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All For One, And One For All August 26, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I’ve been having a semi-regular delivery issue with a certain national daily publication.  Every now and then, it does not arrive in my driveway.  I dutifully go to their web site and note this oversight.  The next day, I get two copies: the current issue and the previous day.  Needless to say, getting a daily publication a day late is of limited value.

When this happened last week, I tweeted about it, and included the publication’s Twitter account in the tweet, along with two columnists who also happen to be on Twitter.  It was a bit of an experiment, I’ll admit, but it was also a request for help.  Would the power of Twitter help solve my problem?

Well, no.  What I did get was a direct message from a columnist with the number of the customer service department, along with an explanation that the columnists have nothing to do with delivery.

I know that.  I knew that when I included the columnists on the tweet.  But they work for the publication, just like the delivery people.  And in the end, they should be just as concerned that I get my paper as they are about writing their columns.  When the delivery person makes a mistake, the columnist looks bad.  When the columnists wrote a lousy column, the delivery people lose a bit of stature.  They are all in this together.

This is just as true in our own companies.  How often have you seen a group breathe a sigh of relief when they discover that “some other department” made a customer-visible error?  I hate to burst their bubble, but they get painted by the broad brush of customer dissatisfaction right along with the group that made the mistake.  The outside world does not know, or care, that some mistake occurred in a specific department.  They only know that the whole group has caused them a problem.

When you make a mistake, you hurt the reputation of every single person who works with you, whether they are involved or not.  That’s why mistakes are so expensive: not only did you inconvenience a customer, you damaged the standing of all of your co-workers.  Did they deserve that?  Did you think about that before doing your best to do a good job?

Fortunately, this works the other way as well.  When you make someone happy, everyone in your team benefits whether they were involved or not.  By making a customer feel good about your company (or department, or whatever), you improve the reputation of every person in that group.  What a great way to help every person you work with, every day!  Help a customer and make everyone look good!

The columnist dissociated themselves from the group that made a mistake, thinking that I would do the same.  But like most customers, I view the Journal as a single entity.  When my paper is late, they all decline a bit in my mind.  But if the columnist had gone out of their way to help fix my problem, they all would have gone up in my book, from the deliver person to the editorial board.

We’re all in this together, all for one and one for all.  Remember that when someone makes a mistake, and leverage it when you decide to do something good.

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The Original Social Media Guru June 8, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Book Reviews, Networking.
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If you spend any time doing anything on the internet, you will soon stumble across a special kind of expert who is just dying to help you improve your virtual social life.  These self-professed Social Media Gurus promise to reveal deep secrets about Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, all designed to garner you more followers, more attention, and more interest on the internet.

Let’s face it: the vast, vast majority of Social Media Gurus know just a teeny bit more than you do about all this stuff.  If you really wanted to learn their secrets, ten minutes with Google (or Bing, which is growing on me) will make you a Social Media Guru, too.  And if you really want 100,000 followers, or friends, or connections, one mortifying YouTube video should do the trick.

All these social networking tools are just communication tools: conduits for information. You can learn the mechanics of any of them in a day, and absorb most of the culture in a week.  But that doesn’t make you any more social, although you may have made a good start at a network.

What matters is what you send over those conduits.  The information you share and how you respond to others is what’s important. It’s the content that counts, not the mechanics of the tool.

Most modern Social Media Gurus want to teach you the mechanics.  This is not social networking, just like understanding the mechanics of a piano is not going to make you a piano player.  Very few Social Media Gurus can teach you what to send using these systems, once you have mastered the mechanics.

Sadly, the very best Social Media Guru died in 1955, before any of these things were invented. Fortunately for us, he wrote down all his secrets well before he passed away.  That Guru was Dale Carnegie, and his secrets are revealed in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People.

If you have never read this book, do yourself a great favor and pick up a copy.  For Amazon’s bargain price of $8.70 ($0.96 on your Kindle) you can learn the secrets of the greatest Social Media Guru in history.  Carnegie’s book is easy to read, with each concept presented in a short chapter with supporting anecdotes.  If even that’s too much for you, he summarizes each chapter with a one-line moral at the end.  The anecdotes are delightful, recalling social situations from the 1920’s and 1930’s that are still relevant today.

If you have read this book before, read it again.  You will have the same revelations all over again, and be even more committed to changing the way you communicate with people. Carnegie was among the first, and is still the best, Social Media Guru.

I won’t even try to summarize Carnegie’s advice here.  Click the link above, buy the book, and start your summer reading with the one book that could truly improve every relationship you have.

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Social Simulation May 11, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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Computer simulation is a powerful tool, refined over decades to give engineers unparalleled ability to test and verify designs before bringing them to physical fruition. Simulation is also used to explore all sorts of scenarios that can’t be brought to life: weather, nuclear reactions, global warming. But there is a cautionary adage in the simulation world: Be careful; if you do it long enough, you start to think it’s the real thing.

And so it is with social media. We like to think that tools like Facebook and Twitter allow us to develop real relationships with people we otherwise would not have met. And while we can get real value by interacting with people via these tools, it is a far cry from a real relationship. Like simulation, don’t begin to think that exchanging tweets, however well-intentioned, is the real thing.
This came home to me at the Microsoft CIO Summit a few weeks ago. The Summit affords IT executives a chance to share advice, learn about new things, and generally commiserate. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet new CIOs and build new relationships.

While socializing, I realized that I was learning more about these people in a two minute chance encounter than I would in a month of tweets. While there was value in the words we exchanged, the rich context of the engagement provided all sorts of clues about the real person behind the data stream. How did they shake hands? Are they dressed neatly? Do they hold my gaze or look away? How do they laugh? Do they talk a lot or a little? Do I get a “good feeling” about them?

Your brain is the most advanced pattern matching device ever developed. It takes thousands of data bits and instantly makes decisions that dramatically affect how you feel about someone. Your mom was right: first impressions are lasting. When you meet someone, you are matching them against every interaction, good or bad, you’ve ever had and making a judgment. We call it intuition, and most people trust these impressions.

Social media strips away 99% of this data, leaving your brain with very few data elements to work with. I suspect that we fill in the gaps with optimistic values, leading to better impressions of our social media peers than might otherwise be warranted. Social media is to a real, in-person encounter like Morse code is to HD television. There simply isn’t enough bandwidth to get a good feel for the other person.

That isn’t to say that our social media friends aren’t good people (especially all of mine). But it is easy to start believing that social media is enough to sustain a good relationship. Like simulation, it is easy to start thinking that it is the real thing.

Perhaps we need to think about social media as a place to start a relationship. One started, we need to use traditional tools like meeting and speaking to build on that beginning. As the relationship grows, social media enhances the experience instead of supplanting it. Here’s a novel idea: pick one person that you’ve met through Twitter or Facebook and (gasp) call them. If they live close enough, meet them for coffee. Have a high-bandwidth encounter and see what it does for the relationship. I bet we’ll all be better off for it.

A High-Contact, Low-Touch World November 10, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Networking.
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1 comment so far

All these social networking tools are supposed to increase our interaction and communication with other people. For long-distance relationships, this is certainly true: I am sharing thoughts and ideas with people that I otherwise would never interact with on a regular basis.  From that perspective, social tools are improving those relationships and bringing depth and detail that would otherwise escape me.

For those folks that I see every day, tools like Twitter and Yammer can paradoxically create distance where it didn’t previously exist.  A coworker recently complained about this, pointing out that Yammer offers yet another way for people to hide in their office and text to each other, avoiding real, live conversations.  She’s absolutely right, and I don’t quite know how to solve the problem.

On the one hand, the message stream that is captured and shared by Yammer and Twitter is really useful, and allows many people to experience a single train of thought as it occurs.  On the other hand, people really need to look at each other and engage in actual interaction, as messy as it might be.

Sadly, the introverted world of IT makes this worse.  I am in the distinct, tiny minority of IT professionals that are extroverted.  Sometimes, I think the “I” in IT stands for “introverted.”  The synthetic, predictable world of computers provides a safe haven for those who are shy and allows those folks to succeed without ever developing some really important communication skills. Don’t misunderstand: many talented introverts achieve great success in IT, and that’s a good thing.  Were they to be thrust into sales or marketing, it would be painful and counter-productive.  The wardrobe errors alone would be overwhelming.

Nonetheless,  providing tools to these introverts that allow them to further withdraw and still be successful may be a mistake.  Teams succeed by communicating.  Good communication involves more than 140 characters of text and should include body language, voice tone, and facial expressions.  The elimination of direct engagement first began when people began hiding behind email and later learned how to use voice mail and call screening to their advantage.  The latest tools make it even easier to avoid other people and still get work done.

As leaders, and extroverted ones at that, we need to recognize that this is happening and force people to engage.  I will sometimes intervene when I see an email chain go on for too long and insist that the communicants actually gather and meet.  I also have a stock question when someone comes to me to complain about someone else: “Have you discussed this with this person?”  The first step to solving problems is to talk about them, and we need to gently encourage people to do this, in spite of the cool tools that tempt us otherwise.