for lunch yet?

Making it Work

I spent most of my morning at work today picking up the shattered pieces of my heart and trying to put them together again with coffee, the eternal glue to my soul. The reason for my sad (mixed in with a bit of furious) state of being was that I had been forced to leave my beautiful baby boy, the one with the huge brown eyes and soft, curly hair, crying in the arms of his daddy at 6:49 a.m so that I could make an early-morning meeting. Which ended up being canceled. I was furious, sad, and groggy.

It’s a moment I cherish yet dread at the same time. Those delicate, early-morning minutes before I leave home to start a full 10  – 11 hour day at work before I can see my family once more. Those minutes hold the promise and curse of a certain small, warm, 3.5 year-old body stumbling out of bed, clutching his stuffed Puppy and Dolphin. He looks up at me with his warm eyes that could melt a glacier, and they are filled with anticipation, uninhibited love, and need. The need for his mommy to embrace him, hold him close, and be completely present. This is distinctly different from the frazzled, out-of-time, need-to-get-out-the-door-right-now mother I feel I am during those moments.

I can usually manage to get out the door while everyone is still asleep, avoiding the pain of feeling as though I’ve left him with an unfulfilled need, longing after me as I shut the door behind me. On days when I’m running a little late, however, or on days when he awakens earlier than usual, I am torn between wanting to be there for him but also knowing that, at this job, it matters what time I walk through the door. Any time I can spare an extra 15 or 20 minutes  in the morning, I try to give him as much of me as I possibly can, hoping against hope that it will partially make up for the next 11 or so hours until I can see him again.

I KNOW I have made a conscious decision to be a working mother. I KNOW that it is a choice, and that I need to own up to it, and in the words of Tim Gunn “Make it work!”. But would that really  be his advice to me? Wouldn’t he say that I should trust my gut, and be true to who I am? Is this really who I am?

I know mothers do this all the time. I know (hope) my son is and will be stronger and more resilient because of it. I know I am/will be too. I just wish it didn’t have to hurt so bad.

Note-Taking as Art

The art of note-taking while running a meeting/conference call is one that’s rarely ever acknowledged.
Yes, friends, I said art.
A skilled and seasoned note-taker is not unlike the conductor of an orchestra. With the wave of his delicate yet powerful baton, a conductor regulates the flow of musical information by artfully directing the execution of notes, precisely inserting well-positioned pauses, and maintaining the rhythm being set by percussion.

The same artfulness and precision are required in order to effectively take notes while running a meeting. You are directing the flow of information from meeting participants, while simultaneously parsing through multiple sources of content and producing useful and meaningful notes. You take a bunch of high-level concepts and translate them into what may potentially be the most beautiful data-capture model in existence: The Bulleted List.

(Wow. I AM still high on paint thinner. But that’s a different story for later)

So, next time you see a set of clear, useful, and detailed notes, make sure to thank the person who took them! It really does make our day.

(Also, while I’m at it, DO always respond to meeting invites. Seriously.)

(Oh, and yes, your intuition was totally right. I know nothing about orchestras.)

Professional Flirting?

Ever since I read this article on Flirting your way to the corner office last week, I’ve been torn between whether or not to say something about it.

The author attempts to put the whole topic of flirting at the workplace in a harmless and even beneficial light. That bothers me. The idea that women are the target audience for this article bothers me even more.

For every step we take forward as women, there seem to be some women who are determined to turn on their 4-inch heels and walk right back to square one.

The author’s attitude towards male-female roles is a concession to the patriarchal system that gives men all the power, making women subservient objects and targets of sexual attention. It is a self-fulfilling, vicious cycle of believing that flirting with superiors leads women to succeed, which then fuels flirtatious behavior, leading to the flirter getting what she perceives as positive attention in the form of favortism at work. This then circles back and reinforces the belief that flirting is helpful (and possibly REQUIRED) for women to succeed.

As a woman who is used to working in a predominantly male industry, I do not believe that flirting is an asset. Actually, I strongly believe that it is degrading, stone-aged, and risky. Also, any perceived success gained through flirting is, in my opinion, short-lived and unstable, since it relies on the ability to maintain limits and secrecy. In this wired world of facebook, twitter, youtube, and constant surveillance, NOTHING is secret. And when it comes to limits, well, let’s just say that sex probably trumps caution in more cases than not. (Think former presidents, countless politicians, basketball stars, and oh yeah, that golf player whatshisname. You know who. EVERYONE does.)

Additionally, flirting at work actually encourages and risks sexual harrassment issues at the office, since sexual harrassment is subjective and can be perceived differently based on cultural background and personal experience.
At one point in the article, the author refers to an incident in which a senior male partner sent her an email specifically to say “Nice shoes”, prompting the author to start strategizing when to wear her extra-sexy footwear in order to garner and maintain his attention.
I can think of many instances where that type of comment would cause someone to become very uncomfortable and flustered, affecting her work and her working relationship with the shoe-loving male partner for a long period of time.

It would be interesting to find out whether this type of flirting is more common in certain industries, and amongst a certain age group. That would be a study I would be interested in reading the results of.

It’s time we learn how to conduct ourselves with personable, friendly professionalism, and allow our competence to shine through. Before resorting to flaunting our bodies and sexuality in order to reach our goals in life, we need to think about our priorities and the legacy we want to leave our daughters.

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