Archives for the month of: February, 2009

My friend Sutton Stokes drew my attention to this from Ars Technica:

Internet connection + English = college degree. The University of the People wants to bring online education to anyone who can speak English and access the Internet, and to do it for as little as $15 a course. The goal? A real college degree from an accredited school. Shai Reshef has a vision: soon, anyone with an Internet connection and some proficiency in English can take classes online at his new “University of the People.” And not just classes—the school will be accredited, offering actual degrees in subjects like computer science. Charges will be minimal, starting at just $15, and will be based on the student’s country. It sounds too good to be true, but Reshef is enough of a believer in the idea to pump a million dollars of his own into it, and he argues that it can be a self-sustaining nonprofit once it tops 10,000 worldwide students.

I’ve written before about for-profit and online higher education, in which I am generally in favor, but I am not sure what to make of this.

Done right, with people in charge who are dedicated and consistent on the mission (bringing higher education to impoverished people), it can be a real force for positive change. 

But, what to do about people who use it as a diploma mill? And how do you guarantee that the core management will keep that proper attitude?

And . . . the question that may make all this moot . . . can it really become self-sustaining?

What do you think?

Like many Americans, I have kept a weather eye on two public figures’ recent fall from grace. Of course I am talking about Michael Phelps and Tom Daschle.

Each had to apologize for having been caught being less than perfect, engaging in behavior they should not have. Most of what I have read about these two has not interested me, but Harvard article by John Baldoni crossed the transom and piqued my interest.

Baldoni examines Phelps’s and Daschle’s apologies and teases out lessons for leaders — anyone in the public eye will eventually have to apologize. How to do it?

Here are the takeaway lessons:

Own up to the issue. Like Phelps and Daschle, admit what you have done wrong. Be explicit and truthful. . . .

Make amends. Words set the stage for doing the work. If you have hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge their hurt and say you are sorry. . . . Stand up and be accountable. . . .

Get off the stage. Do not turn a simple apology into a Verdi aria. . . . Get back to work and prove that you still have what it takes to make the grade. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will restore your good name. . . . 

Sometimes a little forethought can prevent problems. It has been said that when NHL great Wayne Gretzky was at the peak of his fame he would never step into a hotel elevator with a woman he did not know. He would always ask a teammate to accompany him. . . .

Read the full piece here.

Yesterday I wrote about the idea of using a portfolio instead of a resume when jobsearching.

That got me to thinking. If I were hiring, how would I approach hiring differently than the norm?

The answer: I would not wait for people to apply. I would continually be on the lookout for talent. There are lots of ways to bump into people and get a sense of what they are about. Blogs, social networks, forums, etc., etc. . . . it can all come into play here.

As I run across people who seem interesting, I would make a note and try to get contact info. (It will help if I am very clear in my notes about why I highlighted this person — in fact, this may be the key.)

Then, when looking to fill a position, I’d look over my collection of people. Is there anyone there I might want to reach out to, before I go posting on Monster and drowning in a flood of dull resumes?

Just a thought.

I am not sure why, but I have been thinking a lot about jobs and job searching these days. Maybe it has something to do with the economy.

In any event, as a thought experiment, I began toying with an updated resume. What would I include? How would I change my existing one?

I quickly became discouraged becuase I realized I would not want to work for an organization that uses resumes as the primary screening tool.

So I began thinking: what would I want an organization to look at as it makes its hiring decision? I realized that these days, especially in the “gig economy” that so many professional people (and others) are now a part of — the best way to convey your value is through a portfolio.

Take the handful of things you are most proud of and present them as if they each were an area of your portfolio. Maybe it’s your blog, your neighborhood newsletter, a project at a recent employer, a change process you are spearheading in your current job. Now — put it all together as a webspace. Or a report. There are plenty of tools to do this. Think as if you were preparing your annual report. Sure, you need to include the boring due diligence bits (your list of jobs . . . the resume). But that’s not what grabs anyone and it’s not what conveys your value.

Do I have such a portfolio to show you? Not yet. Like I said, this was a thought experiment. Give me time!

I will say, though, that writing this post spurred me to put together this. It’s a start.

As Facebook turned five years old last week, it marked the passage with a cute retrospective of its various profile page designs and a subdued message from founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, suggesting that members give virtual gifts to their friends.

Facebook is a 21st century success story and is the giant in the room when it comes to social networking. It out-cooled MySpace, out-usefulled LinkedIn, and outlasted Friendster. In making a recent investment, Microsoft valued the company at $15 billion. D00d.

Facebook has one tiny problem: it has not yet developed a working revenue model. And its window of opportunity to do so will not be open indefinitely.

In a recent article by Agence France-Presse:

Facebook, unlike other Web giants such as Amazon, eBay, Google and Yahoo!, is yet to prove how it is going to translate traffic into cash. . . . “There’s no significant visible source of revenue other than investors,” said Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. . . . “There’s a lot of potential there but they’re still kind of living in this dotcom mindset where a business plan doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “And as we saw with the dotcoms, that has a very unfortunate end to it.”

I love Facebook and I sure hope it figures out how to make real money. But no institution lasts forever. The days of GM, IBM, GE are numbered — as are the days of current behemoths Google, Microsoft, and others.

What will replace them? There is no way of knowing. Maybe Yahoo! will reinvigorate itself and kick Google’s butt. Maybe Canonical Software will convince a tipping point’s worth of people they don’t need to pay for an operating system.

One thing’s for sure, and that is that whatever our predictions are now — they are as likely to be wrong as right.

For now, I am just left wondering: what’s next?

I recently had an exchange with a friend during which I recalled that at different periods, his energy level on certain issues seemed to go up and down.

 Sine Wave

Sine Wave

That got me to thinking about my own energy and attention levels. I have long been aware that my effectiveness and energy follow a pretty strong sine wave. It’s not as severe as a bipolar thing — just a sine wave. Sometimes I am way engaged and on top of it . . . othertimes it is a struggle to mark even administrative work off of my to-do list.

No surprise there. I suppose everyone goes in the same sorts of sine waves. But then I got to thinking about the period of my particular wave. I think it is about fifteen days from zero to zero.

In other words, If I start the month at zero (or “neutral”), I’m likely to have a peak of energy around the 7th, get back to “neutral” around the 15th, and then be in the dumps around the 21st.

In my experience, the peak time can be pretty awesome and include prodigious creativity, indeed the whole upper third of that part of the curve is cool. The lower third of the “down” curve is not exactly torture — but I am in trouble if there is something I need to really push on at that time. I get things done, but it is hard to do my best work.

(I know this is similar to biorhythms, but I do not know enough about that to render an opinion. I am just going on my own observations, and leaving the whys for another time.)

All this makes me think a few things:

  1. It would be worthwhile to test this and catalog it. Give myself a “score” every day in terms of energy and effectiveness level, and track that for a couple of months. That will show me (a) whether the hypothesis is right; and (b) what my period is.
  2. If I do have such a sine wave, it might be a good idea to predict the peaks and valleys and jigger my work schedule accordingly. 
  3. I assume other people have such a wave — what is their periodicity? If I can figure that out for colleagues, I can more effectively work with them (in the same way that it is helpful to know my own and others’ Myers-Briggs temperaments). 

What’s your rhythm? How do you know?

My friend Ed Corr forwarded this note from Stephen B. Polo, a partner at his firm:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

“What looks large from a distance, up close ain’t ever that big.” — Bob Dylan

Our current economic crisis is causing companies distress and uncertainty. None of us know how long or how deep the difficulty is or will be. And even the experts have trouble explaining the ever changing problems or potential solutions.

A few weeks ago, I saw a photograph on the front page of The Washington Post. The photo was taken from the Hubble Telescope and it showed two galaxies in close proximity to one another. The caption said that it appeared that one of these galaxies had passed through the other!

Unbelievable. And nearly impossible to fully understand. As I looked at the photo, I realized that each of these galaxies contained billions of stars, and that each of the brightly colored lights in the background were also galaxies, each with billions of stars. It was more than I could get my mind around, so I did the only thing I could do: I turned to the sports section!

It seems like the complexity of the financial crisis is much like looking at these colliding galaxies – it’s too big and too complex to understand.

So what do we do? Should we do the equivalent of turning to the sports section and focus our attention on something else? Is there anything we can do?

Well, there are some things each of our companies can do. Here’s a starter list:

  • Stay focused on your mission and values – We must continue to do the things our clients, customers, partners, advisors and employees expect from us. Continue to do the things we do well and focus on them.
  • Continue to live your values – They are the real you and guide your actions: trust them.
  • Help others – You’ll need help sometime down the road so be aware of how you can assist other people and companies.
  • Stay positive – There will be more than enough “realism” or negativity to go around. We need the balance.
  • Look for opportunities – Keep your company’s eyes peeled for the next place to help your customers and clients build value.
  • Stop listening to complainers – They have their own reward.
  • Take a hard look at the facts, but don’t give in, or up.

I don’t know how long this difficulty will last, or how deep it will be. What I do know is that we’re all in it together.

We need to stay focused on what we do best and how we can support each other.

This from the well-regarded Pew Internet & American Life Project:

The share of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% now, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s December 2008 tracking survey. While media coverage and policy attention focus heavily on how children and young adults use social network sites, adults still make up the bulk of the users of these websites.

Since there are more adults than there are children, this 35% share represents more actual people in social networks.

That item crossed my desk just as a friend was asking me about the “wisdom of Twitter. Seems superficial but fun… What do you get out of it? Others?”

Excellent question. My friend is a serious person who is not interested in using new tools just because they are new or groovy. She already has a LinkedIn profile. So, why should she use Twitter?

(I am keeping her identity anonymous because her question was asked in a context where privacy was assumed.)

Just as I have been blogging since the early days, I’ve had social networking profiles since the early days. I am not bleeding edge but I am an early adopter. I have had a profile on almost all major social networking sites and some offbeat ones too. I enjoy working on and within social networks.

That said, I understand that most professionals have no use or need of many of the tools I play with. I use them because I like shiny objects. However, because I work with organizations helping them change, I have a skeptical sense of what will work and what won’t.

Most professionals don’t need novelty, they need simplicity.

So, over the years, I have come to believe that just about any professional can benefit from using Twitter, from having a blog, and from using at least one social networking tool — preferably Facebook or LinkedIn.

I am not going to go into my argument for that here. I’ll save that for future posts. I will, however, answer the question about Twitter.

In my view, Twitter is a “killer app” and for anyone who has a high profile it’s a must. Why? Four main reasons.

  • Status updates. In essence, Twitter is a simple tool that allows you to announce to anyone who is interested what you are up to. These are known as “status updates” among most social network users. This may seem like trivia. But think about all the social interactions that go into your normal day, and how many are trivial but build connections with people. Status updates allow you to have a new avenue for such important social trivia. 
     
  • Brevity. Twitter limits you to 140 characters. Why say more?
     
  • Ubiquity. You can update Twitter from any device (phone, computer, smoke signals) and receive updates to any device. This makes it phenomenally easy to use as you go about your day. There’s ubiquity in another sense, too: Twitter has become an engine for many other web-based interactions. For instance, when this blog posts, my Twitter status will be automatically updated. This will in turn update my Facebook status.
     
  • Asymmetric follow. This is perhaps the most important element, but one that many don’t pay attention to. It is most important for people with lots of connections in the world. The idea behind asymmetric follow is simple: whereas in most email relationships (and Facebook or LinkedIn relationships), reciprocity is assumed. That is, if I want to connect to you, you need to allow this and connect back. (That is, we’ve “friended” each other.) But in Twitter, you “follow” people, and people follow you. I can follow a relatively small handful — and still be followed by a large number. This is important because there is an upper limit to the number of relationships anyone can maintain (aka the Dunbar Number, which most peg at about 150). 

But, is it rude to be followed, but not follow back? Not at all — that is one of the norms of Twitter (and other status-update networks like indenti.ca). People who want to know what I am up to follow me. I follow the people I want to keep tabs on. There is no implied need for reciprocity.

For people in the public eye or with a high business or community profile, this is gold. I know a lot of people with large email lists, but who do not send to the list as often as they like (and should) for fear of irritating too many. That is a valid concern, and one I grapple with when it comes to my small email list.

Asymmetric follow allows me to connect with a larger number of people, more frequently. And you can do so free of fear that you are bugging people, because they have chosen to get your updates already and can “unfollow” you whenever they want.

The frequency is key, as that builds up the sense of relationship. I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked, “Oh, how is such-and-such going?” based on my status updates — as if we had discussed the subject already. I am not saying this replaces actual friendship, or face-to-face interactions. But it does augment those real world connections in a helpful way.

(There is an upper limit to the frequency of updates before people start to unfollow you — I try to keep updates to every couple hours or so.)

The trick with Twitter (and other social networks) is not to get sucked in and just spend all your time playing. Just like it is fun to hang out by the water cooler, it is fun to surf people’s profiles and just send a ginormous number of updates. And just like in the real world, that can get in the way of productivity.

So, I had better get back to work because blogging can take you away from your duties too.

But, for people with lots of connections — either real-world or social network — I really, really recommend Twitter. It’s dead simple to get started. Try it and see how it works. 

Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/bradrourke!

Beth Kanter had a great post a while back that rounds up a number of bits and pieces of advice for nonprofits interested in using social media.

My favorite graf:

The economic crisis has changed the external environment. So, it is important to think about that as part of considering how you need to revise your goals. The tools are changing, so if you’ve settled into one way of using a particular social media tool or set of tools, don’t set yourself on automatic pilot. Are you using the social media tools most efficiently and effectively given the environment, the changes in the tools, and your goals?

What a thought . . . fine tune strategy as you go.

How often do we really do that?

There are insurgent personalities throughout media, pushing and prodding it ahead to the future. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is one of them.

In this interview, he discusses an important aspect of what people’s relationships with institutions are becoming:

I’ve been experimenting with posting my good questions on my blog and inviting people to answer them, to share their thoughts and help me tell the story before it goes on TV. The old model is to put stuff up after it was on TV and get comments on it. But to me, that’s no good—I need people’s help before I do the story on the air.

This turns the newsanchor-viewer relationship both on its head and inside-out.

First of all, the most important person here is the viewer, who is giving material to the news reporter. (In traditional models, after the reporter has “newsgathered,” his main job is to tell people what he or she knows.)

Second of all, and more important, this model has different people involved. The news reporter and the viewer are co-creators. They both come up with what is going to count as “news.”

Read the whole interview, which is very cool. And you may want to take a peek at his blog to see how it works in practice.