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    Can I get the Cliff's Notes version?

    Before the days of Google and YouTube and online ‘note-sharing’ sites,  the enterprising high school or college student, tasked with reading a long book or mastering (at least well enough to pass the test), a complex subject had only two choices.  One, actually read the entire 23,000 pages of ‘Anna Karenina’ or two, head down to the local bookstore and pick up the Cliff’s Notes version.  The Cliff’s Notes hit all the high points - characters, plot, themes - all in an easy to digest neat little package.  

    The Cliff’s Notes ‘study guides’ were launched in the US in 1958, and were meant to serve as a supplement (yeah, right), to the original texts that many students struggled to plow through and comprehend.  Naturally students began substituting flipping through the Cliff’s Notes as a substitute for reading the ‘real’ books, and was born a what has become a rich and long history of sloppily structured term papers and reports, bound together by shallow plot and character analysis, large fonts, and wide margins.  

    Aside - in later years the ‘Let’s rent the movie version and watch that’ strategy began to take some of the shine off the Cliff’s Notes gambit. While even less of a commitment of time and energy, the movie version approach led to a new set of issues.  Namely, the creative licence sometimes employed by film directors that makes significant and material changes to the plot, characters, and even ending of the source material.  Witness the professor’s comments on my 5-page opus on Malamud’s The Natural - ‘I know you only watched the movie’.

    But even though generations of students have used the Cliff’s Notes (and other shortcuts) for other than their noble and intended purposes, that doesn’t mean that the drivers that lead to taking those shortcuts (lack of time, inability to connect the material and effort required to a tangible benefit, sheer humdrum nature of most of the works), are not valid or real.  In fact, many of those same reasons apply in the real, grown-up world or work as well.  Whether it is company sponsored training and development course materials, the content of your voluminous new employee onboarding manual, or even the latest vanity book published by your CEO - most of us feel already overwhelmed with information coming from all angles and multiple sources to realistically digest more data, especially in large chunks.

    We’re all too busy in our email inboxes all day long anyway. Email we notice.  The CEO’s book,  the 79 slide ‘2011 Planning’ PowerPoint deck that someone nicely printed for us, or the 37 archived HR Happy Hour podcasts on our iPhones don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. But maybe in smaller, more easily digestible pieces, this content would have a better chance of being seen, heard, and marked.

    Which is all a long (we really need an editor around here), lead up to the main reason for this post. An online service called ‘Daily Lit’.  Daily Lit is a service that delivers books in easily digestible daily email or RSS subscription formats.  You sign up, choose a book from the selection of about 1,000 titles (lots of Seth Godin for whatever reason), and start receiving a daily message or update in your RSS reader with the first installment of the selected book.

    Why read a book via email or RSS? From the Daily Lit FAQ’s:

    Because if you are like us, you spend hours each day reading email but don't find the time to read books. DailyLit brings books right into your inbox in convenient small messages that take less than 5 minutes to read. This works incredibly well not just on your computer but also on a Treo, Blackberry, Sidekick or whatever the PDA of your choice.

    All in all, a pretty cool idea and interesting service.  And I think one that could be a lesson to those of us that are charged with workplace communications in their various forms.  You spend ages planning, developing, and promoting your content.  You want, and in many cases need, employees to consume and understand.  But if your delivery mechanisms do not match the employee’s preferred and potential inclinations for consumption, you may as well lock all your creations in the file room, never to be seen or heard again.  I am not necessarily advocating turning all your communications into a series of bite-sized daily emails; the last thing many of you want to do is hit your employee population with more email.  But what does seem clear that that good and important content alone may not be enough, the methods of delivering that content might be just as important, and for employees buried all day long in their email inboxes, they might not have time to look up and notice anyway.


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