Newsletter 622 – Two Growing Trends

Podcasts 3
This week I read two articles that describe growing technologies: one newer, the other well established. The first is the subject of the August 17 Time cover story (US Edition) titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality: And Why It’s [nearly upon us, better than you think… and] About to Change the World.” Put on those increasingly sophisticated virtual reality goggles and our whole perceptions change. This is not just about making video games more dramatic. It can be about treating the effects of trauma, dealing with various psychiatric disorders, and revolutionizing education. I wonder about its potential for changing how we lead, learn about God, or advertise. And are there dangers that we don’t yet see? Apparently we’ll encounter lots more about this come Christmas shopping season.

Much more familiar are podcasts, recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article (August 8-9.) We’ve all seen podcasts and webinars, some very sophisticated, which move us beyond radio, television or weekly written blogs like this one. Friends have urged me to replace or supplement this Podcast 2newsletter with audio and/or video posts, especially since these tend to be favored by so many people who like to listen or watch rather than to read.

  • A good communicator knows the characteristics of his or her audience. Surely this includes knowing how the audience learns or prefers to get information. Most readers of this newsletter are older, educated, and presumably inclined to learn by reading. Like me. Would a different audience be attracted by a podcast or other non-written, video or audio format? What about using both formats?
  • Experienced bloggers have demonstrated the value of captivating titles, eye-catching images, and succinct introductory sentences. These are more likely to attract and hold readers to the end. Similarly, aren’t most of us grabbed and retained by articulate speakers in attractive settings telling interesting stories with practical implications? Boring podcasts may give us something to hear or watch but they make no more impact than boring blog posts.
  • Podcasts can be produced relatively easily. All you need is a computer with a camera. I have done these with my classes, replacing long lectures with video clips to be watched at leisure.
  • Podcasts and webinars can be produced from anywhere and allow feedback so observers are more involved with the action. Should you be doing this? Should I?

Please comment. Tell us how you have used podcasts, webinars or virtual reality.

Newsletter 618 – A Genuinely Fresh New Perspective on Leadership

Team of Teams 2New leadership books appear almost every week. But it’s unique and refreshing to read a new, in-depth voluMcChrystal 3me, based on both experience and research, setting a new paradigm for leadership in the twenty-first century. Such is the new book by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Co-authored with two former U.S Navy SEAL officers and a very articulate scholar currently at Cambridge University, this book describes how old models of leadership, popular and successful for centuries, have been forced to change in an era of instant Internet communication and terrorist tactics. The book describes how the military has needed to change but demonstrates how these changes must apply equally to corporations, professions like medicine, organizations and anyplace else where leadership occurs.

This book is too rich, innovative and stimulating to summarize in a few sentences. Here is the background: McChrystal was put in command of what undoubtedly was one of the best-trained and disciplined military forces ever assembled. But the enemy terrorists kept winning, manned with relatively untrained individuals and small groups who appeared from nowhere to blow up shopping malls, military installations, schools and other targets. Then these perpetrators would be gone. They had mastered the use of free and accessible technology to communicate instantly before they died or disappeared. Almost overnight the elements of warfare that McChrystal learned in the military academy were largely powerless against a new kind of cyber-sophisticated and connected enemy. Especially irrelevant was the old micromanagement and chain of command that defined the military and still dominates so much of our culture.

As I read I thought of leadership in higher education and adult learning, including ministry and counselor education. So-called leaders still micromanage, set visions and expect others to comply, follow the rigid innovative-squelching guidelines of accrediting agencies, and fail to see that a new technological age requires new methods, skills and leadership. This is reflected in the title of the book by McChrystal and his colleagues: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Commands and guidelines from the top of a hierarchy are too slow. Models for counseling, ministry or coaching don’t always work. Individuals, teams and groups of teams throughout the system must be equipped and empowered to make quick decisions on their own. They need a new kind of leadership.

Have any of you read this new book? Even if you have not, please comment.

To hear an interview with General McChrystal go to:

Newsletter 616 – How to Keep Newsletters Relevant: Summary of Your Feedback

survey 6Almost every week for over a decade I have been writing this weekly newsletter. Blogs like this can get routine and tired after a while unless they are updated with some frequency. To start this process again I asked for feedback a few weeks ago and promised to give a summary based on the small but much appreciated, definitely non-scientific response that came in. Here’s what I learned:

  • The summaries of contemporary articles and books are appreciated and should continue, especially if each leads to some practical conclusions.
  • Roughly half of the respondents wanted personal perspectives gleaned from my years of experience. Examples include counseling Millennials, dealing with criticism, mentoring across continents, flourishing in the later years, and “Why a global perspective is absolutely essential in today’s world.” At any time you can send additional suggestions. I try to limit using the word “I” in most of the newsletters but apparently the Collins perspective would be valued.
  • Some of the respondents had very good questions but on topics that may have limited interest to a broader readership. I may try to answer some of these privately or fit them into topics of greater reader interest.
  • Nobody asked for more stories but these tend to be popular with writers, speakers and their audiences. Expect a few more.
  • Nobody asked for advertising or a newsletter that blatantly markets my books or myself. For other bloggers this is OK. Don’t expect more here.

Here are things I’ve been learning about blogging. To keep posts relevant, blog writers (this could include you) need to know who their readers are and what they want or need. Decide whether you can provide this information and how. Shorter blogs, especially those with bullet points are more often read than long, dry text. Be consistent in your timing: Sporadic posts rarely get read. Titles matter. So do images, especially photos of people.  Titles and images catch and hold readers who can always click and go elsewhere if the post looks boring.

One more: it’s important to get feedback from readers. That’s you. What would you add, based on your role as a blogger or as a blog reader? Please leave a comment.

Now a postscript on this holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day to you who are Canadians. Happy Independence Day to Americans. Happy both to dual citizens like me. And Happy weekend to everyone.

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 #425 – The Rise of Generation C

Recently, strategy+business (February 22, 2011) published a fascinating article titled The Rise of Generation C. These people, born after 1990, are called Generation C because they are connected, communicating, content-centric, computerized, community oriented, always clicking. “This is the first generation that has never known any reality other than that defined and enabled by the Internet, mobile devices, and social networking.” Most own cell phones and computers but Generation C people prefer to communicate by Facebook and text messages. “Being connected around the clock will be the norm in 2020 – indeed it will be a prerequisite for participation in society.” Already, “digital communication channels have replaced much of the physical interaction of prior generations.”

This is more than futuristic fantasy or interesting sociological analysis. C-generation connectivity already is impacting how we relate, do business, educate, learn, work, lead, make decisions, run political campaigns, engage in therapy and live our lives. Corporations, healthcare, travel, entertainment, diplomacy and even governments will be forced to change as 24/7 connectivity and social networking become the norm worldwide. What does this say about the way we manage crises, make ethical decisions, evangelize or do ministry? What are some practical implications?

  • The more overwhelmed, anxious or the older we get, the more we are likely to resist, deny or ignore changes like these. And the more irrelevant we will become.
  • Ignore trends like these and we become reactive, deluged by the changes. Better to be like the wise leaders of the Old Testament tribe of Issachar who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course…to take” (I Chronicles 12:32). They understood the trends as best they could and were proactive in adapting and making changes.
  • No one person can keep abreast of all the changes so we connect with others who are knowledgeable where we are not.  We trust in God who has put us in this place, at this time, for his purposes, to be part of this social revolution.
  • See this as an exciting, incredible time to be alive, living, leading, and encouraging others.

How are you handling these changes? 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.

Gary’s Newsletter #400 – Is Faceboook Killing your Soul?

Surely I’m among the oldest readers of Relevant, a magazine about “God, Life, and Progressive Culture” geared to twentysomething readers. The September-October 2010 issue features an article about the personal and interpersonal impact of Facebook and other social networking technologies. There’s a similar focus in several  New York Times articles and in Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Here are random conclusions based on recent research and published evaluations:

  • Our brains and ways of thinking are being remolded neurologically by the constant stimulation, overloads of information, and incessant bursts of short term messages that undermine our ability to concentrate or think in depth. New neural pathways are formed as we “abandon sustained immersion and concentration” but “dart about, snagging bits of information,” continually surfing the hypnotic Internet. (Nicholas Carr and NYTimes).
  • Digital devices and the myth that multitasking increases efficiency (the opposite is true) leave us fatigued and less able to learn, remember, and come up with new ideas. Gym routines accompanied by television and iPod docs are less effective than outside workouts or exercise without digital stimulation.(See NYTimes and Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain).
  • For some people, cell phones and the Internet have become addictive, leading to impatience, forgetfulness, and deteriorating ability to maintain healthy relationships in real life. Problems may be looming if you can’t shut off your devices or stay away from Facebook for a day or two (NYTimes)
  • The Relevant article argues persuasively that social technologies can build a subtle narcissism, exhibitionism, self-absorption and neurotic co-dependency.

None of this was relevant In 2002 when this newsletter started as a one-way commentary sent to the email boxes of students and professionals interested in counseling and coaching. Facebook did not exist when this letter began 400 plus weeks ago. Blogs were rare compared to today. Electronic readers and interactive hand-held devices were still novelties, unseen forerunners of new kinds of communication. The benefits of these new technologies is widely acknowledged, writes Relevant author Shane Hipps. Because of technology we read, learn, interact and think differently than we did before. Many in our technologically-connected culture only see the benefits but seem “utterly blind to the liabilities, the inevitable losses that certain technologies bring.” How does this impact your education, business, ministry, or people helping? Please leave a comment.