Midweek Musings – Multi-Tools

It was many (many) years ago that I purchased a Leatherman Wave multi-tool after my buddy had spent months raving about his. So many years and lives later I must say, I feel naked without it on my belt.

I hesitate to even wager a guess at how many times in a given day I find myself reaching for it.

I do just about everything with it. I’ve repaired guitars, worked on computers, and opened more boxes and assembled more toys than I could ever count.

I’ve used it as a hammer, a door stop, a means of steadying a stubborn nail in a cramped space as I feebly try to hammer it into place. I’ve removed splinters and trimmed branches. I’ve sliced, diced, filed, shaved, and sawed just about anything you can do that to and probably things you shouldn’t.

I could probably perform minor to moderate surgery with nothing but my trusty Leatherman and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

Which brings me to my musing for today: Are you a multi-tool?

It’s something to strive towards.

Some may frame this concept as the old cliché that says “jack of all trades but master of none” but I don’t particularly care for that description. It suggests that by its very definition a “jack of all trades” is not or cannot be a master in and themselves.

I believe flexibility, fluidity, and adaptability to be among the most valuable character traits we can have in life, professionally or personally.

Just a cursory review of the most successful people in the world will show that very few of them are “just a hammer” or “just a flat-head screwdriver.” Those that may have been typically have clear enough vision to surround themselves with a bevy of multi-tools.

Organizations, both large and small, in every industry have armies of employees with titles like “Manager – Special Projects and Design” or “Project Specialist.” As a matter of fact, mine is “Communications and Projects Specialists.”

These titles beg the question: “So what does someone with such a title actually do?”

Well…pretty much anything.

In my case I prepare a great deal of internal and external communications collateral. It could be security white sheets, new business development proposals, internal training and education guides, data documents for clients or just a sign telling everyone when the next pot luck will be.

I also manage extensive and complex international travel logistics involving flights, planning executive-level meetings, conferences, and events around the world. I help our team by ensuring their travel visas and passports are in order and that everything has been handled to ensure they are able to get to and from anywhere in the world in order to serve our clients.

I do graphic design, new employee on-boarding, negotiate vendor contracts. Ask me in an hour and I’ll have three more, seemingly complexly unrelated tasks to knock out.

One of my most recent projects has been to create a step-by-step, easy-to-understand, all-encompassing guidebook for how our new expense management software solution works because of course the materials provided were anything but.

My company relies on me to fill gaps no matter where they may open. I’m the Leatherman multi-tool on my company’s belt.

This is most certainly the case for independent small business owners, like Ashley Newman of Houston’s Ashley Newman Photography.

A brilliant and creative photographer and storyteller, her passion led her to take a big step into the world of creating her own company to manage full-time.

In the two years or so since she made that decision it is safe to say that she is anything but “just” a photographer.

In addition to standing behind the camera Ashley has had to develop skills in web design and development. She is her own social media marketing and communications manager charged with developing and implementing multi-platform campaigns while defining and targeting market segments and audiences. Small business owners like her must be accountants, financial planners, and logistics specialists.

They have to vet and manage their vendors, handle purchasing, new technology assessment and implementation…oh and in Ashley’s case being a spouse, a parent, a friend, and everything else that life throws at us every day.

Multi-tools are, by design, masters of being able to do anything and everything whenever the moment calls for it to do be done.

Job seekers will immediately distinguish themselves from other applicants by demonstrating their ability to be entrusted with critical but diverse challenges while delivering superlative results.

An existing employee will make themselves essential an invaluable within their organization by showing a willingness to take on any new challenge no matter how foreign or “outside of their job description.”

Small businesses become successful larger businesses when they are led by someone willing to push themselves beyond the core activity that drove them to start the company in the first place.

So again I’ll ask: are you a multi-tool?

We should all be!

That’s it for today!

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

Midweek Musings

Perhaps this will become a regular feature here but I’ll definitely be posting this type of format on a regular basis moving forward where I discuss topics that have come up over the last few days or weeks that I think merit discussion. So…here we go.

Graduation Day…

Graduation season is upon us. #SNHU2018 has been trending my twitter feed and it reminded me of last year when I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with my MBA. My experience as a student was tremendous, my visit to campus for commencement was revelatory, and this last year as a member of the alumni community has been truly enriching. I continue to feel that SNHU should be looked to as a template for centers of education ranging from high school through to colleges, trade schools, and universities.

 

One of the true pleasures of being an alum of a university so focused on outreach and engagement is that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with current and prospective students as they decide whether or not to attend, what degree they may pursue or what life may look like after graduation. That the university goes to such great lengths to connect students is emblematic of their entire philosophy.

One of my recent conversations with a student led to perhaps the most enduring question concerning employment opportunities and job applications:

What’s more important: Education or experience?

I won’t try to dig too deep into this rabbit hole given today’s format but I’ll give a short answer and an anecdote.

Answer: It depends. (I know, I took the cheap way out. haha)

Here’s the anecdote:

I worked with an incredibly talented leader who had been charged with righting the proverbial ship for a national retailer. The first thing he did when given the rather robust stack of applications for sales positions was look for those that listed non-sales experience or were students.

He was attracted to applicants studying communications or philosophy. He wanted to talk to waiters and waitresses. His philosophy was that it would be easier to teach someone how to sell than it would be to “unteach” them.

Experience can sometimes be a hindrance. It can bring bad habits or preconceptions about strategies and culture that may not apply in a given work environment.

Within one year our location led the entire region in gross sales, gross profits, and number of unique transactions….with a sales team comprised almost entirely of people lacking any sales experience. Not too shabby. 🙂

I’ve found similar opinions regarding education.

Over the years I’ve spoken with many managers and human resource leaders who agree that diplomas do not necessarily equate to subject mastery. They place little-to-no emphasis on whether the applicant’s degree is directly related to the position…or if they even have a degree.

These employers look for skills that transfer from one industry to another or for soft skills developed through a candidate’s background. A history or philosophy graduate may be the perfect fit in a change management consultancy despite a lack of “business” experience, academic or otherwise. Their personality and skills honed during their academic career may provide them with a sense of context and strategic fluidity that are essential with helping organizations implement new strategies and navigate complex communications projects.

This will make a great topic for a longer piece. It’s a fascinating concept and one that is dynamic in nature, has different answers depending on the industry and position, as well as the culture of a given organization.

So what would you say you do here?

It comes up all the time doesn’t it? Maybe it’s time to introduce yourself to a new employee. Maybe you’re at yet another party or at your child’s school function.

What do you say?

Do you know what you do? Can you describe it in a sentence or two?

It seems so simple and for some maybe it is.

What do you do? I’m a doctor. I diagnose and treat pulmonary disease.

What do you do? I’m a communications manager for a Montessori school where I write newsletters and announcements for parents and the community.

For others, myself included, the answer can be a tad more…nuanced shall we say.

I joke to some that I’m my organization’s multi-tool.

I don’t like the “jack of all trades” moniker because it begs the coda, “master of none”. If I’m a master of something it’s at being flexible and agile.

There are many of us who at any given moment could be doing forensic analysis and reconciliations of expense and invoicing data, preparing client data presentations, writing annual reports, taking bids from telecom, office equipment, or real estate vendors, or planning international special events.

These hats, however, are not rotated as a result of a lack of mastery but rather because the individual has the agility and versatility to fill gaps across the organizational structure. They can, in short, put those fires out that pop up all over an organization.

Not every company has the capacity, budget, or need to have a full-time communications or purchasing department. Many companies outsource the bulk of their human resource needs but still require someone in the office to field all those inevitable questions that pop up that don’t necessarily merit submitting an inquiry or calling the hotline.

From a company’s standpoint having a “utility player” can be vital and for an individual seeking employment it is essential to demonstrate your ability to perform multiple tasks, simultaneously, under different timelines, across the organizational structure, collaborating with different stakeholders.

That’s about it for today. Have a productive rest of the week but most of all…

 

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

 

You got your foot in the door…now what?

Over the years I’ve sat on both sides of the conference room table. I’ve listened to sales presentations from vendors related to technology solutions and business process improvement and conducted employment interviews in a multiple environments. I’ve also been the one pitching to prospective customers or being interviewed for a position.

The biggest lessons I’ve learned about these engagements all revolve around audience, preparation, and purpose.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Whether you’re going into a sales meeting or a job interview, it is essential to know who you’re meeting, what they are looking for, and where they stand within the organization. Are they decision maker? Are they a gatekeeper? Is there something unique about them or the organization that you can use in your presentation? This brings us to our next point because they are very closely linked.

PREPARATION

In order to know your audience, understand their needs, and identify how you can fill them, you have to do some homework. It seems silly to say it, but it’s important to remember that we live in the age of Google and LinkedIn. There are trade magazines that serve every industry imaginable. Most companies have a “news” section on their site where valuable information can be found related to changes in leadership, financials, acquisitions, and other business activities. Trade magazines will give fascinating insight into the company’s activities and performance in relation to peers, interesting events they may have taken part in, new business solutions the company may have adopted, and economic factors impacting the industry as a whole.

LinkedIn provides insight into who you will meet with. Have they published articles about their business philosophies? Maybe they shared an interesting story that you can mention at a strategic moment during your presentation. Perhaps they even posted something about the position for which you’re interviewing or about a particular challenge your product or service can address.

In a sales environment, all this information will help shape your “pitch”. You’ll learn valuable information about how your solution fits into their business structure, and more importantly, how your solution provides value! What challenge or obstacle can your solution help this organization overcome?

It’s important to note that there’s a certain amount of savvy necessary for these interactions because the last thing your audience wants to feel is judged. You certainly don’t want to lead with something like “So, I read in your last financial report that you lost 3.2 million dollars in your XYZ division but let me tell you how you can improve that!”

Not the best way to curry favor. 😉

Similarly, if you arrive for your job interview, don’t lead with something personal. If you checked out your interviewer on Facebook and found that they have a new child or adopted a new puppy, you’re not going to want to use that. You won’t appear prepared; you’ll look like a creepy stalker. Stick to LinkedIn and be strategic in how you use the insights you discover.

Preparing for a job interview requires a deep understanding of the posted job description and determining how that position fits into the larger organization and its activities. Has the company announced a recent initiative that involves the division within which you would be working? If so think about how you can connect that to your skills.

Basically, never walk in dry. Know what’s going on. Know who you’re talking to.

PURPOSE

Have a point. You worked hard to get this meeting or job interview. Whether you’re speaking to a “low-rung” employee or the CEO, they are taking the time to meet with you.

Job interviews are really quite similar to a sales meeting. In both settings you have to answer a series of questions that may not be directly asked but form the foundation of the entire interaction.

What can you do for them that they can’t do for themselves?

Why does any of this matter?

Why should your audience care?

What’s the point of all this?

You’ve given them your resume, or your sales material. You’ve gone over everything: features, benefits, experience, skills, price. Your materials are on quality paper, great graphics…everything is polished from your shoes up to your pitch.

And? What’s the point? Why should any of that matter to the person on the other side of the table?

SO WHAT?

“So what?” is a more powerful and important question than “How much?”

Whenever we are preparing for a job interview or sales call (remember they’re essentially the same thing) we must keep that question in mind.“So what?”

Explaining all the details, features, and benefits isn’t enough. Recounting your expertise, your extensive background, and academic credentials is not enough.

So what?

Don’t assume your value as a prospective employee will be self-evident to a hiring manager.

Don’t be so confident as to believe the value of your product or service is obvious.

This seems to be the single most taken-for-granted concept in all of communications, sales, and interview prep.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve made this mistake myself.

I’m sure we all have and I’m sure we can all think of a time where sat through a meeting asking ourselves the same thing, “Ok…so what?”

TIE IT ALL TOGETHER

Everything you do in anticipation of the meeting or interview should lead you to being able to answer that question, “So what?”

Yet, all too often, we fall victim to getting caught up in the chase.

“All I need to do is just get my foot in the door!”

Ok…so you fought and clawed your way to getting on an executive’s calendar, or that of a hiring manager’s. Are you going to make the most of it?

What’s more important, getting the meeting or the result of the meeting?

I hate wasting time. Even more, I hate leaving a meeting feeling like I wasted someone else’s time.

So to close, I shall leave with you a bit of a mantra I’ve been repeating to myself lately:

Define your purpose and pursue it with passion, patience, persistence, and perseverance.

As you do, use communication, creativity, collaboration, and compassion.

Until next time…

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

It’s ALWAYS and NEVER the same…EVERY TIME….LITERALLY!

Hyperbole, its use as a literary device and its examination as such, are as old as language. Even Jesus was known to utilize it more than a time or two.

As social media has (d?)evolved, as text speak has become entrenched in our collective vernacular it appears that we’ve reached a point where there may not be able to actually exaggerate anything any further than we do in any given moment.

Think for a moment…someone posts a relatively cute .gif to your Facebook page. It’s a toddler stumbling in the yard as dad struggles to balance his whatever in one hand and another child in the other only to save the toddler from sudden death by using his foot to balance the child before he fell on a paver stone….or whatever.

The comments start flowing. “OMG I’m DYING!” “LITERALLY the FUNNIEST THING EVER!”

Perhaps you’re in the parking lot at work. A coworker pulls into his space and his breaks squeal. Obviously he needs to have the pads replaced. Someone next to you says “Oh GOD. That’s the WORST SOUND EEEEVVVVERRR!!”

Hyperbole, and its effectiveness as tool to express the author’s or speaker’s intentions and meaning, hinge upon creativity, context, and perhaps most of all – restraint.

When your communications are riddled with exaggerations you run the risk of being seen as a “drama queen” or the boy who cried wolf.

Think about it. If every time you get a cold you feel like you’re “DYING!” and you’ve NEVER felt this bad EVER IN YOUR LIFE…until your allergies act up in a few weeks, how is everyone else supposed to react?

In relationship counseling one of the first things therapists say is for the couple to erase words like “ALWAYS” and “NEVER” from their vocabulary because really…does your wife ALWAYS “act that way”? Is your husband truly NEVER “good” to you?

The same is true in marketing or advertising. Just enough creative exaggeration and you attract audiences with your wit and savvy. Go overboard and you’re the monster truck rally on Sunday SUNDAY SUUUUNNNNDAY!!!!  

So that’s the lesson for today. Don’t be so quick to exaggerate when you’re trying to get your message across. Subtlety, particularly in an environment when hyperbole is the norm, can make your message more impactful. I won’t say you should NEVER use hyperbole though. You should ALWAYS know when to pull it out to make your message resonate with your audience. 😉

Until next time…

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

Textspeak, emojis, and the (de?) evolution of communications in the modern world

The Oxford English Dictionary has roughly 170,000 entries for words in “current use” and another 47,000 or so for “obsolete” words. They estimate that there are roughly a quarter of a million words in the English.

Some estimates put the total number of words in all the languages around the world at somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million.

It’s important to note that such a figure is impossible to calculate with any accuracy so take those numbers as you will.

Now, think about your high school and university educations. Spelling tests and competitions, essays with minimum word counts, the good old days of using a thick thesaurus, SAT words, Melville, Shakespeare, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and all the emphasis placed on developing an extensive vocabulary.

Now think about how different things are in corporate America and journalism from academia. Many of us have had to spend years reprogramming ourselves in order to strip away unnecessary words and literary window dressing to our communications…especially given the rapid fire world we live in when we are assaulted with constant headlines, emails, tweets, text alerts, status updates, news briefs, and so on.

At some point, it becomes essential to get to the point as quickly as possible to allow all of us to move on to the next thing.

Whether we’re preparing an internal document regarding procedural changes or crafting a sales presentation or writing an article about a local news topic to be published in a newspaper, it’s about who, what, where, when, why, and how. Get to the point and get out. Don’t use a two-dollar word when a nickel will suffice.

Social media communications is a whole other situation. Tweets are, by design, limited to 140 characters. Texts are short and to the point because otherwise they get chopped up into multiple messages and upon delivery can be out of sequence.

Enter the emoji. Happy, said, angry, perplexed, high fives, love, hate…whatever your needs, there’s an emoji for you.

Many people rail against this perceived regression in the art of communication. The “Grammar Nazis” are always quick to pounce on any misstep and literary buffs (of whose ranks I consider myself to belong) often decry that with every emoji, every rap song, and every new trendy internet slang our beautiful language’s heart comes one beat closer to its death.

But is this really the case?

Shakespeare, despite the sheer scope and depth of his work also wrote, in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Nietzsche, another writer/philosopher respected for his masterful use of language, “high level” writing, and a favorite among aspiring intellects once said, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”

Pascal once wrote, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Perhaps FDR said it most succinctly when he gave his son advice on public speaking: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

So what does it mean when some of history’s greatest writers, many of whom are known for writing some of the heaviest, longest works in literature proclaim the importance of saying more with less?

I’ve seldom been accused of being too succinct. A lifetime of writing in academic and literary contexts and spending my professional career in a variety of communications roles has left me in a sort of limbo.

I want to write “well” and “fluidly” and even with a bit of “flair” but I also want to keep my audience’s attention.

What I’ve come to believe is that language is fluid. Our use of it is the same. Context is everything…and it’s more difficult to write with brevity than it is to write pages worth. (Take this blog as evidence.)

Sometimes we mistake brevity for lack of effort. Sometimes we say the same thing ten different ways when we could have stopped at the first. Sometimes we see a long article and assume it must be full of well-researched evidence and information while we dismiss a shorter, list-based piece for being lazy. (I’m guilty of both.)

I love a good read as much as the next book snob. There are times when I love to bathe myself in literary prose where each detail from the dust on a window sill to the scent of perfume in the air are painstakingly described, painting such a vivid picture that the dust tickles my allergies and the aroma dances beneath my nose.

Sometimes, though, I just want to know what the final score was last night or if we’re actually going to the movies at 2 pm or if we are putting it off until tomorrow.

Yes there are lazy writers and our world is populated by people who can scarcely string three words together without blasting us with “curse” words. (Curse words being their own means of communication that can be as artistically impactful as anything you’ll find on the SAT.) The internet often seems overtaken by click bait photo galleries masquerading as “news” or “information.”

But, I don’t think our language or communication skills are any more base or devolved than they were in the times that framed all those incredible works we study in classical literature classes…this concern is as timeless as the work of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and those I’ve mentioned above. It’s a worthy debate that shows quality writing is still valued.

We should all strive to be skilled and agile communicators who engage our audiences in whatever manner is most impactful in any given context or situation.

And don’t be so quick to dismiss that emoji, sometimes those little faces speak volumes. 😉

Till next time.

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

Digital tech with an analog soul

When I was a kid I had pencils, chalk, crayons, and paper. I rode a big wheel there were two knobs on the TV, one for UHF and the other for VHF…or just the “top” and “bottom.”

I listened to music on vinyl records and cassette tapes.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m old enough to remember a time before all of this…all of it.

I know, I’m dating myself but hang in there.

That said, I’m also young enough to have grown up as everything happened. I had Atari, then Nintendo, and now there’s an XBOX One in my living room…Cortana too but we aren’t on speaking terms. I get along much better with Alexa.

Though I fought it until the bitter end, I did give in and made room in my life for a CD player, then a portable one for the car that connected via an adapter inserted into the cassette deck.

Now…well I subscribe to Amazon Prime Music and Google Play.

My entire life has been lived with one foot in either world – the analog and the digital. I’ve never firmly committed to either, fighting the transition only to embrace it in the end.

Years ago, ever frustrated with the limitations, expense, and complications of analog recording in a home environment I broke down and invested in a digital recording system…something, like a CD player, I had sworn never to even consider.

So here I am…living in both worlds…enjoying and embracing all that the digital world bless me with but clinging to the analog spirit I grew up with.

The Beatles recorded on tape. Brian Wilson produced Pet Sounds on tape. George Orwell didn’t have Microsoft Word…he didn’t even have Word Perfect.

Yet…I have access to almost every song ever recorded simply by saying Alexa play… or OK Google!

There’s a lesson here though. There’s something important that I think should resonate with all of us…particularly those of us who work in communications.

It’s critical for us to engage our audiences using the most effective and modern channels. We must go where our audience is already waiting. If that means MySpace then MySpace. If they move to Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or wherever else…that’s where we go.

If it means using emojis or limiting our message to 140 characters, that’s what we have to do because part of being an effective communicator is delivering that message in a method that is well received and understood by the audience.

It doesn’t matter that you manufacture the best product, provide the best service, offer the best workplace. If you can’t get your message out in a way that is heard and appreciated, no one will know or care.

BUT….in our race to embrace the newest and fastest we must never lose sight of what connects us, what binds us…that analog soul.

We are analog beings living in a digital world.

The warmth, the grit, the rough-around-the-edges integrity that makes us each who we are should never be sacrificed at the alter of technology.

Rather, we should use technology to enhance and amplify our analog spirit.

We should let our analog souls and need for warm interaction determine how we utilize the tools that technology provides.

We’ve all seen the home buying shows…we’ve all been in restaurants with a “clean, modern feel.”

By and large, as a people, we leave those trends behind. Why? Because there’s a sterile, coldness to those sleek, gray, clean lines.

Only when that modern avocado and mahogany cabinet has been around the block does it become a cherished “mid-century modern” antique. Before it reached that ripe old age and revered title, well, it was just tacky.

The same is true with how we choose to communicate our messages.

Internally yes, sometimes an email blast is fine. Sometimes that’s all you need. Other times, maybe you should take the time to engage people one-on-one. Perhaps a printed letter in an envelope left at everyone’s desk is the right touch.

Externally, whether engaging prospective clients or a mass of would-be customers, think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, how you want it to be received, and then assess your strategy.

Maybe a mass email dump with addresses exported from Excel is just fine. Maybe though, maybe you should spend that extra time to look up the weather in each city of each client to whom you’re marketing your business. Maybe actually put pen to paper, maybe hand write the address on the envelope.

Almost all of us crave connection. Almost all of us notice when something is different.

When tailoring your message keep that in mind. Offer people more than a widget or a great deal. Offer them a connection.

Don’t reach out to them the same old way everyone else does.

Be different.

Be analog in a digital world.

Be Well and Kind,

Jason