Newsletter #520 – Killing the Encyclopaedia Britannica – Relevance for You

Enclycopaedia BritannicaOK! The title of this post may be misleading. The 244-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) is not dead. In contrast it is viable and growing despite the publisher’s recent decision to kill production of the bound volumes. In 1990 a 2000 person door-to-door sales force sold 100,000 units but then sales began to fall. Decreasing numbers of potential buyers wanted a costly 32-volume book series that weighed 129 pounds filled with information that was losing up-to-date relevance every day. So EB reinvented itself in ways that are generating more profits and involving more on-line subscribers whose databank of information is updated every 20 minutes.

 How does this have broader relevance for educators, students, mental-health practitioners, churches, leaders and individuals like us? Consider what follows, adapted from an article by EB President Jorge Cruz writing in Harvard Business Review (March, 2013):

  • With the appearance of competing sources of up-to-date information available free, on line, EB could die or make radical change. EB determined to make changes.
  • The company determined to stay with their core purpose of providing content of impeccable editorial quality and accuracy. EB remained committed to their mission.
  • While the mission and brand recognition remained firm, the methods of delivering content changed radically. Door-to-door salespeople were gone, replaced by (currently 500,000) digital subscribers who pay for proven-quality content, updated continually with input from communities and proven experts. EB changed the way their services are delivered.
  • They learned from other information providers (like Wikipedia) who reach readers content with “good-enough” information that may be of unproven validity. EB focused on their strength of providing quality.
  • The company stopped thinking of themselves as encyclopedia producers and developed “a full-fledged learning business.” EB clarified their core business.

The article concludes with these words: “We don’t want to be like an old actor trying to hold on to his youth. You get on with the times and our times are digital…. We no longer have a stake in the old education model of textbooks and printed classroom curricula…. It makes no sense for us to print books. As an organization, we’re over it.”

Look at the above conclusions in italics. How might any of this apply to your work and business? Please comment.

Newsletter #502 – Do You Still Have Time to Change the World?

Have you noticed how some politicians become statesmen following their years in office? Bill Clinton was controversial when he was president but he seems to be turning into one of our better ex-presidents. In a Time magazine cover article (October 1, 2012) Clinton shares reasons for his optimism that the world is getting better. He describes the  work of CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative. Thus far it has distributed almost $70 billion and last month brought together Barak and Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, the new presidents of Libya and Egypt, plus 50 additional current or former heads of state and others committed to improving world conditions.

Clinton identifies and documents progress in five areas where there has been “concrete, measurable and reproducible” progress:

  1. Cell phones bringing freedom. Clinton writes that technology opens communication and fosters equality. He cites research showing that “cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty.”
  2. Healthy communities that prosper.  Examples show how major health crises are being combatted and averted in Haiti, Africa and elsewhere.
  3. Green energy that equals good business.
  4. Increased women’s’ roles stimulating productivity. “No society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population…. It’s been proven that women tend to reinvest economic gains back into their families and communities more than men do.”
  5. A future perspective that encourages progress. Ponder this: “We have to define the meaning of our lives as something other than our ability to control someone else’s.”

How does this relate to us or to the people we work with? Younger people seem more motivated to make a difference in the world but shouldn’t this concern everybody, regardless of age or circumstances? Might God have a purpose for putting each of us here, at this time, in the places where we live? Couldn’t we make a difference in our worlds even without the international contacts or funds to replicate what CGI seeks to accomplish?

Please ask yourself, “At this place in life what can I do, however small, to make a lasting difference?” Others can sharpen your vision and help you take action. As long as you’re alive there is time to change the world. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter #487 – Building and Finding Great blogs

Ten years ago this weekend (July 8, 2002) I wrote my first on-line newsletter. Blogging was new so I sent the newsletter to the email addresses of a few friends. Now with both email and blog formats I keep trying to improve and have no plans to quit. If you are a fellow blogger or thinking about blogging how can we create what Michael Hyatt calls “killer blogs? (www.michaelhyatt.com June 20, 2012). And how do we find the best blogs from the millions out there? Here are guidelines to help answer both questions. The first six are adapted from Hyatt’s post.

Image thanks to Mike Licht – NationsCapital.com

  1. Who are the intended readers? Try to reach everybody and you risk missing everybody. I write for leaders and emerging leaders, especially coaches, counselors and people in ministry.
  2. Create good titles and opening sentences. Titles sell readers on whether or not to keep reading.
  3. Use a relevant photo. In light of American Independence Day is this week’s photo interest-catching or merely cutsey?
  4. Include a story that readers can relate to. Be vulnerable in sharing about yourself but….
  5. Keep it short. My blogs are  370 words max – which might be too long. Long blogs are short on readers.
  6. Use headings and bullet points. This lets people scan and get information quickly.
  7. Ponder your motives before you start. Why do this? What do you want to accomplish? One of my motives is to share selected recent resources (like a link to Hyatt’s blog).
  8. What makes your blog unique? Why would anybody want to follow your posts?
  9. Can you keep it going? Where will you get fresh ideas? Mine come from reading and from interacting with people like the intended readers of my posts—including people who are different from me.
  10. Carefully consider the design and technology. Who can help you with these? I like my blogs to be simple and free from clutter. Bad design can distract from good content. I pay a fee to keep advertising off my posts.
  11. Conclude with a great question – maybe like this one:

What have you learned about blogs and blogging? Please comment so the rest of us can learn from your experience.

Newsletter #469 – The Fascination with Innovation

There’s a fascination with innovation in most of the business magazines and many of the leadership books I read. Inc. discusses innovation in almost every issue. Same with Harvard Business Review (see June 2011 issue on “How Great Leaders Unleash Innovation”) and currently Fast Company with its annual ranking of the world’s 50 most innovative companies.  In times of explosive change it is not surprising that individuals and organizations want to keep up and creatively move ahead of their competition in impacting their market groups. Even culturally sensitive churches and universities are in the game (as in Christensen and Eyring’s 2011 book The Innovative University).

Simply defined, innovations are new ideas or methods. Most innovations are creative, novel, relevant, sometimes revolutionary ways to bring improvements. It’s overwhelming to read the profiles of Fast Company’s innovative companies and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. It is easy, as well, to be humbled by what others are doing and ponder how far we fall behind. I tried to read with this question in mind: “How do these innovations apply to me and to what God has called and gifted me to do?” Here are a few observations.

  • Some people are more innovative than others. Exposure to new ideas and diverse, creative people may be a key for developing innovation. Doing the same things in the same ways with the same people squelches innovation.
  • Like creativity and change, innovation for the sake of being different is of limited value. Apart from the fun and challenge involved, why innovate if it has no purpose?
  • Innovation is risky and often expensive. Sometimes the risk is not worth the cost.
  • Innovation appears to be linked to personalities. Many of my friends fall into one of two categories. Some are entrepreneurs who try new things enthusiastically, often fail, but periodically succeed admirably. Others play it safe and are glad to avoid the risks. We need both in our professions and churches.
  • Effective innovations often come from teams with three kinds of people: creative people with sometimes radical-innovative ideas, detail-oriented people who pay attention to usefulness and cost, and conformists who stimulate cooperation and a measure of realism.
  • I wonder what God thinks of our fascination with innovation?

What do you think? What would you add to the list?

Newsletter #460 – Malls and Mumbai

In the United States the last Friday in November (day after Thanksgiving) is the busiest shopping day of the year. Many stores open before dawn to welcome bargain shoppers to the sales. Then comes Cyber-Monday, the year’s busiest Internet shopping day. In contrast, half a world away, this weekend commemorates the November 26, 2008 terrorist attack on the posh Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai India.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a lot about sales and business but two recent articles also describe the Mumbai attacks. “Global criminals are now sophisticated managers of technology and talent,” begins an HBR commentary on terrorism and organized crime (November, 2011). The article shows how technology was used by terrorists in attacking the hotel. During the melee attackers “used their BlackBerrys, satellite phones, and handsets to get tactical direction from a command post far away and to monitor broadcast news and twitter posts sent by innocent bystanders who gave real time information including the activities of police and military. There are practical lessons from this and from the weekend mall frenzy in America. Social media may seem overwhelming, especially to people who are older, but this is a part of the world where we live. Terrorists, criminals, police, retail businesses and shoppers all use and are impacted by social media. We may have discomfort with the changing technology but we’re likely on a track to irrelevance and isolation if we  ignore technologies or use excuses to keep operating in the old ways. Social media can be harmful or helpful they are here to stay and we must keep learning to understand and use them.

Another HBR article. “Ordinary Heroes of the Taj” (December, 2011) describes employees working inside the hotel when terrorists attacked from the outside. The hotel recruits employees from smaller communities because that’s where traditional Indian values still persist. Then employees are rigorously trained to show respect for guests, cheerfulness, dedication to duty, honesty, and consideration for others. Values are even more important than skills, talents, competence, and profits. All of this was evident during the terrorist attack. In business and in times of crises, values and integrity are of prime importance, probably even more than knowing social media.

Do you agree? Please comment.

Newsletter #417 – Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook

Every year Time magazine selects a Person of the Year” who has made the greatest impact (good or bad) for shaping our world in the prior twelve months. The winner this time was 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Over the holiday season, his face has stared from the cover of Time in newsstands around the world.

The Time cover story is fascinating, well worth tracking down and reading. Zuckerberg was chosen “for connecting more than half a billion people and mapping social relations among them (something that has never been done before), for creating a new system of exchanging information that has become indispensable and sometimes a little scary; and for changing how we all live our lives in ways that are innovative and even optimistic.”

Perhaps the Time editor is correct in stating that “all social media involve a mixture of narcissism and voyeurism.”  But the Facebook creators seem shaped more by the belief that transparency and sharing can be for the common good. “Why wouldn’t you want to share?” Zuckerberg asks. “Why wouldn’t you want to be open unless you’ve got something to hide? Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” But is there no place for secrets? Is there danger in the fact that Facebook has a richer, more intimate hoard of information about its followers than any nation has ever had? And consider this from the magazine writer: “Relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships. Friendships multiply with gratifying speed, and the emotional stakes stay soothingly low; where there isn’t much privacy, there can’t be much intimacy either.”

If that is not thought provoking enough, consider how the article ends. Zuckerberg describes conversations in college where everyone agreed that eventually the world would become open like it is now. “Why were we the people  make this happen?”  he asks. “That’s crazy.” Then he paused and added “I guess what it probably turns out is, other people didn’t care as much as we did.” Ponder that.

Please share your comments on the above or on the Time article.

Newsletter #407 – The Relationship Revolution

The Internet has immersed us all in a relationship revolution that nobody can escape. That’s the message of the September/ October issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine. “If you think you aren’t affected because it’s too complicated, a time drain or boring, then think again. Your kids, parents, friends, clients, and citizens around the world are already swimming in the digital stream. You can’t stop the river. Even if you never join Facebook, never read an online newspaper, or never send another email, the steam engine of digital technology will continue to affect you,” according to the magazine. Thought-stimulating articles discuss issues like the Internet’s dangers and the new possibilities for connection, conversation and innovations in therapy, education and business.

Earlier this month I went overseas and purposely left my computer and cell-phone at home. I avoided Internet cafés and took long peaceful walks by the sea. I also read the Networker article on Internet addiction and thought of friends back home who can’t sit through a meal or a class, walk down a hallway, drive a car or even go to the bathroom without checking their messages. For many the Internet and social media have become “a form of cybercoke” even as they provide never-ending sources of stimulation, information and connection. How do we tap into the advantages of the digital revolution without the addiction, stresses and information overload that so often revolutionize our lives and relationships?

  • Admit the ease with which we can become addicted. Think how many people you know who can’t get along without their cyber connections.
  • Recognize the dangers of multitasking. The research is clear: multitasking makes us feel sharper and mentally efficient but in reality multitasking imposes “continual distraction and interruptions on our brains so that we can’t think deeply, keep focused, or work efficiently.
  • Set limits on Internet use. If we receive information 24-7 our brains have “no time to relax or change modes.” Turn off timers that alert you to new messages. Select a schedule of times when you will check messages. Then stick with that plan.
  • Please comment on how you control the Internet.