Watch Your Sources

There was an infographic in Bloomberg Businessweek which attempted to show the difference between the reaction to news events of the so-called ‘Twitterati’ to the rest of the population (using sample polls as a measure of that).

The infographic shows that 48% of people polled were positive about President Obama’s second inaugural address. 13% of tweets were positive.

There was discussion around the last election about whether the polls were accurate and representative, but clearly, we can see there’s a difference between what the polls say and what Twitter says. Whatever, when you’re looking at data, consider the sources, and how that might twist what you’re looking at.

Audio Blog: Twitter, I Don't Like It

I'm sure there are going to be a few people very upset with me. I frankly don't care.

I do not like Twitter.

I've used it, and I don't like it, and I'll tell you why. Because if you're a manager, and as we like to say, if you're an executive, which is not as exclusive a territory as it used to be, you have no business learning when other people are doing laundry, when other people are working with clients, or driving to school, or working with their kids, or whatever else, because that causes you to be distracted from what you're doing.

The idea that anybody else would care about what I'm doing, frankly, is not terribly exciting to me. But it's really much more about other people. If you have 100 or 150 people that you're keeping track of, the idea that the banality of some of the Tweets, I think is what they're called, is far beneath the time constraints of most managers and executives.

You have to control your time. This concept of continuous partial attention, if you've been reading about it, it's complete and utter blather. It makes no sense at all. Executives can only suffer from continuous partial attention, and Twitter is the classic example of it.

Look, email was invented after we all learned how to read and write and after we all learned how to communicate. It's a great technique, and we all use it terribly poorly. And Twitter is just all the negatives of email on steroids.

I'm sure some of you like it, and that's great. I like playing golf, but I don't do it in my office, and I certainly don't do it when I'm trying to be effective around my work. Twitter makes you ineffective almost always. Stop it.

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Audio Blog: Stories At Work

At some point, we are going to do a couple of podcasts, perhaps 10, 20, 30, I don't know, regarding culture in the workplace. A big part of culture at the workplace is stories we tell one another.

I read a "Harvard Business Review article" a while ago, it may have been over a year ago, in which companies were decrying the fact that employees weren't speaking up. They weren't responding to requests for information or feedback about how things are going.

And the article basically says, "Sometimes employees fear speaking up because there is a perception, maybe not reality, but there is a perception that the organization, managers in particular, were genuinely hostile about past suggestions or recommendations for change, which imply that something is wrong."

And basically, they held back because there were broad and sort of vague perceptions about this and no one could really point to anything specific necessarily. And basically what it boiled down to was a culture is built, at least partially, on stories and on collective story telling. And the problem, folks, is that stories that get told are always dramatic. You don't tell anybody about going to the copier and making a copy successfully.

Stories at work are like news in our lives. The news is famous for saying, "We don't report every plane that lands safely" and while you may agree or disagree with what news gets covered and why, the fact is, news is dramatic and stories are dramatic. Even if you are going to tell a story about someone, for example the fact that somebody got promoted. Usually if someone tells a story about getting promoted, it is about carping that he got promoted or she got promoted and I didn't.

A good example would be, somebody says something in a public organizational venue, at a meeting in town hall or something, and as somebody put it afterwards, "he spoke up and suddenly he was gone from the company shortly thereafter."

It is probably not entirely true, this story, or he may have left on his own. But it doesn't matter - the story goes around and that gets into people's genes, which basically says "Don't speak up, don't talk, don't respond to requests for information." In part, because my boss has a hat on in his head, or a sign on his forehead that says "Watch out I am your boss, I could fire you".

If you are a leader, if you are a manager, be careful of the stories you tell. I am sure I can't convince you to not tell any negative stories, but I can suggest: please consider telling positive stories every once in a while to add it to the myth-making that your employees do about your company.

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Audio Blog: Toast

Some of you have probably heard me talk about this before. Email is a scourge on all of us, most days. I see all kinds of email behavior, all the time - at clients, everywhere I go. And the one thing that surprises me the most, and this goes back to some comments I made in the last couple of years about continuous partial attention, is people being notified every time they get an email. Literally, they are drawn to the email regardless of how good or bad or important it is, because they don't know - they just go and look at the email as soon it comes in.

We recommend checking email three times a day, but an example of constantly being distracted by email [and if you are an manager or an executive, you already have enough distractions, because email is not urgent] is the idea of something called "toast". Toast is Microsoft's word for the little reminder that comes up, that comes up in Outlook that slides up, at least in some versions, it slides from the bottom right hand corner of your screen and then slides back down.

And the joke was for a while that it looked like toast popping up. But the real story is they call it toast because if you pay attention to it all the time, you will BE toast. If you are doing that, if you have notifications, if your computer buzzes, or rings, or beeps, or you get a message over all your other work saying "you have new email" you are being distracted...and distractions are the bane of executives. If you pay attention to the toast, you're toast. (Thanks to Kate Horstman for correcting my use of your vs. you're in that last line - H)

So stop it. You will be more effective.

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Audio Blog: Three Way Economic Systems

And the answer really is folks: they don't work.

When you think about almost any economic system that exists today, there is a buyer and a seller. The seller has something the buyer wants and the buyer expects the seller to give him or her a fair price. There is an inherent negotiation that happens; whether the negotiation includes price or not is irrelevant. A negotiation is about economic value, their physical or service value for economic value.

When two parties are involved and there are two things being exchanged, economics is incredibly efficient. The economics of individual transactions are aggregated over a large number of transactions are incredibly efficient. The market in itself is not micro efficient, but it is incredibly efficient in the macro sense. Unfortunately, economists have known for hundreds or years, at least as long as there have been economists anyway, that three way economic systems don't work.

When there is a buyer and a seller and some other provider, somebody who provides cash to one or insurance to another, it inherently distorts the market. The two examples that are most easily known, not just in the United States but across the world, are systems like healthcare where there is an insurance provider or perhaps the government or schools where there is a provider and a purchaser that is the family or the student, the citizen. And then there is the government that is involved in regulating in some fashion, [we're] not anti-government regulation inherently, but any economic system, any economist will tell you, any economic system with three parties is inherently unstable. It cannot reach equilibrium.

All three parties are incented for different reasons and the incentives don't naturally balance in the negotiation that occurs over the price and the product and service. So be careful, anytime you are involved in internal or external exchange of goods and services for some sort of compensation, be aware of any economic system that you are involved in that has three parties.

If you are in an economy, if you are in an industry that involves a third party, which would include insurance for the government, there is an inherent uncertainty and inefficiency there. It is not to say that the system doesn't work in some fashion, but it could be a greater efficiency if there were only two parties in the system.

Again, I don't mean to be anti government or anti insurance, [we] love the insurance that Mike and I have on our business and in our personal lives and yet insurance inherently distorts economic transactions.

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Our New Audio Blog, and "Transitions Lenses"

The Audio Blog is going to be a regular installment of Manager Tools. Our intent is to provide you information on about a weekly basis about things that interest us that we find different or amusing or surprising about management that perhaps don't make a strong enough case to be a podcast, or in many cases are not actionable.

We like our weekly casts and our monthly casts to be actionable. That's very important to us, because we know it's important to you. You don't just want theory.

But we see things and hear things and read things and talk about things all of the time that may not be actionable simply because they're interesting or new or different, or because they're simply a data point. And they're an interesting data point to us.

Mike and I read extensively. And often we talk about things, but we know it'll never be a cast, and we feel like we're depriving our audience of what we think and what we see in our consulting work, in our client work, and in our own professional development in working with members and listeners and registered members and premium members as well.

So, this is the first installment of the Audio Blog. And my first installment of the Audio Blog is a topic some of you will probably laugh at. It's about something I've seen advertisements for on TV lately, called "Transitions Lenses", and I see this a lot in technology managers and just technology individual contributors as well.

And those are glasses - eyeglasses - that change based on light and dark. And the idea is, isn't this great? You don't have to wear sunglasses. You can just wear your regular eyeglasses, your prescription glasses outside, and they darken.

Folks, don't do it. There's an enormous problem with Transitions Lenses. It's always been there since the very beginning. They've been making it better, but they still haven't eliminated the problem. And that is the fact that after they've darkened a few times, when you come back inside, they never become completely clear.

You are perceived as wearing shaded glasses, basically sunglasses, inside. What's worse, they're not dark enough to be sunglasses. They're just kind of dark. And I assure you, the people that don't wear them don't like you wearing them. They make a less than professional impression.

The benefit that you get of being able to go outside without sunglasses, which by the way, everybody else has to wear sunglasses, in case you haven't figured that out...The benefit you get is completely your own. And the negativity, which is also completely your own, is that other people judge you harshly because they don't like what they see when they look at your face and your Transitions Lenses, is absolutely your fault. And it far outweighs any benefit that you get from not wearing sunglasses.

Whatever you're doing, if you're wearing Transitions Lenses now, stop. And go back to regular prescription eyeglasses.

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