How I Unplugged and Lived to Tell About It | Michael Hyatt


Earlier this year I predicted 2012 would be a time that people would unplug from the Internet. Here’s a blog post by publishing executive Michael Hyatt discussing his attempt to do just that.

Hyatt’s post:  How I Unplugged and Lived to Tell About It | Michael Hyatt.

My previous post on unplugging: 2012 predictions

Stop #SOPA and #PIPA


Two bills before Congress, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and trample the First Amendment. These bills would impose harmful regulations on American business and would block legitimate uses of the Internet. It’s yet again another power grab by the government against individual liberty.

The Senate will begin voting on January 24th.

Wikipedia has removed its content for a 24-hour period today in protest of censorship. If you try to conduct a search on the site, you’re taken to a page where you can search for your Congress representative by ZIP code.

A number of websites have either blacked themselves out today or have posted other commentary concerning SOPA and PIPA. A number of sites provide petitions to urge Congress members to vote down these bills, including:

Here’s a good story about the issue by the New York Times.

Customer DISsatisfaction — when surveys create disgruntled clients


Recently I wrote a blog about people taking time off from all things digital (Facebook, mobile phones, etc. Read the blog here).

I have also been reading about people complaining about customer satisfaction surveys. Common complaints include the surveys taking too long to complete, asking generic questions, and phrasing questions to lead the participant into saying positive things about the company. I read an interesting blog here about internal surveys that are impersonal, and the writer says, impersonal.

I believe there is another problem with surveys — there are too many of them.

I began thinking about the glut of surveys when I received an email request to fill out a survey for a writing group meeting I attended. I already was getting bombarded with emails regarding meeting dates for other area writing groups, and I got upset to receive yet another email, this one asking me to rate my experience from the meeting. Writing groups are voluntary events. You go if you want to go, and you don’t go if you do not want to go. If you’re going to ask someone to rate a writing group experience, what’s next, creating a survey for a Little League game?

Thinking of the absurdity of being asked to comment on this experience led me to remember another absurd survey experience. About a month ago I received a phone call from a company doing a survey on behalf of a hospital where I was treated for a medical emergency. The caller said the survey would take five minutes; I agreed to take the survey because I was very satisfied with my hospital stay. While I did not time the length of the call, the survey dragged on and on to the point where I was tempted to just end the call (I believe it took longer than the promised time). Many of the questions were repetitive, and some were worded to lead the respondent into saying what a great place the hospital was (can you say cheesy PR campaign?).

Communications in integrative bargaining


Here’s a quick observation on the role of communications skills in integrative bargaining (using an excerpt from my homework in my negotiations class):

In the integrative road map, the first step – asking open-ended questions – resonates with my communications background. Reporters often ask open-ended questions to get the most information possible; otherwise, we may get a simple yes or no. In negotiations, open-ended questions can allow the other party to define an answer or inform you of something you may not know, thereby placing possible solutions on the table. Communications skills also come into play in integrative negotiations by listening for the unstated – looking at body language. I appreciate the need to be a good listener, to ask for confirmation and to affirm by reframing.

Starfish and spiders as problem-solvers


A lot of business books claim to provide vital knowledge. Every so often one of these books actually delivers.

Last fall I read a fascinating book titled “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The term “starfish” refers to leaderless organizations like Wikipedia, while “spider” refers to a company that has a traditional top-down leadership model.

I was fascinated by the concept of leaderless organizations, never having thought of Craigslist or Napster in that fashion. Although those websites had founders who administered them, their success was based on users having the right to act as co-administrators. This makes sense in hindsight – think of the popularity of television shows like “American Idol” where audience members vote to determine the contest’s winner. Realty show voting and Internet sites give everyone a voice in this age of social networking.

I’ve been revisiting “The Starfish” lately to gain new insights into the starfish concept. One chapter is devoted to hybrid organizations, or those that have aspects of both starfish (leaderless) and spiders (top-down management). The chapter mentions the work of David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Business School who developed the concept of “appreciative inquiry.”

Appreciative inquiry is used to solve problems in organizations. People from all levels of a company participate in pairs to interview one another. As the book states, a janitor may ask the CEO questions, which are provided by Cooperrider to encourage people to open up. Cooperrider’s intention is to break down the hierarchy. After the interviews conclude, participants get together to brainstorm, and every person’s idea is treated with respect. Since everyone feels they had a voice, they are more likely to buy into any plans that result from the session.

The “Starfish” authors make their case for the appreciative inquiry technique despite its sounding like a “touchy-feely” method. They note that the technique led to resolving a dispute between truckers and management at one of the world’s largest truck companies. The process also was credited with the creation of a strategic plan at the U.S. Navy.

You don’t have to view conflicts as an unavoidable part of doing business; disagreement can be healthy when it is managed effectively and channeled into creative problem-solving where everyone’s voice is heard in a respectful way. It’s only when respect is thrown out and disagreement is unmanaged that it becomes destructive conflict.

Use a tissue to clean up


I noticed an interesting ad recently in Columbia Journalism Review. It showed an eraser and a partially erased, hand-written registered trademark symbol, with a caption of “do not erase,” as well as the Kleenex logo and a photo of a box of Kleenexes.

The copy in the ad made the case for not using the registered trademark brand name Kleenex name in place of the word “tissue.” The ad compares this to erasing the Kleenex Brand Tissue name and instructs the use of the registered trademark symbol and the words “Brand Tissue.”

It was a clever ad concept with a simple design – the color was limited to the eraser, the Kleenex Brand Tissue logo and the photo of the product. The copy and the trademark symbol were in black ink, and the background was white. The ad was an attention-getter.

Journalists are trained in school to use generic words in place of a brand name in most cases. The AP Stylebook lists a number of brand names and suggests generic words that can be used. Exceptions are made when the name of the brand is integral to the story.

The Kindle on a budget


I was a holdout for several years on ebooks, including the much-touted Kindle. I’m a journalist and a bookworm, a lover of the printed word, and to me, nothing could compare to the allure of text on paper. Certainly computers and smart phones cannot compare to reading a newspaper or a (paper-print) novel. The price of ebook readers was another factor. But I could no longer ignore the changing nature of print media – even as I finished earning an MBA to stretch my workplace skills, I began forcing myself to upgrade my technical abilities – I bought a Blackberry, and I began blogging and using Twitter.

Cheapness is the feature that finally won me over to the Kindle (I have been called a cheapskate more than once). Amazon.com had dropped the entry-level price to $139. I began researching the Kindle and discovered rave reviews by users on its E Ink technology that allows words and pictures to appear just like ink on paper. (I learned the reviews were true once I started using my Kindle).

Even as Amazon.com was drawing flack for trying to force ebook prices up, I read that many classic books are available for free on the Kindle. And indeed they are. I have downloaded well more than two dozen free classics, ranging from “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne to “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells. I just finished reading Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and have started Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Some versions of these books are free, while other electronic versions cost a few dollars and are still a bargain.

I have also downloaded free games – Mine Sweeper and Blackjack.

A final appealing feature of the Kindle is the access to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. I have subscribed to the WSJ for $14.99 per month, but am enjoying my first two weeks for free. Additional print media options for the Kindle include The New York Times, USA Today, regional papers like The Houston Chronicle, and magazines like Time. Since my Kindle was a Christmas gift, my only expenses associated with it have been a case and the WSJ subscription.

My next Kindle blog will look at how it and other ebook readers fit in with the future of newspapers.

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