Saturday, December 27, 2008

Develop A Habit: A Learning Mindset

According to Howard Gardner, this is an obsolete idea:

Life can be divided into distinct periods such as an education period which is then followed by a work period.

Many, however, still mindlessly embrace this idea. If you embrace this obsolete idea then you risk the fate of what Alvin Toffler warned when he said that 'the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.'

Help in avoiding this fate is as close as the internet. The use of tools available via the internet can help develop the habit of lifelong learning. For the inquisitive mind, the internet is like an 'all you can eat' buffet. If anyone is interested in a resolution for the New Year, consider pledging to develop the habit of lifelong learning. While the options seem endless, here are a few spots to get you started.

Malcolm Gladwell has a great website: This site offers an archive of Gladwell's New Yorker articles and information about his books. You are sure to learn something.

Watch or listen to a TED Talk: TED is about spreading ideas and each talk only takes about 20 minutes.

Download and read a .pdf file. The Medici Effect by Frans Johanssen will help you learn to be creative. The entire book is available for a free download at The website offers a huge selections of manifestos by some great minds.

Use the websites of traditional media such as or

Use the websites of the new media such as or

Want to learn to play the guitar? There seems to be an unlimited selection of videos on with guitar players showing the chord sequences of songs.

Want to learn to cook? Check out Mark Bittman's wikipedia entry: There are several links at the bottom of the page to Bittman's presence on the web.

What to learn a foreign language?

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are touting the value of learning to play bridge. They are funding programs that teach bridge to school age children. If you think that bridge would be good for the plasticity of your brain, download a free program at that will help you learn to play bridge.

Museums can be great for sparking creativity and learning. Many museums now have a presence on the web. If you want to examine the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, go the British Museum's site that lets you turn page by page through those notebooks:

Watch video on the internet. I learn by watching an unbelievable lineup of guests on The Charlie Rose Show. Episodes are offered at

Listen to a lecture from one of this nation's great universities. MIT offers what they call 'open courseware':

Many are available through itunes: including Stanford: and Yale:

Some universities have related centers and ventures that maintain a separate web presence. For example, Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner: or The Harvard Business Review:

Many of these sites offer the option of subscribing to a podcast: If you want to learn something about economics, you might like

Truly, the options abound. It is up to each individual to decide what they are interested in learning about and then to find the teacher. The idea is to develop a mindset of learning. Always be learning. Committing to be a life long learner is simply a matter of habit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Born To Learn

Hamlet: Prince of Denmark
Act IV, Scene IV
A plain in Denmark

What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.

Sure, he that made us with large discourse,

Looking before and after, gave us not

That capacity and god-like reason
To fust in us unused.

Humans are designed to learn.

We are born to learn. Babies learn vast amounts of skills and behaviors, without the aid of school or direct instruction. They learn through their senses, through observation, and largely through practice, trial and error. I know way too many adults, fully capable, that have stopped learning. They are too busy, too tired, not interested, too afraid, too lazy. This is sad and I think creates great sadness as these individuals find themselves more and more out of sync with the realities and demands of our world.

We need to learn and learn and learn. Being a lifelong learner has never been so necessary, so exciting, and so easy. Every day one can travel to the great museums of the world, into concert halls or rock stadiums, to classes at great institutions of higher learning, into the minds and lives of teenagers posting to blogs, Twitter, or You Tube. I just don't understand the adult who has decided they are as good as they get or as necessary right now.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Design Rules Applied

I enjoy reading Garr Reynolds' blog and love his book, Presentation Zen. He recently posted this list of 10 design rules to keep in mind for graphic presentations.

10 design rules to keep in mind
(1) Communicate — don't decorate.
(2) Speak with a visual voice.
(3) Use two typeface families maximum. OK, maybe three.
(4) Pick colors on purpose.
(5) If you can do it with less, then do it.
(6) Negative space is magical — create it, don't just fill it up!
(7) Treat the type as image, as though it's just as important.
(8) Be universal; remember that it's not about you.
(9) Be decisive. Do it on purpose — or don't do it at all.
(10) Symmetry is the ultimate evil.

Because my mind loves to make bigger and more connections, I immediately saw that this list aptly applies to great writing as well, for oral presentation as well as to be read. Here is my interpretation of these rules for writing.

In creating an impactful and effective message, it is important to be direct and precise without being flowery and cute. If the speaker or writer expects the audience to spend time staying focused and open to the message, then communicating directly without decoration respects the audience.

Images and analogies provide a way to tap into the audience's well of experiential wisdom. Visual language helps the listener or reader place themselves in the message. Taking the audience to an idea through their experience or a place is a beautiful and powerful thing. Yet, be aware that this skill is not well-developed in all listeners. Some people derive great comfort and control from concreteness and exactness. I would recommend using nuance and imagery and data. Imagery moves the listener. Data sells.

Typeface is a mode of graphic representation. The analogous element in speaking or writing would be the tone. Pieces are better if they have the same overall tone throughout with maybe some change in tone for effect or mental break along the way. An old writing teacher called these digressions "windy roads," solidifying the point that they twist and turn, but they lead somewhere; they are purposeful.

Colors have great subconscious significance. Using color intentionally is merely a subset of the charge to use every element intentionally and respectfully, always conscious of and focusing on the audience needs and perceptions first and foremost.

Less is more is a simple yet powerful goal in all things. In writing there is a paradox. You must write clean but you must communicate fully so that the message is not left up to the interpretation of the audience. In order to effectively seed the message, you must control the message and its interpretation. Just enough words is the goal. The same former writing teacher advised, "When you think you have taken out all that you can, take out 10% more." I think it's hard, and tedious. Having a day or so between drafts helps one see what can go.

Negative space in an oral presentation is the pause. Allowing time for words to penetrate is essential. Creating space for the audience to listen then fully receive and think about the message in the moment is vitally important. The writer can create this space through the structure of the message, controlling the arc and pace, and by signaling recovery time through paragragh breaks and topic changes.

Being universal; remember it is not all about you. This is the best advice on the list. Think about it don't you tire quickly, and almost immediately, of people who drone on and on about themselves? The message should focus always on the audience needs, interests, concerns, values first. Having empathy and deep understanding of the audience is how to ensure you are creating a message that is appealing and authentic enough to be heard and considered.

Being intentional shows the care and consideration and diligence and passion one has toward any project. Being intentional takes great time and reflection and huge effort. The benefit is that being intentional leads to a more authentic, more personal, and more intimate message.

Symmetry in a message to me connotes balance or indecisiveness. As the listener or reader, I continue paying attention to a writer or speaker that honors my time and earns my trust. What I am looking for is his or her argument. I want to see and follow their reasoning and their passion. My sustained attention signals that I am willing and seek to be convinced. Whether the speaker or writer will prevail in convincing me is different, but I want them to use their time and mine in a diligent direct effort. I don't want to be presented with a balanced argument because in the end, the message is empty because I am right where I started, in a position of either-or, and I have wasted my time and effort. There needs to be a call to action which is not symmetrical.

(Treat the type as image - had to leave this one out. Any analogous ideas? Send them to me!)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Open Source Thinking

This post by David Gurteen of the Knowledge Cafe was too good to alter. It explains the big cultural shift in knowledge -- it is not power anymore. Sharing knowledge and using your knowledge to participate in something bigger than it and bigger than yourself is what the new climate is.

Open Source Thinking

To me this is at the heart of what web 2.0, enterprise 2.0 and km 2.0 are all about! Its a different mindset that many people still do not get or like to see. Open source thinking is sharing and remixing. You've got to set your ideas free, you can't control your content. It is a different mindset: "Ah darn, someone else has got there first" versus "Great, don't have to do that, I can build it on it!" For me, it's been the ability to think out loud with colleagues on ideas and topics, share presentations, etc.

Credit: Momentum by Alison Fine

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Is Your Organization Smart?

The analogy waiting and wanting to be made is to ask is your organization smart? Just as asking the right question is paramount, understanding all of the embedded criteria in a direct question is paramount as well.

Using the Smart car as our focal point, one must specifically deconstruct "smart" in order to understand the question, or in effect, the many questions encoded in the word "smart":

  • intelligence -- does your organization use intelligence to derive solutions?
  • whimsy and personality -- does your organization's actions and responses delight and reveal your personality?
  • custom and made to order -- does your organization aim to provide person-specific solutions that conform to your values and mission as opposed to a one-size-fits-all type service?
  • just-in-time -- does your organization lumber along on rhythms that fit the organizational structure or are you sensitive and responsive to customer needs as they occur, or even proactively?
  • collaborative -- does your organization strive to co-create with your customers and collaborate internally across division boundaries and power hierarchies?
  • effective and efficient in a just enough way -- is your organization meeting the needs of the customer as described by your mission in a balanced and effective way?
  • open-minded and forward thinking -- is your organization constantly looking to make improvements in order to meet customer needs and actualize your mission? Are you striving to learn new ways and new things as an organization, all the time?
  • conversation starter -- is your organizational energy such that people want to be connected to you and know about what you are doing? Do they want to be in relationship to your work?

Is your organization smart? It seems like a simple and easy question. But, really, it is very hard to be disciplined and committed to developing a responsive, innovative, energized organization that is striving to be the best at what it does, and is working diligently to delight its customers.

So, you can't quite say yes, without a doubt, yours is a smart organization. The value is in knowing that options and criteria exist in order to work toward culture change and mission definition and alignment so that soon you can, in the future, regale yourselves at your journey to Smartville.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Smart, Open Your Mind, Forward Thinking, Passion

As I drove north on I-55, the sounds of George Thorogood's version of an old Chuck Berry tune played in the radio of my mind. Just one verse repeated over and over in my head: 'I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France. Said we danced the Mississippi at an Alpha Kappa dance. It wasn't me. No No No it wasn't me'. Enough of that, I fiddled with the car radio of the new car that I was driving. I had never turned on this radio before and wasn't quite sure how to work it. I picked up the local NPR station to hear talk of the financial woes of the Big Three car manufacturers. The green interstate sign that loomed overhead read 'Next Exit Nissan Dr'. Wow! What a combination of events I was experiencing. I thought of Thomas Friedman and concurred that the world is truly flat. My reality that day was that Jamie and I had just driven to Mississippi, near a Nissan factory, from our home in Memphis to purchase a German car with a Japanese engine that had been conceptualized in Switzerland and made in France. To add more globality, Thomas from the dealership where we had just bought the car took us to lunch for sushi at a Japanese restaurant. That is sort of what George Thorogood sang about but with cars instead of girls.

We had just bought, and I was driving, a Smart car. A 2009 Smart Fortwo Passion coupe, to be specific. Jamie ordered this car on the internet with a $99 deposit about 18 months earlier -- not a typical car purchase. This Smart was made to her specifications. Thomas at the Jackson, Mississippi Smart dealer called Jamie about a month ago to tell her it was on the way from Europe. Since Memphis does not have a dealership, we were assigned to the Jackson dealer.

Thinking about our new Smart car and the ills of the pantheon of American car makers, these ideas occur to me:

* Americans truly have a love affair with the automobile. People's reactions to this new Smart car and our own excitement with it makes this clear.
* The Big Three are begging for financial help from Washington. I guess that is because they are not selling enough cars. Yet we waited for this specific car, choosing not to purchase any other car, for 18 months.. While we were at the dealership in Jackson, people walked in to ask about the Smarts, only to be told all the cars on the lot were sold. I asked myself why I was not driving a new American car? I distinctly and viscerally remembered the last time I drove a new American car. It is when I rented a Pontiac last Spring. It was poorly designed, uncomfortable, and awkward, to put it as nicely as I can.
* Why did Jamie want this Smart car? It is whimsical, easy to park, 44 mpg, is just enough room and space, has good design, and is unique. And, it is just plain fun. When she ordered it, she had never even seen one in person. Yet, she picked out every detail to her liking from the website and bought it without a test drive or a kick of the tires. That is customer-focused.
* The Canton Mississippi Nissan Plant reminded me that the Big Three are not the only car companies manufacturing in the US. I assume that Americans work in that plant. I also suppose that if it came to it, that factory could be retooled for wartime use.
* The Smart brand tagline is 'open your mind'. It is displayed on their printed materials, strategically placed in large placards throughout the dealership, and on their promotional clothing. I read in the smart literature at the dealership that the arrow in the logo was for forward thinking. The model was called a Passion. To recap: 'smart' 'open your mind' 'forward thinking' 'passion'. I like all of that, a lot.
* Some say that the Smart car is not masculine enough for a man. While the new Smart is Jamie's car, let me tell you, it is not as emasculating as a mini-van. It might not be masculine but it sure draws the attention of women because it is cute, and radically different. It makes a statement on its own, bolstered by its brand monikers: smart, open your mind, forward thinking, passion.
* This Smart car is a conversation starter. Questions abound. The somewhat random facts below answer some of those questions. Everyone likes a story and this car has a story.
* The Smart project was originally started by Swatch. The Smart idea came from outside the auto industry from someone that knew nothing about the auto industry. Swatch understood that it was not enough to offer a watch that was mechanically functional. Function is a given, the base level of entry. It takes good design to set a product apart. Swatch had been successful with this concept in watches and wanted to give it a go with cars. Like a Swatch watch, the Smart is good looking, whimsical, and just plain fun. Like the Swatch it is daring and innovative.
* Swatch offered their idea to GM as a joint venture. GM turned it down. Swatch eventually collaborated with Daimler as the manufacturing partner. Daimler and Swatch have since divorced. I guess all is not storybook in Smartville. Daimler is now the sole owner.
* Although Daimler is a German company, The car is made just over the French border in Hambach, Lorraine, France. This area is traditionally industrial and has been depressed economically.
* It only takes about 4 hours to make a Smart car from start to finish in the factory in Hambach. Smarts can be manufactured in four hours because it just requires assembling component parts which enter the Hambach factory from smaller factories that are adjacent to the Smart factory. These supply factories are not owned by Daimler. Krupp and Siemens, among others operate these adjacent plants and supply the components for the Smart as they are needed. Collaboration and sharing of information between these suppliers and Smart is a requirement for success.
* Because the Smart cars are made to order, the actual Smart factory has no extra parts. Components are supplied just in time and in the order needed from the adjacent factories.
* The Smart has a 3 cylinder, 1 liter engine made by Mitsubishi that provides 70hp.
* If you tire of the color of your Smart, then you may change out the injection molded plastic panels that are made by Dynamit-Nobel using technology developed by General Electric.

For almost a week now, we have been fielding questions about the Smart from the smiling people whose paths cross ours. It is the car that makes them smile. Maybe people just like a good jolt of whimsy, especially in unexpected places. We already have a collection of stories. My son was pulled over by the bike-mounted police who questioned whether the Smart was even street legal. Jamie got a note on her windshield from a local reporter asking for an interview about the car. Like most of the folks that I see when in the Smart, I am all smiles and thumbs up about this car! I like the smiles this Smart puts on our faces as we roll around town. And, I like the smiles coming toward me from others. It is just plain fun!

Our Smart experiences over the last week, make me realize that many of the themes that Reverb helps address can exhibit themselves in the most unexpected places. It sometimes seems to be everywhere if one just pays attention. I work at being observant of things that are hiding in plain sight. To realize these themes in my everyday life is rewarding. It is exciting and encouraging to see Smart incorporate these themes with success. Remember: smart, open your mind, forward thinking, passion in all things!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Creating Value

As we continue to shift through the new realities - the economic recession, new technology, etc - it becomes apparent to me that creating value in who we are, in what we do, and in what we choose to invest ourselves and our time is key. To me, creating value is inextricably tied to creating or connecting to a deep sense of meaning. Reconnecting to a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose, and a sense of efficacy will give us that sense of stability, familiarity, and comfort that is disrupted by the increasing pace of life and economic uncertainties.

To create a sense of value in who we are, each one of us should objectively analyze our relevance to the current reality. Take stock of our skills, our attitudes, our mindsets. Are they in sync with the needs of the job I am asked to do? Are my technology skills strong enough to compete with the younger people in my environment who seem to have been born texting and googling? If not, how can I quantify the value I have and the value I place for myself on my contributions? Maybe we have work to do in this area to make ourselves more valuable and to make our contributions more relevant and sought after.

To create a sense of meaning in what we do, each of us should intuitively examine if we love it, if we find meaning in how we invest our time and effort. I often talk with people who have lost their sense of meaning in their work. I think being able to focus on the mission and big picture of the work of the organization can make the relevance of the compartmentalized work that each of us does more meaningful and more connected to a purpose that we can value and draw inspiration from. Learning to see the big picture and to value effort toward making a vision become a reality is highly motivational and inspirational.

If one can't love or connect to what we are investing our time in, then finding a way to understand our effort as a path to a different pursuit makes the current part of the journey necessary. What do I need to learn from this experience to carry with me, to put in my toolbox, for what I am working towards doing at a later time? Understanding or having a sense of trajectory of one's own life makes each experience and each encounter of potential value and meaning.

I call what I have described living more intentionally, with more strategic awareness. Many, including Ellen Langer and Jon Kabot-Zinn in their writings, refer to this as mindfulness. Developing mindfulness has taken a lot of time and effort but has increased the joy I receive from working hard and learning new things, and even dealing with difficult people and difficult situations.