Social Media

The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know

How do you know what you don’t know? What does that even mean, and why is it important to your business?

For centuries, people have been trying to get other people to hire them or buy their services. That’s what commerce is. In any form of commerce, knowledge is power, and this is doubly or quadruply true today. Whether you work for a department of a large company, a small start-up, or maybe you work for yourself, what you know about your industry, your competitors and your customers is vital. But so, too is the information you don’t currently know, information that you don’t know you need to know, or maybe you don’t want to know.

Let me give you an example to make this clear.

A few years back I was giving a speech at a convention of physicians. We all need doctors of course, but it is a common understanding that part of a physician’s so-called bedside manner, that air of confidence that allows them to communicate with their patients, is based on the fact that they are supposed to know all they need to in order to make an accurate assessment and a successful prescription for recovery. No one wants to see a nervous physician.

At this particular event,  I was about to give a speech on the impact of social media on the physician-patient relationship, when one of my two hosts for the event stopped me and asked if I was planning to mention a certain website, and if so, to please refrain from doing so. The site was a FaceBook page dedicated to healthcare system horror stories in the geographic area I was speaking in.  The page – which no longer exists – clearly stated that it was not in any way a hate page against hard-working physicians, nurses or other healthcare workers, but simply a place to commiserate and share stories about wait times, hallway medicine and other discomforts of the healthcare industry.

The host who asked me to refrain from mentioning this page was keenly interested in not tainting the event with negative stories about the healthcare industry. But the other host disagreed and said we should discuss this story. How else can our audience, comprised of physicians know what they don’t know?

Knowing what you don’t know seems like such an esoteric term. But in this age of data it is both more more important than ever before and also easier. Research no longer requires physical actions like visiting a library or holding focus groups. The data – all of it – is out there, and technologies like AI and machine learning – even simple Google News Alerts help bring it right to your doorstep.

Another healthcare related story helps drive this home. I was once consulting to an association that focuses on the management of hospitals and other health care institutions. They wanted to rebuild their social media presence and asked for me to help with the RFP process for website design. During the course of the needs analysis and market research, we decided to try to find out what the general public wanted to know about their hospital system. In other words, what did the association not know about their customer base? It turned out the most common question people had about the hospitals in their region was not about specialities or even wait times. It was “how much parking cost.” That’s what people really wanted to know, and that really came out of left field for the association. They had no idea.

So how do you find out what you don’t know? And how do you find out what you don’t know you don’t know? A good example might be going to a meeting at a client or customer location. If you don’t know how to get there, you know you don’t know that, so you consult a map or you program their address into your driving GPS app. But what if this customer was also comfortable meeting by video, saving you the trip both there and back? If this is not made clear, then you don’t know the option exists, and you don’t know to ask.

You don’t know to ask. Now that’s a Vital Soft Skill

When people talk about the future of work, one of the predominant must haves is soft skills. As artificial intelligence and other technologies eat into the hard skill sets that have supported any of us over the past few decades, it’s soft skills that will turn out to be vital for a career. For example, a cybersecurity specialist in IT must learn the skills of negotiation and influence in order to be heard at the C-suite table. Employees need to understand critical thinking and prioritization to manage workloads and distinguish real messages from phishing scams. Managers must develop emotional intelligence and active listening skills to better understand a highly mobile workforce that is already attuned to the audience-of-one mindset.

Add to this list, the ability to know what you don’t know. It’s a soft skill. It’s information literacy. It’s almost a sixth sense. But it’s very easy to do. You just have to know what questions to ask.

To understand what I mean by this, think about how people try to find out stuff they don’t know. If you run a business or a store or a department, you might conduct a survey or an interview. But in many cases this type of investigation is framed by the questions you ask. And even if you keep things as open as possible, for example offering people a text box to type in their thoughts or an open, flow of conscsiousness statement, they still know that the source of the question is you, and that is going to frame and skew the outcome.

A new and better source of unknown knowledge, then, is unstructured data that comes from an external source and that is not affiliated with you. The health system horror stories example I shared earlier/above is a case in point. Ostensibly created by someone as a community discussion not aimed at any one healthcare facility in particular and certainly not initiated by one.

Twitter is a great source for this, in my opinion. Once you get past the vitriol, hatred and junk out there, there are still many worthwhile people actively talking about things going on in your industry. This is unstructured data. It’s free-flow commentary that is not guided or influenced by leading questions.

So how do you find it? Keyword searches and Google news alerts seem like the most obvious route, and indeed an ongoing practice of farming the internet for keywords is vital. But this, too, is prone to the subjectivity of the words you choose, which is why a policy of diligent social media surfing is also valuable.

If you follow a specific subject matter expert on Twitter, it’s likely this individual will provide valuable information. But look around. Read the comments made by others. Pay attention to the recommendations of others to follow. Watch the hashtags being used. These all expand your awareness  to other organizations or industries that may seem totally unrelated, but from whom valuable insight can be gained.

Here’s a third healthcare related story that illustrates this. I was once teaching a group of paramedic supervisors about team dynamics. The conversation moved to the topic of the speed of response and safe driving techniques for emergency vehicles. The flow of the conversation led me to remember a tweet I had seen about a pilot project that delivered defibrillators by drone, complete with two-way audio and  video to help someone save another person’s life even before the paramedics arrive. This discovery was something I had stumbled across while doing separate research and then mentally filed away. It was by chance, yes, but I still had the presence of mind to note that this item of news would be important to my ongoing knowledge and value as an expert.

The point is, information is available all around us, but  knowing where and how to find it requires stepping away from the traditional index or table of contents and moving towards intelligent gathering of information.

Here’s a non-healthcare related analogy: some people call it reticular activation, and others simply call it the purple Jeep syndrome.

Imagine you decide to buy a new car and the model you decide upon is a Jeep. But not just any Jeep a purple one. As you entertain that decision, you will start to notice that quite a few people are driving purple Jeeps out there. Where did they come from? Did central casting just send a bunch of people into your personal movie to throw you off your game? No. The answer is those people and those Jeeps have always been there, but now your mind has been turned on to them, you will suddenly start to notice them. That’s reticular activation.

The same goes for information gathering in the great data ocean. You can’t always know what you’re looking for exactly, but a tuned in mind is better able to identify patterns, keywords, relevant ideas and potential jewels than can a stressed and distracted one. This, again is information literacy.

The Johari Window

If you’re looking for a physical tool to help you figure out what you don’t know about your business, your customers or yourself, try using a Johari Window. This is simply a construct of four squares, laid out two by two, with each one focusing on information known or not known to yourself and known or not known to others. The top left square is easiest to fill out: things you know about yourself, and things others know about you. Then close by, you will have squares for things you know about yourself but that others do not know about you, and also things others know about you but you do not know about yourself. Then, in the lower right corner, the ultimate black hole: things you don’t know about yourself AND things that people do not know about you.

If this is confusing, check out this Johari Window that zoologist Barbara G. Evers has created using a story line we are all familiar with.

Image courtesy Barbara G Evers – from her Eclectic Muse blog series. (Click to visit)

The point is knowledge comes from reticular activation pared with passive social media discovery. It stems from a desire to know what we don’t know, and an awareness that such knowledge is out there to be found in unstructured data – paragraphs of text and tweeted commentary

A customer returns desk, the traditional dark corner of a retail store is no longer a place of shame – it becomes a goldmine for the store to learn what they don’t know about the customers who still shop with them. Similarly, scanning a person’s LinkedIn profile before meeting them in person or online, may reveal previously unknown connection points – a person, a university or a job, that gives you something in common – something to connect with.

So, in an age of information, it remains more vital than ever to know that there is more to know, but that finding it truly is more of an art than a science.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard?

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard?

Just a couple of days ago, I received a text from my 75-year old mother. It read literally as follows: “I just received a message from Netflix saying an error had occurred during my last payment. Please verify you [sic] payment method by following this link. I followed the link, but it is asking for information regarding my credit card. Do you think this is a scam?”

She followed up with a second text where she highlighted the fact she noticed the grammatical error of “you” instead of “your.”

Of course, I texted her back immediately and told her this was a scam. “You didn’t click on anything did you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “but I only entered my email address and password. Was that OK?”

And so, I spent the next hour on the phone showing her how to change her Netflix password, and admonishing her once again about the danger of clicking on these types of messages.

Why does this continue to happen? Why are people still being seduced by stories of millions of dollars belonging to a Nigerian prince that needs to be parked in your bank account? Why do people click on badly written notifications of frozen bank accounts, missed courier shipments or job applications? Why is the most common password in use still PASSWORD123?

It’s because criminals are getting progressively more sophisticated while honest people generally are not.

Bad guys relentlessly focus on devising new ways to steal. That’s their primary occupation in many cases. But ordinary people have other pressing matters to attend to. Emails. Meetings. Groceries. The Kids. Phishing is a distraction crime, and people have too many things occupying their minds. It’s still easy for the phishing emails to slip through no matter how badly they are spelled.

In the case of my aged mother, there is also the notion of trust. She comes from a generation in which there was some degree of trust based on a common and more localized culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, before voice mail and robocalls, it was likely that anyone who called your home phone had a direct relationship with you. To answer it was a common courtesy. A habit that is now exploited by scammers every day.

Some of them don’t even need you to answer the phone. Do you get mysterious hang-up calls from distant countries like Albania or Chad? These calls are intended to get you to call back, curious as to who the caller might be, and as soon as you do so, an elaborate long-distance chargeback scam kicks in.

Online, the key issue is data. Hackers will do anything to get in, because once they do they have access  data of all types.

Lot of end users dismiss the threat or go blissfully unaware that a threat even exists. Let’s look at both of those for a moment.

First, dismissing the threat. “My company is too small to get hacked,” you might say. Or “I’m just a junior employee, I don’t have anything of value.” There appears to be no motivation to get strict on password management or cyberhygiene when the stakes seem so low.

But they are not low. They are incredibly high.

Every company and person is connected to every other company and person through the internet. As a criminal, I could easily pair up a common password, like Password123 with low tech approaches such researching your mother’s maiden name on Facebook to correctly answer a challenge question. Or if I was more sophisticated, I could use more brute force attacks like credential stuffing to overwhelm a company’s IT defenses. Software based attacks often take place once something has been allowed into the system, through a phishing email or an infected USB drive.

Every additional piece of data that an organization can collect from you – a home address here, a challenge question answer there, a medical record all pull together to form a stronger and stronger collection of pieces of data about you, and also about people connected to you, which is basically anyone and everyone.

Humans should never dismiss a small indiscretion as being insignificant. For example, re-using a password that you used on a different account a couple of years ago might mean nothing to your busy, distracted mind, but data is data. Someone out there is busy hammering away at your accounts with every piece of data about you they have been able to obtain, and just like inheriting a collection of unlabeled door keys, if you try every one of them, the odds are, one will connect.

Complacency. Ignorance. Optimism. These are dangerous things to have when all of your security is at stake.

Even though you personally are obviously not a hospital or a nuclear power plant, a simple infected document inadvertently sent to an HVAC contractor – a contract for some work at your house, for example, can easily infect the contactor’s own systems. If this contractor’s next job is working on the HVAC system at a nuclear power plant, the infection propagates. Yes, these large places have extensive IT and cybersecurity resources, but it’s always a cat and mouse game, as frequent data breach stories in the news will attest.

When was the last time you change the password on your home Wi-Fi router? Do you know how much your home assistant software, your phone, or your new big screen TV are listening to you? Do you know how easy it is for hackers to gain access to your new smart doorbell or nannycam – not only to steal data but to listen in and in some cases communicate with family members?

Password Manager

What brand of password manager are you using? Most people will look blankly at you when you ask them that question. To me that’s like someone saying, “What’s Ebola?” basically, as the expression goes, if you’re not part of this solution, you are part of the problem. And yes, Ebola can happen anywhere.

So, a lot of gloom and doom here? No not really. So much of this is eminently preventable. Criminals might be everywhere, but they are also very lazy. They want the easiest way to break into something, and basically, you are it.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure the sanctity of your passwords by using two strong tools: a password manager and Two Factor Authentication.

A password manager is a software app like LastPass or Sticky Password, that generates passwords for you. These are long strings of characters, numbers and symbols that you could not possibly memorize and that bad actors could not possibly guess. Every time you log on to a website that requires a log on, the app will help you generate a password or replace the existing one. It will never create duplicates. Where do these passwords get stored? Not on your computer, and not on the servers at the app itself. Not even in transit on the wires of the internet. The password only reappears when you, as a logged-in user of the password go and visit a page where a password is needed. The password manager sends an encrypted message to an encrypted file on your computer, and only then will the actual password reconstitute itself from its encrypted state. It’s a little like alchemy and is more involved than the way I describe here, except to confirm that your passwords do not actually get stored anywhere. They get scrambled, like scrambled eggs and will only re-appear when your circumstances allow it.

The point here, as with much of what I write and speak about, is that the technology and techniques for effective cybersecurity exist. But it’s people that get in the way. Yes, it’s a hassle having to change your password every two weeks, but there’s a reason why that has to happen, and and app like LastPass makes it easy and effortless, and much more secure

The same applies to Two Factor Authentication or even Multi Factor Authentication. This technique is becoming just as vital as password management software since it broadens your defenses by an order of magnitude. IN short, Two Factor Authentication, called 2FA for short requires a second password sent to a second physical device that only you have. In most cases, that is your phone.

Whenever you are given the opportunity to use 2FA, take it. Yes, the few seconds of delay required waiting for the passcode to appear on your phone is worth it. It’s like putting a deadbolt on your door.

Why is Cyberhygiene so hard?

Cyberhygiene is a hard because it demands two things of you: time and comprehension. In a age of instant satisfaction, a delay of mere seconds can be enough to make an online consumer abandon a shopping cart or happily ignore the warnings and log on to public WiFi unprotected. Or click on “accept” to every Cookies warning that every website now presents. I mean have you ever read the terms of those things? Of course not.

Secondly, learning how to create secure passwords has a perceptual barrier. It appears difficult so it is passed by.

I it is easy to assume that as an individual you are too small, too insignificant to be of interest to a cybercriminal. But you would be wrong on two counts. Firstly, your personal data, including name, address, social security number and everything else, can be used by thieves open credit card accounts, buy houses, or create fake identities to be used in an infinite number of ways, and second, you, I, and everyone else is connected to everyone else in a global game of six degrees of separation, meaning we all become conduits to security breaches and crime at even the largest and highest levels.

If you want to boil it down to three simple rules, I would propose these three.

  1. Use a password manager for everything that you connect to, including home devices.
  2. Never answer the phone unless you know who it is. Phone scammers need you to answer.
  3. Never click on any link that comes to you through email, even if it looks legit. If it’s something that might be a real transaction, go to the source directly – log in to your account through the website and password you have on hand, but never through the email itself.

Cyberhygiene is both a learned physical skill and a mindset, and both are vital to your existence both on and offline. Just like stopping off to get gas for your car, it’s something you have to do in order to keep going.

If you have a comment about the show, or a question you would like answered in a future episode, please, let me know. You can drop me a line through the contact form at steveprentice.com, and you can follow me on Twitter @stevenprentice (spell out) and on LinkedIn – just search for CoolTimeLife – no spaces, just as just one word. If you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave a review.

The theme music for the CoolTimeLife was obtained through PodCastThemes.com.

Until next time, I’m Steve Prentice. Thanks for listening.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard? If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill.

Whenever I give a presentation or a speech, I always start out by giving the Twitter hashtag for the event. This is not merely an act of housekeeping – it’s also a teaching moment that starts with crickets.

Yes – the sound of silence – a room full of blank faces when I ask the assembled audience how many of them use Twitter as a daily tool of professional development. Out of a room of a few hundred, I might get a dozen hands that go up. So, I ask why, and the answer is usually, “I have nothing to say,” or “There’s already someone on our department who does the tweeting for us, or even Twitter is passé. It’s Instagram now.”

Those are good answers – in fact there should only be one person in charge of tweeting on behalf of a company or department. And social media outlets like Instagram have their place. But that overlooks two of the three main benefits of using Twitter. People assume it’s just for outbound activity, sending notes and opinions out to the world. But that’s only useful if you have an established audience. That’s why celebrities and politicians use it.

But there’s a far more valuable use of Twitter that often goes overlooked, and that has to do with inbound information. When properly tuned, Twitter is an excellent tool for keeping up to speed on what’s going on in your business – the facts and development you need to know.

Yes, Twitter is awash with garbage and hate. That’s very sad and says a lot about people in general. But inbound Twitter is an ideal tool for lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is just what it sounds like. You keep learning every day of your life. That’s not a new concept, but for many of us, such an idea paints pictures of having to go back to school, take formalized courses and write formalized exams and paper to get formalized degrees. These are all still good, of course, but in between those events, other things are still happening: Industry news. Innovations. Events. Opportunities.  Being aware of these developments in real time is what gives people an edge or even a lifeline.

How else can you know what you need to know? It doesn’t matter if you never send an outbound tweet ever. Maybe you don’t need to. But by following a handful of carefully chosen experts, and checking your twitter feed once per day, you will receive vital, career enhancing knowledge without having to wade through all the garbage.

The Knowledge Base

The other reason I promote the Twitter hashtag at my session is that it allows me to talk about its service as a shared knowledge base – something that can and should also later be translated into an internal, intranet-based tool.  When I have a group of people in front of me, there is bound to be someone with something valuable to contribute – maybe a thought, an idea or a resource, like a link to a website or online article or video. But they are unwilling to speak up. Often times, the quietest ones are the ones with the most profound observations.

By tweeting a comment or a link, using the event’s hashtag, every participant, even those who were not there, are able to read ideas and suggestions from people they don’t yet follow, by simply searching for the common hashtag online. This use of Twitter hashtags is a public activity using a public, non-confidential forum – but it represents a powerful way of sharing information and building on synergies that more and more people find more appealing than out-loud dialog. It is the Wiki approach – a shared knowledge base, built out of the contributions of many.

Internal Wikis

As powerful as shared knowledge through hashtags is for public events, it also highlights the power of internal Wikis, that every company should embrace. I come from an age – not that long ago – where policies and procedures were stored in vinyl binders, updated every quarter or so by a new raft of 3-hole punched papers intended to replace the older ones. It’s all we had at the time, and their quality and relevance were dependent on the person or consultant who wrote them.

But when an organization takes on the Wiki knowledge base mindset, capitalizing on the interaction and ubiquitous access that Twitter and Wikipedia offer, the collective wisdom and experience of a wider swath of employees is tapped – and that’s a significant development. People may not always be willing to speak up. But they are often more willing to both contribute and learn, when given the chance.

Centralized knowledge bases give people a renewed opportunity to learn new skills, reaffirm procedures and best practices by enabling employees to look it up online – to read a short article or watch a quick video. Having a Wiki means updates to knowledge bases can happen quickly, helping ensure no-one is referring to an outdated copy of a policy or procedure that has been sitting in a binder for years.

This again, is digital literacy – centralizing knowledge – taking full advantage of the accessibility of online material and ensuring the right message gets through.

The Scuba Diver Factor

An additional benefit of digital literacy comes from social media in general, which is why many employers and HR departments will routinely scan the social media sites of employees and candidates, like Facebook and Instagram, not to snoop, but to better understand the passion that drives employees.

For example, imagine that you discovered through Instagram, that one of your employees was a passionate weekend scuba diver, and in addition, is certified to teach scuba diving? What relevance would that have to the job he/she currently has? Some might note that someone with these passions might be a natural leader with the brains to learn complex procedures and the abilities to teach and lead others. But that might not be obvious as a line item on a C.V. or even on a LinkedIn page.

The potential within every employee needs new avenues to reveal itself. People who make hiring decisions take a huge risk. The cost of attracting, onboarding and training an employee is huge. Knowing more about who they are and what makes them tick – or more precisely how they can best fit into a company culture, is of enormous value. And the information is right there.

In many cases, 90 percent of an employee’s potential goes unseen, untapped and unappreciated. This is serious, especially given the career mobility that professionals of all ages now recognize. People know that there’s something else, something more fulfilling out there. It’s up to HR and hiring managers to know fully and completely who they have at their disposal and where their passions truly lie.

Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking

Finally, there is the vital component of corporate survival: critical thinking. The experts who research and discuss the future of work regularly describe the skills that employers will be looking for, the skills that people will need more and more in the months and years to come. This is especially prescient as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over many parts of many types of jobs and professions.

These skills are very human in nature, not surprisingly. They include – but are not limited to – critical thinking and empathy. People in general are becoming increasingly emotionally disconnected the more their technologies connect them. Think for example, how many of us would prefer to send an email or a text than pick up the phone and talk live, out of the fear of what? Time being wasted? The fear of confrontation? Social awkwardness? Disinterest? Well, these aforementioned skills are coming into high demand very quickly. Here are just two examples:

First, critical thinking as it applies to phishing. Phishing and spearfishing emails are getting much more sophisticated. Cybercriminals have figured out ways to mimic the web pages and two-factor authentication techniques that we have started to rely on as a defense. The truth is that any and every communication that an employee at any level might have, whether with an outside agent like a supplier, customer or job applicant, or even with an internal colleague, must be suspect. That colleague’s email might not actually be from that colleague after all. This is why data breaches are so scary. Impersonation of people is easy once the bad guys have access to the types of personal data that accounts use for verification.

So that’s one reason why critical thinking is so important. The need to not trust anyone. The need to second guess each email when it arrives, and the need to not click out of reflex – these all confirm critical thinking as an essential skill, if only to help keep the company safe.

Then there’s empathy. As one of a collection of social interaction skills, these will come into greater focus as more and more people choose to use video conferencing and telepresence as their ideal method of communication. Video conferencing means body language, facial gestures and eye contact reestablish their prominence in the art of human interaction. Being self-aware is equally as important as being aware of the body language in others, when you can see them through high definition video. Some people shy away from this technology for those very reasons, but as videoconferencing technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will become the norm, in the same way that email replaced physical mail all those years ago.

Conclusion

Digital literacy is not just about known how to install and use an app. It’s about understanding how to parse information and non-information from an infinitely growing ocean of data. It’s about finding meaning and delivering meaning through an understanding of just how these technologies work and how they affect and influence people.  It’s fitting, in a way, to see humanity become the primary skill in a world dominated by technology.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back To Freelancing? I’m Not Feeling the Burn. It discusses the gig economy and the future of work, of which freelancing will play an even larger role. People who mock it have a surprise coming. It is the future of work, and it’s one of the most secure career paths you can choose.

Let me start with an insult. I remember reading a comment someone made online about – well you know I can’t even remember what the comment was about. But I remember the burn. Some troll disagreed with the writer’s comment and wrote in reply, “go back to freelancing.” I remember being initially confused by this remark. What was wrong with freelancing? What did he mean by that? I have been essentially freelancing my entire career, and I feel I’ve done pretty well. What was the stigma that this troll was trying to push? That freelancing isn’t real work? That you only freelance if you can’t find a proper job?

I questioned the troll’s comments from three perspectives. The first was my own experience: two and a half decades of adventure, meeting new customers, devising new products and solutions, setting my own calendar and career path. Exhilarating and rewarding. Never dull or repetitive. What could be better than that?

Then I thought of the other freelancers I know. They, too, never stop improving their product. They are masters at finding work. They might change customers from month to month, but the work never stops for those who know how to find it. It’s job security anchored by your own talents and motivations, not those of an HR department.

Thirdly, I thought of the people I had met during one of my long-term contracts, where I taught groups of recently fired executives how to cope with the depression of job loss and the resulting loss of their identity. These people were truly at sea, with no compass and no hope. This is what happens when people get buried in their salaried jobs and allow no time for the entrepreneurial networking that is at the heart of freelancing. They don’t know who they are, and they don’t know where to go, because they never built the safety net that every freelancer owns. That’s why I wrote my third book, which is entitled, “Is This the Day I Get Fired?”

Go back to freelancing. Did that comment reveal a deep-seated fear held by the writer, who like most other bullies, projects his insecurities on those he tries to intimidate?

Well, I have news for that bully as well as everyone else, including worried parents, who fear that freelancing is not as secure as a career job or a unionized job. Not only is it more secure, since the power of mobility and self sufficiency rests with the individual rather than their employer, it is also the future of work. I remember a comment that a guest speaker once said at a networking session I was hosting: He said, “the chief difference between a salaried employer and a contractor is that a contractor knows when his or her last day is, and can do something about it.

We are in an age of profound transformation. Technology continues to change jobs and indeed make many of them redundant. It balances this out by creating new jobs in their place, as well as making it possible for networking and freelancing to flourish. But to anyone who grew up watching Dad and/or Mom leave the house every day at 7:00 a.m. and return home at suppertime year in and year out it becomes difficult to envision any other lifestyle, regardless how secure it ultimately is.

The Future of Work: The Gig Economy

Heavy hitters like RBC and McKinsey have publicly declared the following facts, for the benefit of employers and experts who are carefully watching the changing world of work:

McKinsey and Co. has stated:

  • 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of activities that are technically automatable.
  • Automation could affect 50% of the world economy

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) envisions:

  • 4 million Canadian job openings in the next three years, of which
  • 50% will undergo a skills overhaul.

The skills that will be required include soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy and social perceptiveness. The ways in which these will be learned will be more about lifelong learning in place of traditional linear education.

But to take this even further, consider these three rather stunning facts delivered recently at the World Economic Forum.

1.) Less than a decade from now, by 2027, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelance.

2.) Artificial Intelligence and robotics will create more jobs, not mass unemployment as long as we responsibly guide innovation.

3.) Cities will compete against each other to attract top talent, as they see economic ecosystems grow and flourish.

Image courtesy of UpWork

These comments were made by Stephane Kasriel, who is CEO of UpWork, one of the largest and most successful freelancing websites around. It would be easy to assume he has a vested interest in saying such things, being the boss of a company directly dependent on the fulfilment of this vision.

But it is important to recognize that freelancing is not a cottage industry. Large multinational companies like Pfizer and Samsung are part of this rising breed of enterprises that have turned online to find freelancers.

And there are others out there, looking for highly specialized talent and paying well for it. One of these is Innocentive, a company that “enables organizations to put their unsolved problems and unmet needs, which are framed as ‘Challenges’, out to the crowd to address.” In other words, it is seeking innovation through crowdsourcing; putting the bounty on a solution. Maybe it’s an industrial challenge, like how to get toothpaste into a differently designed tube, or how to economically prevent oil from freezing when stored in cold climates. You would think large companies would have all the engineering brilliance it needs to solve these problems from the inside, but sometimes they just don’t.

Very often I win writing or project management contracts from companies who have all the right people already in-house. The problem is the backlog. It might take six months to appear on these peoples’ radar, and the client needs something done now.

Similarly, it’s those experts on the outside, the ones who must stay constantly ahead of the knowledge curve, who are the ones who come with the solution, more quickly and more cost effectively.

It’s the As-A-Service Economy

Let me draw a parallel distinction. Companies the world over have, over the past few years, become familiar with cloud, and with it, related technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. What are these innovations doing for them? Far more than simply storing your data. The accessibility and data flow that these technologies have enabled has given rise to the as-a-service industry.  Where once companies shipped boxes of their products to their customers, they now see the value in many cases of actually giving the basic physical product for free, and then monetizing the services needed to support it, along with the data that becomes collectible.

Individual consumers see this daily when they use their computers. Products like Microsoft Office used to arrive in a box and required individual installation from disks. But now, Microsoft, and all other software applications are subscription based.  Sometimes even free. The manufacturers are responsible for testing and upgrading and they do so remotely via your internet connection.

The same principle applies to every other as-a-service enterprise, which is what makes cloud storage and security so attractive and practical in the first place. The supplier stays responsible for the upkeep of quality. It need no longer remain in house, where it might be prone to delays and budget cuts.

So, back to the workforce. I can speak from direct experience, when I teach new topics to a group of employees, they admit that they spend so much time closeted away, working on the internal problems of the moment, they never get the chance to look up and around at what the outside world is doing.

This becomes one of the key value propositions of the as-a-service freelancer. Just like cloud providers and software manufacturers, the freelancer is responsible for maintaining the skills and knowledge that a company needs. And now, with direct and immediate communication and the capacity for working remotely, there is no reason for them to ever physically visit the company’s brick and mortar operations if need be.

None of this is truly new. There have been freelancers for centuries. The very word freelance denotes a mercenary fighter whose weapons, including their lance, were available to whoever wanted to hire them. They weren’t free from a price perspective, but they were free from fealty to any specific lord, king, or country.

Companies have long outsourced work to other countries – call centers and tech support, for example – and even the notion of as-a-service machinery has its roots in leasing and rental programs.

But it’s more now. We have passed a tipping point. As-a-service is more than just leasing. It is about servicing, maintenance and aftermarket opportunities that go well beyond any physical machine. And freelancing is far more than hiring warm bodies to cover peak periods.

Freelancing is a new type of work, fueled by communications and data technologies that help bring customer and supplier together more efficiently. According to a study commissioned by Upwork, half of the millennial generation is already freelancing.

There is an inherent security in the freelancing business, reinforced by the ever-present reminder that you are personally responsible for your future. This might strike many as the opposite of security. After all, how can that compare to the permanence of a salaried position, especially when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage? But ask any salaried employee what their biggest fear is: it’s losing their job. And that is not a healthy way to live.

So, back to the insult that started this monologue. “Go back to freelancing.” Many people reveal their own fears in the insults and swear words they use against others. As I tell my audiences, I have been looking for work for 25 years now. And I keep finding it. It’s always interesting, it always adds something to my skillset, and it always keeps me in demand. It called, colloquially, the gig economy, and it is the future of work.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Rising Bar of Expectation

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Rising Bar of Expectation. It explores the relationship between us and time, especially when it comes to our expectations, and managing the expectations of others.

Boy it’s annoying when things don’t load at the speed you want them to, isn’t it? I mean when we have to wait around for Microsoft Word to fire up, or for your browser to configure its updates, or for an app to download to your phone. And this is a serious problem. People have a tolerance of mere seconds before they give up and move on to something else. E-commerce people know this, which is why they place such high priority on solving shopping cart abandonment issues. Music companies know this too, which is why artists are asked to write tunes that deliver the hook sooner. Consumers know they have a choice and they will move on quickly.

Texting Your BFF in the 1700s

Imagine what it must have been like 300 years ago. Imagine, for example, you walk four hours into town, maybe two hours if you’re rich enough to own a horse, and as luck would have it, a ship has just arrived carrying – among other things – mail from the old country. It includes a letter from your BFF, your sweetie, your betrothed, who writes, basically, “we need to talk.”

You re-read the letter several times, your heart is pounding as you see your happy future dissolving before your eyes. You run to the local apothecary, borrow a quill pen and a bottle of ink, and frantically write back a heartfelt plea to save your relationship. You proofread your letter, dab the ink dry, seal it inside an envelope. You dash down to the dock, leaping over barrels and boxes, you dash up the gangplank and hand your letter to the first officer you see.

Two weeks later, the ship leaves the harbor to start on its two-month voyage back across the Atlantic, where your frantic letter might stand a chance of getting into the hands of your betrothed another month after that. If, this was all happening to you in New Holland (Australia), just multiply all of these travel times by ten. Back then, you had to have a lot of patience when it came to sending and receiving information.

Rearranging the Text Messages on the Titanic

Did you know, by the way, that one of the contributing factors to the loss of life during the sinking of the Titanic had to do with the fact that the radio operators of the time were employees of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company – subcontractors, essentially, not crew – and as such, their primary responsibility was managing messages between passengers and their families and friends in Europe or in New York. These radio operators had no time or motivation to pay attention to the frantic calls of “Icebergs ahead” from the lookouts.

Over the century since the Titanic’s sinking, our communications technologies have increased in speed and reach, and so have our desires to stay ahead of them. Nothing seems ever fast enough. We humans thrive on communication. Today, for example, if someone does not answer your email within five minutes, you consider it within your rights to send another email that asks whether they received your first email.

Texting at 90 Feet per Second

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, nothing really, so long as you stay in control of the messaging. But most of the time we find ourselves not in control. For example, it is very difficult to resist the temptation to reply to a text while you’re driving your car. The compelling need to know what an incoming message says, and to then respond, overrules the logic of maintaining control of the vehicle. Evidence continues to mount that shows that even talking hands free, whether you’re chatting on the phone or dictating a text, is still an impairment. It takes a great deal of concentration to drive a vehicle, and that gets quickly eclipsed by the moment-by-moment activities of speaking and listening.

OK, you say, so why isn’t it the same when you have someone in the car with you?

Well, having a conversation with someone in a car can be distracting, especially if things get heated like in an argument, but when someone is in the car with you, they can see what you see, and are more likely to put the conversation on hold if there is a potentially dangerous situation unfolding up ahead. When a vehicle is travelling at 90 feet per second, that’s a lot of ground that can be covered during a moment of distraction. They can see that. But the person you’re talking to through your phone cannot.

The main reason why I am pursuing this line of thought though has to do with the bar of expectation, which continues to rise along with that increasing speed of communication. This rising bar does not just apply to messaging. It also applies to our own expectations of ourselves, and this anticipation of increased productivity sometimes exceeds our abilities. Let me give you an example.

Super Time Management Spray!

When I talk to my audiences about techniques for improving productivity, I deliver this offer paired with a challenge. My offer is this: I say to them, “I have, in the trunk of my car, a supply of time management spray. You spray it all over you and it will help you do everything faster. In fact, one spray of this patented elixir, and you will get at least four more hours’ worth of stuff done. Would you like some of this?”

Nobody actually believes I have this spray in the trunk, of course, but they play along, nodding their heads. After all, the truth is, there are few people who would pass up on the chance of being able to get a few more hours of productivity in a day.

“But wait!” I then say, like an old-time sales barker, “If you were to purchase this spray from me, even at this giveaway price of just nine dollars and ninety-nine cents a can, and you were to spray it all over you and you found yourself working at super speed, my question becomes, what will you do with this time you have found? Will you use it to answer more emails or attend more meetings? If so, my friends, you have won back nothing. You will call me back two weeks from now and you will be asking me for the extra strength spray.

This is the problem with best practices generally. They are not able to stick to the surface of a fast-moving culture in a way that ensures ongoing achievement. Instead they become part of the new normal. So, where you were once able to do five things in a day, now you can do ten. The bar of your expectations rises with this achievement and soon your expectation is that you can and should be able to do 15 things. And once you discover you are able to do 15, you start to expect to be able to do 20 things in a day and you start to make promises accordingly.

However, your body and mind have a hard time keeping up. Our instinctive desire to evolve and continue to make life better and safer for ourselves enthusiastically grabs this idea of doing more with less time, but our physical and mental selves really cannot do that.

So, you say yes to more and more emails, meetings, requests and tasks.

Or more precisely, you don’t actually say “yes,” but you don’t know how to say “no.”

The Smallest Word Is Also the Hardest to Pronounce

“No” is one of the smallest words in any spoken language, but one of the hardest to pronounce. Most of us have a profound fear of confrontation, or of offending or angering the person we are communicating with. After all, if you say no to your boss or your customer, you might lose your livelihood.

But the fact is, without that capacity to say “no” appropriately, the work simply piles up, but time does not expand to accommodate. And added speed is not enough. The extra strength spray just does not work.

The Future of Work: Cut Me Some Slack

That’s why, when it comes to looking at the future of work, many experts point to soft skills as the key. Skills like prioritization, delegation, and negotiation will become even more critical as timelines continue to shorten and the bar of expectation continues to rise.

I’ll give you an immediate example: Slack.

Now I love Slack. I am a devotee of online collaborative environments and I use them every time I am managing a multi-person project, which is all the time. There are other brands as well, of course, and Microsoft Teams will likely be the one most people encounter first, given the preponderance of Microsoft products in most workplaces.

Long story short, collaborative conversations grouped into channels are more efficient than email. There is an informality and immediacy to the communication that removes much of the mental overload and delay that email has been proven to cause.

But the pushback I get from people when they see a collaborative environment for the first time is, “how is this any different from email? What’s the difference between having a pile of unread emails in your inbox and a pile of unread messages in your Slack channels?”

It’s true. Even though I still think the collaborative messages can be handled more easily and more quickly over all, there is still an expectation that people be ready and available to respond to messages of any sort the moment they come in. The bar continues to rise.

But that’s where the soft skills come in. There is an ever-increasing need for people to be able to push back and say “no” in the most practical ways possible. “No” does not mean “go away, I never want to see you again,” it means, “let’s negotiate.” It’s a way of saying, let’s find a suitable alternative to the immediate.

So, whether you choose a collaborative environment like Microsoft Teams or Slack, or even if you choose to stay with email, it is up to you to let people know when and where you will be available. If you’re busy right now, or you plan to be traveling, then you’re not available to reply. This means you need to let people know this. You have to counter the rising bar of people’s expectations.

Get proactive and send out updates to those who are most likely to want to talk to you. Let them know the times that you will be available and when you will not be available. Give them access to your online calendar. Make sure to mark your busy times as busy, and your available times as available. If you use a collaborative environment, then update your status, and train your people to observe your status and availability notifications. This is a skill. It’s part of the skillset called influence, in which you get people to act in ways you would like, using positive emotion and positive reward.

A related and equally vital skill is that of following up. If you promise to be available at a certain time, then you need to ensure you are available. If you promise to return all emails and calls by the end of day, then you need to ensure you make the time to do that. People will believe in you and will accept these alternatives if they know they will be looked after within a reasonable amount of time. But if you break that promise, then the trust relationship will be broken.

The power is within you to manage the ever-rising bar of expectations – those you have of yourself with regard to workload, and those others have of you. It all depends on your ability to hone those soft skills of influence, planning, delegation, negotiation and prioritization.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Rising Bar of Expectations. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here. It explores the relationship between the way today’s tunes are written, produced and marketed, and the way in which we think and react as human connected to our phones.

 

I was watching a YouTube video the other day which talked about everything that is wrong with modern music. The host of the video, who goes by the name of Thoughty2, wasn’t even old. Probably around 23. It wasn’t like one of those 70-something prog rock old timers telling us what’s wrong with today’s music, but instead, he presented some interesting facts about how music is produced and marketed in this era, and I think there are some direct tie ins to at work productivity and workplace skills.

The video is available here. It’s about 20 minutes long.

Thoughty2 goes through a number of mechanical reasons about how modern hits by people like Taylor Swift are written by a very small group of people, and how a recurring musical note sequence called the Millennial Whoop echoes through dozens of modern hits, as this compilation video shows.

Now, as a musician myself, I can agree with much of what Thoughty2 was saying, but I could also picture his grandfather standing in front of a camera in 1963, slagging the long haired, gyrating freakishness of the Beatles, or Elvis, and lamenting the disappearance of quality music by Sinatra or the Big Band era. Go back even further and is great-great grandfather would have been complaining about Gershwin tearing the classics apart. Even Mozart and Beethoven were criticized for changing music too radically.

So is this change in music a change management issue? Every generation deserves its own musical heroes, after all, if only to distance themselves from their parents or older siblings.

But here’s the part of Thoughty2’s presentation that really resonated with me. He pointed out the effect that free downloadable music has had on its creation and quality. Back in the days of vinyl LPs and packaged CDs, you, as a music consumer had to head on down to the music store and plonk out some hard-earned money to purchase a collection of songs by your favorite artist. There’s a lot of work involved in that, and it wasn’t cheap. In 1975, an LP would have cost between $4.99 and $7.99. I remember wishing I could get the compilation triple album by KISS, which was retailing for an astounding $10.99 at the time. That might not seem like a lot now, but back in 1975, minimum wage in the U.S. was around $2.00 per hour.

Access to recorded music was expensive. But concerts, were cheap, compared to today, because they were the loss-leaders designed to get you to buy the merchandise and albums. Now, as David Bowie so accurately predicted back in 1980, music is free, which is why artists and their employers – the record companies – must recoup their costs through live performances at hundreds of dollars per seat.

So, is free instantly available music the culprit? Because it’s free or mere pennies, and because it is available for instant download, no time is needed to think through the process, to debate whether the tunes are worth buying, or to spend time afterwards listening over and over to the tunes if only to justify the cost of the purchase.

Instant access means that tunes must offer a combination of universal appeal and familiarity. To be too different entails too much risk. Tunes must have an instant hook – no long-extended introductions – and in many cases these play as a mere backdrop to the video.

Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong in that, in my opinion. Art must always strike a balance between innovation and comfort of it is to make money.

But it’s the speed issue that I’m looking at here. As attention spans shorten and instant access to information dominates, skills such as critical thinking tend to atrophy, and this poses great danger to businesses and productivity.

Thinking is a process that requires a type of mental massaging. I tell my audiences that two of the best ways to think are, 1. To take a walk – just walk around the block and think about nothing. Do not check your email. Just let your mind relax, and let the thoughts come. Number 2 is to write things out. This is particularly productive because firstly it lets your thinking mind let go of preliminary thoughts and place them on a tangible surface – paper or a dry-erase board. Without this step you will simply be stuck holding on to an initial idea or worry. You can only move past this by depositing it somewhere and giving your brain permission to move on. Also, hand-writing has a correlation to the pace of clear thought processing. The speed at which you write things out buys time for creative processing to happen. These two actions together help “real thinking” really happen.

Much of the challenges people have concerning time management and prioritization has to do with the speed of reaction overtaking the quality of thought. We respond instantly to any incoming stimulus out of the fear and pressure of high-speed messaging. We have lost the ability for example, to exert influence over others, to manage expectations and buy time for ourselves. Why? Because influence requires careful thought and time to implement.

Look at ransomware for example. How often does cybercrime like this happen not because of any sophistication on the part of the hackers, but because they send one of those phishing emails that fool people into thinking their bank account has been frozen? People read them, and they react without thinking. They click on the link and the malware is allowed in. Phishing is a crime of distraction that exploits the busy-ness of its victims.

Similarly, much of the polarization happening in politics, especially in the U.S. also has to do with the fact that people no longer need to think through issues or talk with other people to come to a considered opinion. It is easier now to simply find an organization or news site that already sides with your beliefs or fears and wrap yourself inside. You will no longer hear a person of one political stripe say to someone with the opposing belief, “yes you have a good point there.” Instead disagreements are started and ended with a fast demographic smear: “you’re a liberal” or “you’re a dem” or you’re a republican. An “us versus them” mentality has taken over politics and has extinguished reasoned argument.

Critical thinking is a skill. It is the type of skill that needs to be taught to school age kids as well as to adults. It’s like street-proofing. You must give people an awareness of the importance of stopping and thinking before acting, otherwise their lives or careers will be in jeopardy.

Now in case you think I’m playing the old man here, dissing the younger generation for acting too quickly with their mobile phones and their autotuned musical heroes, I’m not. Music reflects its culture and our current culture is high-speed and ubiquitous. But there’s one thing that is not evolving as fast as technology, and that is the human brain and body together.

Reaction is reflex. It is not thought. Consequently, people lose the capacity to prioritize or frame a discussion when they exist solely in a reactionary state. Building a strong relationship with your manager, managing up, as the term goes, is impossible when neither of you have the time to do it. The same goes for delivering feedback to an employee or engaging in active listening. So many valuable activities and resources go out the window when people do not give themselves the time to fully use their thought processing skills.

A recent article in Quartz at Work outlined the concept of the silent meeting, being used by groundbreaking companies like Amazon, in which the first 30 minutes of an in-person meeting are spent in silence as the meeting attendees read the meeting material and reflect upon it before speaking.

This strongly echoes the original philosophy of Apple when they were the ones changing the world, whose campuses included lots of space and time for employees to meet, chat and cross-pollenate their ideas. This is where human brilliance and synergy some from.

One last example: how many careers, political campaigns or brands have gone quickly south due to a single ill-advised tweet? A moment of passion which flies around the world and eradicates years of carefully built trust and reputation?

There seems to be no time allowed any more to sleep on idea. To see how you feel about it tomorrow. There’s a lot to that idea, because twelve or fourteen hours from now you will be a different person: chemically, emotionally, refreshed and re-set after a night’s sleep. You will be a different person tomorrow.

What I am saying here is that critical thinking and taking time to think things through before acting will become a competitive advantage to companies that actively support it. Because far from me, or Mr. Thoughty2 being the old man in this scenario, the truth is, we are all old, female, male, of any age, we share a physiology that is not evolving as fast as our machines. We all use the same type of brain matter and autonomic reflexes to keep us alive. I honestly think the future rests with those who can use the best of their physical and mental makeup, and that has more to do with time than with speed.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

What does Time Management Have in Common with Football?

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontHumans are social creatures by nature, so we tend to invite and enjoy conversation, distraction, and mental stimulation: the joke-of-the-day-email from a friend, the water-cooler chat, social media. These things provide a few moments of leisure, but they do come with a price, for after they have passed, the work still remains to be done, and we are then forced to stay late, take work home, or make other sacrifices to catch up.

Most of us are trained in a skill and then join the workforce. We continue to learn though training and professional development courses, as well as practical experience, hopefully building a stable career and putting food on the table. However, another, more sinister type of learning also happens. While we integrate ourselves into the corporate culture of the company, we start to adopt the habits and norms of our peers, including many latent, long-established time inefficiencies are passed on through osmosis.

Consequently, it takes us by surprise when we learn for the first time that most people “work” for about one-third of the hours that they spend “at work,” meaning they actually will get only 3 hours of measurable work done in an eight- or nine-hour day.  Though this at first seems to be an affront to our ambitions, it doesn’t actually refer to a lack of dedication or drive. The average business day is littered with productivity roadblocks such as meetings, email, and drop-in visitors, conflicts and staff issues, technology problems and crises, all of which, though they may be considered as part of the work for which we are being paid, occur in irregular and unpredictable ways, breaking up the momentum of work and stretching tasks further and further along our calendar. The difference between how much we think we’ve done and how much work we have actually achieved is surprising.

But three hours? That’s a small fraction of a day to be counted as productive work in the purest sense of the word. It’s like taking a stopwatch to a football game. Over the course of a four-hour game, between the downs, the line changes and the time-outs, the ball is actually only in play for about twenty minutes – a very small segment of the game’s entire span.

During the course of a workday, these things happen:

  • 25 percent of people’s time is spent doing actual work;
  • 15 percent of the day is spent responding to email and voicemail;
  • 15 percent of the day is spent on the phone;
  • 20 percent of the day is spent in meetings and conversations;
  • 25 percent of the day is spent preparing for those meetings or dealing with the follow-up.

The fact that such a relatively small amount of the workday is spent doing actual planned work is often overlooked until the time comes that someone is called upon to make an estimate on the delivery date of a project. In an attempt to please a potential new client, it is easy for you or your boss or your sales rep to say, “We can have that to you by Thursday.” In fact, if you had nothing else to do, and could work on this client’s needs exclusively for eight uninterrupted hours a day, you probably could have it ready for Thursday. But that’s being way too optimistic, and that’s where the problems happen. We have to be realistic, and even a little bit pessimistic. We don’t know what other crises might happen between now and Thursday, but we can count on a few simple truths:

  • Things always take longer than you think, and a lot longer than you hope.
  • If someone asks you to do something and includes the word “just”, as in “can you just…” you’re already in trouble.
  • There will never be a perfect time to get it done.

Time management is a two-word term, and the second word is “management.” We need to exert proactivity and  influence over people and activities if any progress is to happen. The good news is, this is both possible and quite easy.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

If you are interested, we have a newsletter –  a real brief monthly one – that discusses issues around productivity and explains how my keynotes can help. Sign up through Constant Contact here.

Who Is Your Emergency Contact Point?

Emergencies such as natural disasters, and the human-made kind, happen all the time, but usually somewhere else. Many of us grow a little complacent when it comes to preparedness, since to even think of a bad thing happening touches our superstitious sides and seems to invite the event into our lives. But floods, earthquakes, power failures and civil unrest will continue, and will likely escalate. There are many things to consider in terms of surviving such a calamity, but two questions that absolutely have to be asked is, “who is my emergency contact person?” and “how will I reach this person?”

We have grown very comfortable with carrying a smartphone with us everywhere, but what if it got lost or broken? Or what if the cell system broke down? How would you reach someone then? I would have a hard time remembering anyone’s actual phone number, since I so seldom actually enter numbers anymore.  Everything is pre-set and one-touch. Most people I ask feel the same.

That’s why it is so important to identify and Emergency Contact Point (ECP). Assign a member of your family, or a trusted neighbor to be your local ECP, and choose a second person – someone who lives at least 100 miles away, to be your long-distance ECP. Both of these people should be someone who is most likely to be available, and will be able to relay messages in case other channels fail.

In the event of a power or cell network blackout, you may still be able to make a call from a payphone or a land-line. In cases of emergency – any situation in which direct connection with family members is no longer possible – everyone should know to call in to the ECP. This person can take messages from each family member as they call in, and then relay them back out. It’s a central communications point.

Consider also having a social media place or code, for example a Twitter account or FaceBook page that could be used as a rallying point for messages, assuming you can get on to the Internet.

The key point here is to set this up in advance. Choose your ECPs and your social media strategy, and inform everyone in your family how to use them. Yes, it seems dorky and tedious, but it can save many hours or days of worry and wasted effort should things fail in a big way.

 

Uber’s Surge Pricing Model And Free Market Economics

This blog post, written for KPMG , entitled, The Surge Pricing Model And Free Market Economics is available for review at CloudTweaks.com. This post proposes that the dynamic nature of pricing under the Uber model might work in surprising ways for B2B purchasers who do not update their procurement processes.  Click here to read.

CloudTweaks

The True Dangers Of Allowing Social Media In The Workplace

This blog post was originally written for KPMG and was posted at CloudTweaks.com.

Would you let your employees use social media on company time? The response to this question is usually an emphatic no. The reasons given make sense, at least on the surface: “People are here to work, not to play.” “We cannot trust our employees to not waste the entire day playing around online.” “The optics would be very bad for our customers.”

Indeed, people are hired to contribute their skills for the advancement of their employer. But there is a significant distinction between time spent at the desk and actual productivity. The end results of a task assignment are not a factor of the amount of time spent in front of a computer screen, but the quality of the effort exerted by the individual. That can vary greatly depending on time of day, stress levels, even what the employee ate for breakfast.

Productivity is a result of physiology, not of face time.

The Health Aspect

Access to social media during the workday offers at least one improvement, and that is in the area of mental focus and stamina. The human mind and body were never designed to work at a consistently high level of output for a sustained number of hours. We just cannot do that. Instead, we work best in bursts of energy punctuated by rest. By visiting a favorite social media site for just a couple of minutes per hour, employees benefit from a rhythm that feeds the mind and allows for greater amounts of productivity, accuracy, and creativity.

The crux of the issue becomes one of definition: what does “access” mean? Those who push back against the idea of social media in the workplace maintain a perception that employees will spend their entire day with one eye on their favorite web site, and their attention permanently divided. But that‘s not the only way. Companies that have succeeded in allowing social media into the workplace are those that have established a “best practice,” such as allowing just a few minutes per hour, with the employee accepting the responsibility of returning to work without needing to be told.

This brings forth two profound benefits.

The first is that this type of mental break fits in with the body’s natural rhythms and the individual employee’s personal attention span. Some people have attention spans of an hour or more, and can work for extensive periods. Most however have a limit that is well inside a one hour block, and exceeding it simply results in distraction, delay and/or procrastination.

Secondly, allowing access contributes to employee engagement and loyalty, whereas an outright ban damages the trust relationship. Employees like to feel respected, and being locked out of social media simply results in diminished motivation paired with an increased desire to move to greener pastures.

There is also a growing demand for employee wellness and work-life integration. With recent discoveries demonstrating that sitting for long periods per day presents the same types of health dangers as smoking and overeating, the pressures mount on employers to offer a balanced working environment, and this includes mental health as much as physical.

The Literacy Aspect

The term “literacy” in the current era encompasses more than just reading and writing. It involves the intellectual ability to parse information; to sort through huge amounts of incoming data, to determine what is relevant and what is not. People who are capable of doing this become capable of handling the high-speed, multi-level pressures of the modern workplace. Those who can produce the work required of them while having access to social media are generally going to be more agile and productive employees. For them, deprivation leads to distraction and frustration. The multimedia workplace is actually where they thrive.

The Optics

What about what the customers might think? If a customer walked through the office, and if they were to see a computer screen that had a social media site on it, what would they think of the organization? This is a matter of great concern for employers. However, more and more businesses are answering this question by pointing to the quality of their products and their customer service. A growing number of modern businesses are succeeding not by caging employees, but by letting them live “free range,” working according to their personal and physiological needs. Customers need to experience– if they have not already– that environmental amenities such as social media contribute to quality rather than detract from it. And that is what customers seek.

It is a natural response from business owners to envision the risks in every new development that comes along. But so, too, their capacity for steering their company through the wind and waves of the marketplace demand agility and awareness. This includes recognizing the benefits in an upgraded workplace – one  that  includes access to social media.

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