Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reaction to the PowerPoint fiasco

Everyone is reacting with glee about the Afghanitan PowerPoint flag. Here's the thing though - PowerPoint isn't really evil, it's the people who use it. I can make slides just as pretty and impressive as Steve Jobs does in PowerPoint (he obviously doesn't use that tool, he uses Keynote). The tool doesn't make you use bullet points, it's just an option.

And I even wrote a post titled "Why I hate PowerPoint and the people who love it"!!!

Here's what happened basically the first time I came up with a presentation on while working with a DOD client:

  • Chris makes really cool looking slides that aren't a bazillion acronyms and bullet points, but instead uses images and graphics
  • Chris presents to his projects senior-level board to get approval to take it to customer (very normal practice, for quality control and coordination throughout the project which was 500+ people)
  • Board VOMITS on Chris, telling him he basically needs to go write a 12 page report, then copy/paste it into PowerPoint
  • Chris reworks presentation to contain all bullet points, but that often times have 2+ sentences within each bullet (thereby making it not a real bullet point)
  • Board loves presentation
  • Client likes (though not loves) presentation
  • Chris now forced to do all presentations as copy/paste exercises from Word
The problem is you make nice fancy slides like what Steve Jobs does, then people print them out or read them without you around, and they make no sense (try finding an old Steve Jobs presentation and figuring out what he meant, impossible!)

As some of the good articles reviewing the issue point out, it's really the interrelation between three elements: read ahead materials, the presentation, and leave behind materials.

Note: If you've heard the Kinko's commercial where the people keep patting the guy on the back for his leave behinds, it always makes me chuckle and think of this.

One review said using PowerPoint for really important, information-driven presentations is like like using PowerPoint to make a case before the Supreme Court. Aside from being a great sound byte and a zinger, it's a totally stupid point. You'd used Word to submit your brief to the SC, and PowerPoint to present information during the trial. So the argument that person (can't recall the name) is rather silly.

Instead of making all the ridiculous presentations do, they should send information ahead of time (the Times mentions how DefSec Gates wants slides the day before, which is highly common; instead of slides they should send a Word document as an overview, that is structured to correspond to the presentation the next day). The read ahead obviously prefaces the presentation, provides background information in case the person needs it, etc. Then you present with your less convoluted slides that are less bullet point and word oriented, and use more visuals. And THEN you give them something they can keep and pass around on their own.

When I have done this in the past, it is obviously a LOT more work, but I will give them a leave behind that includes the presentation and read ahead, so they've got it all in one bunch. I also make sure to control and restrict access to digital copies of files, and give them my bundled leave behind set.

Lots of fun.

All that being said, I have seen dozens of slides similar to, though not as complex, as the one that got all this started. It's totally ridiculous on its own, but I'd to know what came before and after it, as well as what the person was saying. If they were using the slide to make the point of "things are really fragged up because the relationships are so complex", then it is actually an A+ chart because it rather convincingly makes that point.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's the proper way to respond to and convert a post comment?

Does one immediately respond back? Let the comment go by itself in the hopes of more to come?

Visit the commenters blog, find a post that you can intelligently comment on and do so?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The two best things you can do to get hired

1) Come to your interview prepared.

This means having reviewed the hiring company's website, searching for news articles and blog posts about them, reaching out to anyone in your network with a connection, etc. Do anything and everything you can do to show that you really want this job.

Just showing up to the interview isn't enough. Even though it is a bit hokey, using a phrase like "I noticed on your website..." lets the interviewer know you did your research. If you're interviewing with a medium or large sized business that is likely to have been in the news, a well known blog, or a magazine then reference that as well. "I saw in the WSJ that you all are expanding into the Asian market, blah blah blah."

2) Remember that we want to hire you.

This may surprise you, but it's true. Whomever is interviewing you would probably rather be doing something else (and sometimes this shows...), and would like nothing more than for YOU to be the perfect fit for the job.

So relax. Know that you are prepared (and be prepared). Bring at least 3 copies of your resume in case. Sure, we should do our job and have a copy with us, but it shows that you care, and these subtle little hints have a profound impact on how the interviewer perceives you.

Pictures in order:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Do I not understand this pricing strategy?

64oz for $13.99


1qt (32oz) for $14.99

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Using Central Desktop for proposals


Central Desktop is the online collaboration tool of choice for my employer (recently named one of Consulting Magazine’s “Small Jewels” for 2010).

In addition to the various success stories they have, here are several ways I recommend using Central Desktop for proposals:
  • Create milestones for deliverables with tasks for individual steps like outlines and reviews etc. This will help create your project deadline structure within the tool, the workspace calendar will then be populated with schedule data as well.

  • You can post templates for various sections and components of the proposal. This could be for win themes, storyboards, or actual content.
  • The built-in version control will be CRUCIAL in your management of sections. Not only can it manage all the various versions of documents through a logical and simple check out/in process, you can also provide summary comments to the versions of the documents so you know what was changed, when and by whom.
  • You can also provide comments on documents as part of an overall discussion of the content. This is great to pull dialog out of emails and onto a system so it is referenceable later (no more debates about who suggested to remove a section)
  • Also instead of emails there is a forum for online discussions. These are great when you are in the idea creation / brainstorming phase, and won't require you to post a formal "possible win themes" document
  • You can post Twitter-like messages so people know who is actively working on what, which is rather useful when you have a decentralized team concurrently writing and editing material.

Central Desktop was not developed as a proposal tool, but does a fantastic job as one. You should explore their tiered product offering, I think you'll find the prices rather reasonable.

Tip: If you get a plan with a limited number of "internal" users, there are creative ways to use the "external" accounts ;-)

Overall you’ll need to decide if each proposal warrants its own workspace, if you should create a workspace just for proposals, or if you want to use a dedicated folder within your overall company workspace. I recommend the first option as it affords you great flexibility with controlling access to documents and information in the workspace.  You can more readily use the “internal only” feature to limit access to files, which is especially important if you are working with other companies/subcontractors.

* Screenshots and logo by

Bringing the library system into the 21st century kicking and screaming

Library usage over the past few years is down (though up recently for internet options due to the economic crisis).

Is there much point in spilling electrons on how and why people feel libraries are a dying breed? Sure, I can write a lot of "blah blah blah" on how antiquated they are, but the obvious basic point is that the relevancy of the concept has dwindled, and libraries need to pull themselves into the 21st century.

And to an extent, they are (see the image above, which is yes ironic that someone writes a book about online collaboration for libraries).

To the point

Why doesn’t your library have an iPhone app? Seems like an easy way to present the library and its services in a more approachable and modern manner, as well as putting access to the library catalog in their hands*.

The DC Public Library System has announced an iPhone app, why can't other library systems? At most all you need to do is develop an app that will provide library locations and a look into the catalog. This would be pretty great.

Taking it a step further, what if you could integrate into RedLaser so people could scan a book at a Border's and determine if the library has it as well? Why pay $15 for a book when you can get it for free at the library, or $1 in several days of late fees...

Why aren't more libraries putting up Fan pages on Facebook? Chris Brogan has a great item on how small local business can use Facebook, wouldn't you call a Library a small local business? And WebWorkerDaily has a great item on what will and won't work on Facebook pages.

* I haven't fully figured out why an iPhone specific app is better than a general web app, it doesn't inherently make sense to me. But that's where the industry is now, and will continue to go with iPad specific apps. 

Pictures in order:
  1. by Here's Kate
  2. by librarianmer

Monday, April 5, 2010

Business Lessons learned from little league, part 2

Coaching 9 and 10 year olds can be a great way to learn some business lessons. Especially on how to deal with unique circumstances and "interesting" perspectives on proper conduct.

Not everyone will listen or play along - whether they be your boss/es, coworker/s, or direct report/s it is a guarantee that despite your infinite wisdom and perfect plan that people will both willfully and unintentionally not go along. On the ballfield there are two types of mistakes: physical and mental. Physical mistakes are to be tolerated and corrected, mistakes happen, people throw the ball too hard or too soft, swing and miss, etc. That is life, and sometimes innate abilities can't match the situation.

But mental mistakes? No no no. These are because people are not paying attention, were not listening, were not thinking, etc. These cannot be tolerated.

In the workplace, those who unintentionally stray from the path need to be corrected and brought back into the fold. Honest mistake, no harm no foul, etc.

Those who intentionally won't go with the plan, well there are hundreds of books written on how to deal with those people. I simply recommend making it clear what expectations are, and keeping a log of willful disobedience. For my little leaguers this can result in a player/coach/parent meeting, emails to parents, etc. Typically these are resolved with a one-on-one meeting between the player and coach. But not always...

Match abilities to the situation - Don't put the least skilled and least experienced player on the pitcher's mound. It is principally not fair to them, and secondarily not fair to the team. Don't put your newest consultant in front of a senior executive to give a presentation they didn't create, and don't intimately know. This should be obvious, but in sports and business we make this mistake a lot.

Give everyone a chance - However you define a "fresh start" in business, make sure this opportunity exists. On a little league team, this should be the beginning of the new year. For consultants, when you go to a new project you should enter with few biases and a chance to prove yourself. You shouldn't be fighting an uphill battle. Lots of times little league coaches talk to each other about players and bias each other "Timmy was afraid of the ball" "Billy was a bad shortstop" "Sally can't pitch". These are kids, they mature in the blink of an eye, give them a chance to prove themselves. Don't be their enemy to start off with. Same for employees, give them a chance.

(that being said, fool me once shame on you...)

The great pictures, in order, come from:
  1. on2wheelz
  2.  stuartmoulder
  3. ArkansasSportsPhotograp
  4. stuartmoulder 

Friday, April 2, 2010

How to be a Little League coach

Being a little league coach is a wonderful challenge, so here are a list of tips on how to be a first time coach:
  • Get to know the game - If you don’t know baseball well, and you don’t have to, read up on it and watch some games. I highly recommend anything by Cal Ripken, even though his business/brand competes with Little League’s. His books on coaching are very approachable, aren’t bloated with 4 billion drills, and actually talk about coaching.
  • Have a plan – I’m a bit of a planner (though my wife at times would disagree), but when it comes to work and coaching I think a plan is a must. A plan for what you ask? Nearly everything:
    • A plan for the season – As David Allen says “Start with the end in mind”
    • A plan for each practice – Also quoting Mr. Allen “First things first”. Know what you are going to do that day to get you one step closer to the season’s goal/s. The older your kids the more credibility you lose when you are stumbling and bumbling trying to figure out what to do next, especially if you draw a blank. So get out a post it note or index card (or your iPhone, whatever) and write down the 3-6 things you want to do in practice, set a time limit for each, and use a watch or timer to keep on track.
    • A plan for each kid – This is potentially the hardest and most time consuming thing I recommend for coaches, but I think this is what can take you from a good coach, to someone who really makes a difference in each athletes life.

  • Communicate with the parents - You will want to make sure they understand the team and requirements for what their child is required to do as a member of the team.
    • Like the old saying about voting in Chicago, "early and often". Obviously do an introductory email to the parents. This would be an opportune time to layout some groundrules and expectations. If the team is at an age where competition is a priority, let them know. If these are 7 year olds, make it clear that player development is most important. Provide links to to the league website (which they should have if they signed up!), the schedule, field locations, and maybe a few parent resources you may come across.
    • Make sure they know about the practice schedule, changes to practices times or locations, changes to game times and locations.
    • Solicit (demand politely) volunteers. On our team we have scorekeepers, pitch counters, snack providers, and the team parent organizer to keep everyone on track.
  • Make a connection with each player - Learn about what they did in a prior season, positions they like or dislike, have them set a goal or two for the season, figure out who their friends are on the team. Help provide them with a familiar touchpoint to the season, league and sport. You could be the person they look back on as that most important coach (don't expect anyone to thank you in 20 years if they win the World Series though).
  • The biggest cliche of them all, have fun - Which mostly means get out of their way. They're kids, they know how to have fun. Try to build some time into the schedule for a little goofing off. Intentionally plan some goofy drills. Learn how to make fun of yourself. Joke around with them, but not at their expense.Expect some hiccups - You won't know what they will be, and they'll be new every year. Kids will forget equipment, they'll show up an hour late for a game. They'll suddenly get sick or go on vacation.

An almost last note - you will inevitably encounter some "challenging" parents. I try to keep the perspective that they parent just wants the best for their child, but may have an odd way of showing it. I had a parent challenge me and my coaches one year on the equity of playing time. This was in an 11 and 12 year old league. The 12 year old's parents wanted us to play them more than the 11 year olds because this was their last year in fairly non-competitive play.

I understood their point, but made it explicitly clear how playing time works on my teams - I keep the time as equal as is possible given all the factors. So no, I was not going to play a 12 year old more than an 11 year old due to age. Just like I wasn't going to play the kids I liked the most. Or who were the best, etc. It was fair play, all the time.

To sum up: have fun, get the kids to play hard, and hopefully they'll learn to love the sport for a lifetime. 

Superb picture attribution in order of appearance

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