Archive | Strategy

All this GTD gets in the way of doing good things

I’ve always been a reluctant member of the GTD cult — getting things done. Long a crusade by consultants and coaches, GTD got tagged and elevated by the Internet era. David Allen turned the whole thing into a business and even appears to have trademarked the abbreviation GTD itself. [Really, USPTO? Abbreviations for common-word phrases are trademark-able? What’s next? Someone registering BTW and LOL? There’s a topic for another post….]

I will say that I’ve been a devoted Franklin Covey calendar user for at least 15 years. And it makes things happen, for sure. I’m by nature a pattern finder, a bit more big-picture than someone who’s optimally suited for our GTD culture. But we’ve all got to make stuff happen every day, and my calendar makes that possible for me.

So I don’t say any of this to downplay the importance of finding and using a reminder and task-completion system that works for you. I think everyone should use a regular system to manage tasks.

But I had a great conversation yesterday with Mary Pollman, and we both lamented the lack of thinking that surrounds us today. I think we all have such a focus on getting things done, that we’ve all but eliminated the time we should be spending on deciding what to do.

Strategy vs. tactics. It’s an old debate, but I think tactics are winning right now.

There’s one work day left this week — let’s all get out there and figure out what we ought to be doing with it.

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Your software is hiding your people

I’ve worked with content management systems since the late 1990s. And I can tell you there’s not been a perfect one invented. But some are much, much better than others.

I’m a technology geek [n., person who enjoys new stuff], but sometimes I get annoyed with the constant focus on newest, brightest, shiniest. For one thing, there’s so much newest, brightest, shiniest, that it’s practically impossible to keep up unless you either define your niche very narrowly, or unless you spend your whole day doing that. I don’t know about you, but I’m not paid to keep track of the latest goo-gahs, no matter how easy they make my life.

And yet.

I have worked on a number of web projects in my life where the software will just drive you to drink. I think most people want the end result — the website, the marketing campaign, whatever — to be elegant and easy to understand. And often they don’t understand why that doesn’t happen. It’s tempting to blame the designer, the writer, whoever. And sometimes, that’s where the blame lies. But far more often, I’ve seen the blame lie in one of two places:

  • Corporate politics [a subject for another post, to be sure]
  • Crappy software

I can go on a web tour right now and show you dozens of sites that aren’t achieving their objectives because the software makes it too hard. [I’ll let the guilty remain anonymous today.]

A related problem is when people don’t realize they’re using bad software, or don’t realize that it’s the problem.

If your software makes it hard to post, it’s not working for you. If your software makes it hard to link things together, it’s not working. If it makes it hard to connect people to other people, it’s not working. If all you see is the software, it’s not working.

Don’t blame “the web being ineffective” or “inability to measure results in social media” if the real problem is “your software hides the people.” Therefore, you need good quality software that does not do this, for example the POS System is great software for restaurants as you can manage your employees better, you may want to check out RestaurantPOSSystems.com and check the quality for yourself!

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Make time to think

I had drinks last night with some old friends. It’s always nice to catch up, but one of the great benefits of this particular group is how much they make me contemplate ideas. We all worked together almost 10 years ago now at SmallBusiness.com, back when it was a different kind of site than it is today. [A site ahead of its time, as another sb.com alum and I discussed today.] That’s a fun topic all its own, but not what I sat down to say.

We started talking about social media, and the pace of work life today. The four of us have all spent our adult lives online for work — building, designing and writing websites, thinking up new ways for the web to work, creating stuff online. But we consider ourselves a step removed from Gen Y, say, or younger people, who have also grown up online. And we quickly fell into a tirade on how “kids today” aren’t learning critical thinking skills in school. About how in the working world, it’s about getting through your to-do list. We wondered how much the instantaneous nature of social media encourages this immediacy, and how much it’s simply a symptom of a more global attitude that today is too late, tomorrow you’re dead.

One thing we all agreed on: It’s very difficult to find time to think. About anything–either a specific topic or not. We don’t build downtime into our schedules anymore. Worse, every moment is up for grabs in our waking day.

I’ve talked before here about how time is necessary for your brain to consolidate information and make connections. Just as important to me is the time spent blue-skying, asking “What if?” If all your time is spent accomplishing tasks, certainly you’ve been productive, but how will you know if that’s actually what you should have been doing?

Thinking isn’t a step you can short-cut out of the system — not if you expect elegance and brilliance in your work.

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Two quick thoughts on social media and technology choices

I was scanning Twitter this a.m. to catch up on the world and I ran across a link to Mike Moran‘s interview with Paul Gillin about how corporations are using social media well, and how they’re using it poorly. The interview is a great, quick read that I highly recommend.

Two points stood out to me. The first is Gillin talking about how many marketers miss the “social” or personal aspect of social media:

I’m frequently surprised at how many marketers treat social media campaigns the same way they treated mass media campaigns. They dish out bland, homogenized messages meant to reach a large audience. That completely misses the point.

A few questions later, he’s definitely preaching to my choir when he talks about corporations choosing tools before strategies:

I would say starting with the tool is the most common mistake. Someone says “Let’s start a blog,” and so they figure out a way to start a blog regardless of whether a blog makes any strategic sense for them all.

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How to build community around your content

Great post today from Mitch Joel on building community around your content. If you’re not in the social media sphere, though, that sentence alone sounds like inside baseball. Let me see if I can translate myself into plain English.

Whatever your organization, it’s critical to differentiate yourself from your competitors. We all have competitors — and the Internet has only opened those doors wider. Even local monopoly-like organizations [like an industry association or certain nonprofits, for instance] now have to compete for time and attention with resources the Internet brings to our doorsteps.

For many of us, sharing our insights online becomes a differentiating factor. The transparency and accessibility that social media gives you multiplies your presence. You can have the reach of a larger organization, even if you’re just one person.

But if your customers are taking advantage of the Internet and social media, you can also experience the opposite effect — you are drowned out by the onslaught of sheer volume. It doesn’t even have to be your direct competitors. Anyone, anything that takes your customers away from you is competition.

That’s where Mitch’s insights come in. If you’re using the web today to talk to your audience, you have to understand better than they do how they use the Internet.

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Figuring out the best social media platform

Chris Brogan has an interesting blog post where he wonders how to fix his Facebook dilemma: There’s a cap of 5,000 friends on Facebook, and he’s close to it. He’s wondering about the best way to stay in touch with both his friends and his fans, and considers how his Facebook fan page may help. It’s fairly well suited to staying in touch with a large group, but it’s not perfect.

In his post and in the comments, Brogan and others debate several social media platforms: Twitter, Ning, Facebook, more. Several people are frustrated with Facebook and its “limitations,” like the 5,000 friend limit, various “problems” with fan and group pages, the “extraneous” clutter [things like Facebook flair and Little Green Patch come to mind].

And while I agree that while these things are potentially troublesome for marketers, few of them are problematic for people. Not that I think Facebook [or any other social media platform] is perfect. But I think it matters what you use it for. Trying to keep in better touch with high school and college buddies, and keep up with local events? Facebook is what you need. Trying to manage a professional brand? You undoubtedly need Facebook plus several other tools — and Facebook likely isn’t even the first thing you need.

Are you using the best technology for your purposes? [That’s the question I think Brogan is trying to answer.] Many of us spend a lot of time trying to make our preferred technology the be-all and end-all, instead of choosing the right tool at the right time.

Just like I roll my eyes at people who send me tabular content in a Word document instead of in a spreadsheet, I’m dismayed at the clumsy uses I see of many elegant social media platforms. Kudos to Brogan for trying to figure out the right answer.

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It's about your mindset, not your technology*

You know at year-end, everyone loves to compile their best-of lists. Even I sucuumbed with a New-Year’s type post a few days ago, despite my typical aversion to resolutions and best-of lists. As I’ve seen a number of these items in the past couple of weeks, several proclaiming Twitter as the app of the year, I’ve been struck repeatedly by the thought that the technology just doesn’t matter.

[Disclaimer: I love Twitter and think it has a lot of useful business applications, in addition to being fun.]

But it really doesn’t matter if your company is using Twitter, or Facebook, or any other so-called hot social media technology.

Your mindset matters. Kathy Sierra hit on this earlier today when she posted [on Twitter, of course] a short thought on how companies are using social media.

What co’s THINK they do w/[social media]: “We want to know what YOU feel.” What they ACTUALLY do: “We want to know what you feel about US.”

I’ll go further and say a lot of companies are actually saying, “We want you to feel THIS WAY about US.” And in some ways, that’s not all bad. At least they’re out there, trying new technology, new ways to communicate with their markets.

But I suspect many of the organizations leaping to use social media are still missing the forest for the trees. Yes, social media can make connections for you. It can broaden and deepen your exposure in your target market. But unless you’re using social media with the question, “What can I give?” topmost in your mindset, you aren’t likely to get as much in return.

For organizations, social media should be first and foremost another way to listen. Your audience will tell you what you can do for them. But it’s awfully hard to set aside your preconceived notions of what your market ought to want, and instead respond to what they are already telling you they need.

Before you choose your technology, be sure you pick out the right mindset.

* I can say with 100% certainty that there are wrong choices in technology, but I think you’re less likely to make them when you have the right mindset.

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How to use the web better in 2009

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. So many of us tend to put off the things we should be doing anyway — working out, eating better, managing our inboxes [PDF from Good Experience] — and wrap it into a once-a-year extravaganza in January. Which might be fine, except when you pile too much into that system, it’s often over long before Valentine’s Day.

So I’m not advocating you take up these ideas as your New Year’s resolutions. But I will encourage you to think about how you can work and market better online in the coming months. If you start one of these ideas in January, so be it. Just go into your new efforts with a plan, and you won’t be disappointed in February.

Make your Web site all it can be: Take a look at your own site. Is the design fresh? Are you updating it several times a week, if not daily? Does it tell your customers everything they need to know about your products and services? This is one area you shouldn’t expect to ever declare “finished!” As you expand your web presence beyond a basic brochure site [i.e. one that simply replicates what you would find in a printed brochure about your organization], consider carefully how you can support each new addition. An events calendar is a great addition to a brochure site, if you keep it updated. So are sale notices and a blog. But make sure you’re using each part of your site well. If one area looks out of date, people will assume the entire site is.

Once your own site is robust, you can stop relying on the faulty assumption that people will be coming to your site. I know — on the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. But on any given day, it’s more likely your potential customers won’t visit your site than that they will. So, you can find them in other ways. This is where a social media strategy is your friend.

Before you jump in to social media, remember these tips:

  • Start small. You must be able to sustain whatever works.
  • Everyone doesn’t need everything. See below for ideas of the kinds of social media that will help you the most.
  • Be real. Social media — as the term implies — is much more about connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are than it is about marketing. Of course, smart marketers know that they need people more than they need to “market.”

The following list is shorthand. Your web strategy depends on your organization’s unique goals. But painting with a broad brush, these ideas can get you started. When you’re ready for more, let me know, and we’ll figure out the best plan for you!

Who Needs It

Facebook: Nonprofits and others trying to raise awareness. There are actually nonprofits raising a decent chunk of change on Facebook, but I wouldn’t recommend that as your first goal there. Instead, think about the power of networking. You want your supporters to spread the word about you to their friends, right? Facebook makes that simple. With a little effort on your part, your supporters’ friends will also be hearing about your events, fundraisers and causes.

Flickr: Anyone with event, organization and customer images to share. Flickr’s photo-sharing capabilities can serve many purposes. And many organizations don’t realize how many images they actually do have to share — until recently, there hasn’t been a venue for them. Sell a product that requires assembly? Photograph each step in the process and set up a Flickr slideshow [that you can also post on your own site]. Host events? Post the photos to Flickr and let your attendees network with each other, and with you, there.

MySpace: Musicians and selected other organizations appealing to young adults. MySpace remains critical for the marketing efforts of many independent [and affliated] musicians. If you’re in the music business, you need to be on MySpace. Many of its features specifically support songwriters and performers trying to get the word out about their work.

Twitter: Organizations with a large customer-service presence. If you have a consumer product and you’re not on Twitter, you’re already missing conversations about yourself. Whatever you sell, people are talking about it — complaining it and praising it — on Twitter. Rex Hammock has a great post this week with examples of companies using Twitter well.

YouTube: Anyone who can tell their story creatively. YouTube is exactly what you’ve heard — videos of cats playing the piano and the embarrassing exploits of college students. But it’s also full of creative marketing and useful how-to videos. It’s an old example, but I continue to point to www.willitblend.com anytime someone questions the validity of YouTube for business. The key is in the storytelling. No one would watch a video of someone talking about a blender. And the market for a video of someone using a blender to make smoothies or sauces can’t be too much larger. We already know [or think we know] how a blender works. Blendtec is so successful with its online video series because it’s showing us something unexpected — what we didn’t know — in an incredibly entertaining way.

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Business essential: Building time for creativity

I was working on a project the other day with a web application I hadn’t used much. And I spent a couple of hours really learning how it worked before I could actually approach the problem I was facing. In the end, I solved the problem and learned quite a lot. But perhaps even more importantly, today I had an epiphany about how I’d approached the work — about what I’d accidentally done very right.

As I read everything I could about the application, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the information. I found it difficult to synthesize anything — all the facts started to swim before my eyes. Just when I felt most overwhelmed, I realized I had to go pick up my kids. I left the computer for about an hour, and though I thought about the problem off and on, I wasn’t concentrating on it.

But when I got back home, I sat down and methodically — and pretty quickly — worked right through to the solution. The strategy, and then the solution, just laid themselves out in front of me.

All three of those parts were very necessary, I realized today:

  • Gathering information
  • Working methodically
  • And the accidental part: Stepping away from the problem

Often my work includes multi-day projects. When it does, I’m often naturally taking time in between information gathering and actual problem-solving. However, when you’re trying to work very quickly — on a deadline — it may seem a luxury to stop, rest and possibly re-think your approach. But I’ve found again and again that giving your brain time to accept the information results in a better outcome.

A semi-related thought: I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Just like in our society, it’s acceptable to say, “I’m bad at math.” I recently read an article [I think on Slate, but for the life of me, I can’t find the link now] talking about how ludicrous this is. Educated people would not sit around in business meetings and say, “Oh, I really can’t read.”

Well, same thing with creativity. Math? I’m great at math. I can read like a demon, too. Likewise, I’m creative. My creativity probably expresses itself in a different way than yours does. But there’s a way for all of us to be creative. Find your area and nuture it.

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