A little less information, a little more action

My New Year’s resolution was to cut the current – to step away from the real-time information flow so that I can spend more time thinking and reflecting.

The first part of this has gone very well. The second part hasn’t – though I have reflected enough to realise that a third, related, aspect should have been included in the resolution.

I’ve successfully stepped away from the real-time more out of necessity than choice – my schedule has been unrelenting for several months now. I’m hoping that this will soon change, and that I can spend more time on both reflection and the overlooked aspect.

Before I divulge that, a brief review of three months of being more distanced.

On the whole, I’m happy with the decision. I may be less active on social media nowadays, but I’d argue I’m more efficient (albeit starting from a low base).

Despite potential benefits around phatic communication, the online signal-noise ratio problem is well-known.

Arguably a deeper problem is in filtering the signal strength – not all useful or relevant information is equal. What seems meaningful or resonant at the time can quickly turn out to be transitory or inconsequential.

I sincerely doubt that I’m now more discerning or incisive in my reading choice, but I do feel like my filtering of priority information has improved.

To give an example, I have a broad interest in technology and social media. As a consumer researcher, I need to understand trends, and ideally identify them before they reach critical mass.

But realistically, Austin is so far removed from the Home Counties that the information is largely superfluous. Beyond a basic knowledge of what the likes of  Beluga, Color, Path, Groupme, Quora, Instagram et al are providing (not least to see if they would be relevant to my atypical needs), I don’t need to know any more about them.

At least not yet. Do you know the proportion of the UK population that has heard of Foursquare? Not used, but heard of. How about Quora? The figures are 5% and 1% respectively (data comes from the digital media tracker I run).

They may morph into the next Twitter, but they may not. Furthermore, it isn’t the products or technologies I’m interested in, but the behaviours – Kevin Kelly has a nice diagram of benefits vs. company. And consumer behaviour (let alone attitude) is pretty slow to shift.

They may morph into Twitter, but they may not. Wired’s top 10 tech start-ups of 2008 doesn’t fill me with confidence. Only LinkedIn (21% UK awareness) and AdMob are relevant to me. That’s a 20% success rate from a small sample size – it would be much lower if you counted every company on Wired’s radar.

The slow speed of shifting attitudes and behaviours are why  so many of the “classic texts” – Ogilvy, Ries, Drucker, Peters, Collins, Covey, Pink, Gladwell etc – are still relevant.

Shamefully, I’ve read very few of these. This will hopefully be rectified as I make better use of the time spent away from the firehose.

Once I improve upon this, I can move to the next piece of the puzzle.

Doing.

It is good to improve upon my sources of reading, but it is also a very limited ambition. In the same way that innovation builds upon invention, I should seek to create a practical outlet for my reading. Ideas are good, execution is great.

Given that I deal with knowledge and information, my definition of  “doing” is going to be far narrower than that which Neil Perkin has been excellently espousing. But the likes of Noah Brier, Neil Charles and Rich Shaw have shown that it is possible to merge technical proficiency with clarity of thought.

My short-term goals are going to be small-scale – I haven’t managed to port my blog over to a .com address (admittedly, procrastination has been the main obstacle) so I’m not going to be coding any apps.

But even a better understanding of Microsoft Office will help me improve as a researcher – both through more efficient uses of what I already know and the introduction of new functionality (macros?). Reading informs of the overt or already discovered trends or approaches, but a merging of reading and doing widens the scope to not only think of something new, but to actually implement it.

This entry also acts as a good excuse to repost this Dolph Lungren video

Should pitching be a classical recital or a jazz improv?

I’ll avoid the layer of lingering suspense from the subject title by saying that it is a false dichotomy. Both can be suitable in different circumstances, though I lean more towards the latter.

Over the past few months I’ve been involved in quite a few pitches – sitting on both sides of the table.

The obvious thing that all pitches need is preparation. Lots of it. But there seems to be two broad approaches (note the emphasis: The rest of the post contains exaggeration).

1. The orchestral recital

This treats the outcome as fixed. Overt preparation goes into perfecting a repeatable performance.

This can be fine if you know exactly what your audience wants, and your audience knows exactly what it is getting. But is can also be a bit obvious. Perfectly pleasant, but not inspiring. It is not necessarily one-note but it is one performance.

In a business sense, it could be a face-to-face pitch follows a written proposal. But unlike a concert, the ticket isn’t bought and the relationship isn’t cemented – thus the dangerous assumption that you know exactly what your prospective client wants could back-fire if there is a miscommunication along the way.

2. The Jazz improv

The opposite end of the false spectrum is improv riffing. Here the preparation is more covert. All the pieces and mechanics are meticulously prepared, but there is no set way to put them together.

This enables a flexible performance to adjust and adapt to the mood of the room. But it still requires a fulcrum or groove to maintain structure and avoid obfuscating the issue.

This approach is more applicable to business development meetings. There may not be a set agenda, so the seller has to adapt to the need of the prospective client. The challenge is to make the covert preparation overt where applicable, through the introduction of easily digestible and memorable products or concepts.

The combination

Clearly, the optimal solution will be a combination of the two approaches – the relative weight depending on the specific circumstances. Across these, there are a few key things to remember.

  1. Prepare. And do lots of it.
  2. Create a skeleton structure that can be expanded or contracted to fill available space. There may not be a need to talk at someone for 30 minutes, but empty space should be filled
  3. Don’t plan to communicate everything that is prepared – always leave things behind that can be brought to the fore if the conversation moves that way
  4. If you can’t answer, at least respond – there is always the possibility of an intentionally tricky question. Acknowledge it but deftly segue into a related area that can more comfortably be answered.
  5. Prepare multiple scenarios – don’t plan for a single performance, plan for a residency

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joelwashing/3108694945/