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    Wednesday
    Feb082012

    Picture Yourself Here

    Have you seen any of these kinds of targeted job ads on LinkedIn recently?

    I am not sure exactly when these kinds of personalized ads started popping up on the professional networking site, but over the weekend while I was scoping out who had viewed my profile, connecting with like minded HR and Technology professionals and contributing to industry discussion and dialogue, I noticed the ad to the right. Like a moth to a flame, or a bargain-hunting performance car shopper to Ashley Schaeffer Imports, I couldn't help but notice my own mug staring back out at me from LinkedIn's right margin.

    Picture Yourself with this New Job, the tag line reads, (interesting use of BOLD and capitalization), and with the addition of my profile picture to the company name, logo and position title, the ad attempts to make me feel somehow connected or even invested in not just the job, but of me having the job.

    Which are entirely two different things. 

    And since LinkedIn is a modern, social, Web 2.0 deal, Apply Now and Share Job buttons come along for the ride. Confession - I did not think to click either one when I first encountered the ad, and now I can't seem to convince LinkedIn to show it to me again. But let's assume, for now, both buttons work as expected, for the purposes of this post, it doesn't really matter. 

    What does matter, at least what I find interesting about this kind of targeted and personalized job ad, is the way it attempts to use information about me, (in this case the information is primarily where I live, as M&T Bank is a Northeast regional bank, with lots of presence in Western New York), my actual image from the site, and some suggestive copy to make me think more about inhabiting this role, rather than just simply clicking a link to a sterile, impersonal ad (that I was not searching for in the first place).

    What the ad immediately made me think of are the recruiting tactics that are often employed by major college athletic programs and coaches in their pursuit of targeted top High School athletes. Often these athletes have lots of options in their choice of college and team/coach to play for, and to help make their case the competing colleges frequently employ custom videos of imagined highlight packages or simulated stadium scoreboard displays or PA announcements that include the recruit's likeness or name. These videos, announcement, and other strategies are designed to make the high schooler think not about being a star Quarterback generally, but being a star Quarterback at that school specifically.  

    Trish McFarlane had an excellent post earlier in the week about recruiting needing to be an individual process, and I think these kinds of personalized, targeted ads, (while admittedly still kind of crude), will eventually serve as an important first step in what becomes the custom, individual process that Trish describes.  It is not hard to imagine the LinkedIn ad getting way more intelligent about what roles you could realistically picture yourself in. Using insight from career paths from similar profiles, career history of members you are connected with, and macro analysis of jobs, industries, or locations that are 'hot', pretty soon I'll bet LinkedIn can map out a realistic and reachable career path for anyone.

    Interesting times for sure. Meanwhile, have a look at a bit of a takeoff on the college recruiting tactics, courtesy of ESPN, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

    Tuesday
    Feb072012

    Staying classy on the way out

    So we are all coming down from the excitement, drama, and spectacular display of talent from the Super Bowl, (actually I am sort of guessing about all that, as this post is being written about 8 hours before the actual kickoff), and for the last day or so talk about the game, the commercials, the half time show (how was it?), has dominated online and offline discourse. Tiquan Underwood - Source AP

    In all the excitement over the build-up, the game itself, and all the hype surrounding the event, you may have missed or forgotten about one piece of game-related news that broke late on Saturday night, less than 24 hours before the latest Game of the Century. The New England Patriots made a final roster move, releasing backup Wide Receiver Tiquan Underwood, and activating from the practice (reserve) squad, Defensive End Alex Silvestro. Since this move did not involve any well-known players, or figure to have a meaningful impact on the game, it was not really big news. But to Underwood and Silvestro, the move has enormous significance, one player losing the chance to play in the biggest game of his life, (even as only a little-used reserve), and the other given the chance to suit up, run through the tunnel, and take a small part on the stage of the biggest sporting event of the year.

    The Patriots made it clear that the decision to release Underwood was 100% football-related, as in the past some players have run afoul of team rules and curfews on the night before the big game. No, the team executives and coaches simply felt having another defensive line player on the active roster for the game was more important than one extra wide receiver. 

    But the real story in this to me is how Underwood, at least publicly, reacted to what must have been the incredible disappointment after he learned his Super Bowl dreams were done. According to the ESPN.com report of the transaction, Underwood, after learning the news tweeted - 

    "Good Luck To The New England Organization, The Coaches, & All My Teammates. #PatsNation."

    And in a text message to ESPN reporter Ed Werder, Underwood said:

    "I don't want to be a distraction to the game or the New England Patriots.....i will say this, The New England Patriots are a GREAT Organization. I wish them nothing but the best today. This season has been dedicated to Myra Kraft (MHK) Mr Kraft's wife....w/ that being said i hope they pull out the victory in honor of her & because the coaches & players have worked so hard this season for the opportunity to play in Super Bowl 46. Go Pats!!!! #PatsNation"

    That is remarkably classy and mature coming from a guy just a few hours from running out on the field for the Super Bowl, the pinnacle event for his profession, and if he is like most other professional players, the culmination of a life long dream. Underwood may or may not have another chance to get into a Super Bowl, as it stands he is on the edge of even being an active player in the league, but I suspect the classy and professional way he handled this disappointment will help him immeasurably in the rest of his career.

    A team guy, a 'don't make this about me guy', a reminder to keep focused on the overall goals and mission of the team - that is the kind of guy you want on your team, no matter what your sport or business might be.

    Sure, the Patriots might have just shut the door on one of Underwood's dreams, but his actions and comments on the way out might have just opened up some new doors as well.

    Monday
    Feb062012

    Information Imbalance and Roach Motels

    Last week this piece on TechCrunch about social CRM startup Nimble, caught my attention, as interest in business systems that can more effecitively connect with and leverage the social graphs of customers, prospects, and employees is certainly a hot topic for many organizations today. Nimble attempts to re-think traditional CRM systems, which have primarily functioned more as data stores and repositories of information rather than truly dynamic systems of engagement and added value by connecting contact, company, and deal information with external social networks, (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, G+), as well as internal and enterprise sources. Dead End

    The trouble with traditional CRM, and likely other slices of the enterprise technology stack, is that there often seems to be an imbalance, or at least a perceived one, in the information flow to and from these systems in the minds of those that the systems are ostensibly trying to serve. If you think about it, administrators, managers, and employees can pretty easily get the sense that they have to spend too much time feeding these beasts, without getting that much in return. A telling quote in the TechCrunch piece from Nimble's founder Jon Ferrara sums this feeling up well:

    “CRM tools are not about communications,” he says. “It is a management tool, a way for managers to keep a hand around the neck of managers. CRM doesn’t tell you anything, you have to tell it everything.”

    The quote is very instructive, and kind of reminds me of the old 'Roach Motel' line - 'roaches go in, but they don't come out.' Substitute roaches for data, and you are pretty much there.

    Contrast that concept of an information imbalance with some recent ideas about the value derived from participation in social networks, where it has been posited that the average user or consumer of social information gets way more value out than they have to put back in. Some of that positive information imbalance on social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be attributed to the 'power users', the ones that feed the platforms with copious updates, tagged photos, 'likes', and re-tweets. While sometimes kind of annoying, they do have the effect of generating significant interaction, content, and perceived value for these networks. Ultimately, most network participants feel like they are getting more value from their participation than they have to contribute.

    The net-net of this for folks that have to design, deploy, and convince sometimes less than excited users to actual engage with enterprise systems that perhaps they don't really feel that excited about? Think long and hard about how to tip the imbalance scales more in the direction of the everyday user. Think about ways the systems can tell the users something they might not already know, and present that information to them in way that is easily consumable. Recruit a few more 'over-sharers', I mean, 'power users' that understand the problems that the everyday users need to solve, and can help you architect your solutions so that they don't seem so needy.

    There are lots of reasons why Facebook and the other social networks have proven to be so successful and popular, but the idea of 'I get out more that I put in' is probably the most important, and the one to think about as most of us try to create that same value and power inside our organizations. 

    Friday
    Feb032012

    From Evil to Good, One Download at a Time

    Remember just a couple of years ago when it was timely and hip to lament the loss of hundreds if not thousands of small, independent bookstores that were being crushed by the big box mega-purveyors like Barnes & Noble and Borders? Similar to the ire that Walmart tends to engender in some communities, the loss of long-established and local businesses that simply cannot compete with the purchasing power, time-proven strategies, and ruthless execution of many of the big chains, makes most of us want to root for the little guys. Well, at least we like to say we are rooting for the little guys, but once we got a taste of the massive in-store book selection, lower prices, on-premise cafes, and free wifi, well, like I said, we like to say we are rooting for the little guy.It's a niche

    Heck, there was even a big Hollywood feature film made not that long ago that starred Tom Hanks and his very B&N like giant forcing poor Meg Ryan's cuddly little bookstore on the corner out of business.

    Fast forward only a few years and the retail book industry looks almost nothing at all like it did when Meg and Tom were flirting by email at night and trying to destroy each other's business by day. Borders is bankrupt, and Barnes & Noble too is likely in the early stages in a battle for its own survival, under increasing pressure primarily from Amazon.com and its Kindle ecosystem. B&N has been able to survive and compete this long where Borders could not, mainly due to its Nook e-reader, and its commitment and willingness to take at least some of the fight to Amazon.

    But today for many book lovers, Barnes & Noble represents in some ways the last stand for not just a retail model, but for the idea of the printed book at all. If you think about the town where you live, if the closest B&N were to close ip shop, just exactly where would you shop for real, actual printed books? Forgetting for a moment that walking into a large B&N it might be actually hard to locate any books, as they are often obscured by the Nook demonstration area, the kids' toy section, the coffee shop, and the thousands of other things in a B&N that are not books. Where I live, there are two B&N's within about 10 miles, and I can't think of another place anywhere that sells real live printed books.

    So for those that cling to the almost prosaic notion of browsing through the shelves, picking up and touching the books, paging through the images of a $125 coffee-table art book that no one ever would buy, if the B&N goes, well, all of that likely goes with it. Maybe something else would come to fill in that void, in the larger cities something probably would, but for many other places book buying would almost certainly become an 100% virtual proposition.

    And that might not be a big issue at all, who knows. But for me the interesting thing is how through all this change and technological progress in e-commerce and e-readers that the massive, powerful, and formerly evil megastore like B&N has come full circle to represent all that used to be good and nostalgic about the book buying experience.  B&N has gone from being the malicious, heartless competitor to the underdog that many people who love physical books are rooting for. 

    It's really hard to pull off that kind of corporate reputation transformation, even if you wanted to. Once evil, always evil is more typical. Although I suspect B&N would have been happy to continue laying waste to little shops all over the world, evil or not.

    What do you think - would you care if there were no more physical bookstores?

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Thursday
    Feb022012

    Siren fatigue and the danger of being tuned out

    Last weekend this headline, 'Did Global Warming Destroy My Hometown?' from the POPSCI blog caught my attention, and indeed it proved to be a really interesting and personal read about the effects of the devastating tornado that descended on Jopin, MO last spring.  In fact to me, the piece was interesting not for its ability to answer the question expressed in the title, (I suppose the answer is really 'Maybe' or 'We don't know'), but rather it's examination of what happened in Joplin before, during, and after the tornado tore through town.Joplin tornado path - Click for a larger image

    The Joplin tornado of May 22, 2011 would eventually be categorized as a EF5 storm, the strongest and most dangerous classification, result in 161 fatalities, 1,150 injuries, and cause over $2B in damages. Of course none of this, the seriousness of such a massive and deadly storm, and the impact and devastation it would render, could have been known in advance by the people of Joplin that day. While the full nature of the fury could not be known in advance, there was at least some indication that something bad was about to happen in Joplin. By most accounts, the series of steps conducted by the various national and local authorities responsible for weather forecasting and public safety resulted in the sounding of the tornado warning siren in Joplin about 30 minutes prior to the tornado's arrival functioned as designed and expected. But despite the advance warning, and other precautionary measures taken by an area well accustomed to potentially dangerous weather, significant fatalities and injuries still occurred.

    One reason, and probably the primary reason, was of course the sheer size and destructiveness of the May 22 tornado. As an EF5 storm, packing 200+ MPH winds, there is little that even the most soundly built structures and safty shelters could do to withstand that kind of assault. But in addition to the fury of the massive storm, some reports, including the above-referenced POPSCI piece call attention to the idea of something called siren fatigue, the tendency for people in high-risk tornado areas to downplay the significance of, and perhaps to fail to take appropriate safety precautions when the tornado siren is called due to the high volume of tornado false alarms that have been previously sounded.

    From the POPSCI piece:

    But the biggest concern was what the investigators called siren fatigue.

    Like many other towns, Joplin’s policy is to sound a three-minute siren when a storm with winds stronger than 75 mph is approaching town, regardless of whether an NWS agency has issued a watch or warning. So at 5:11 on May 22, after local emergency managers were informed that a funnel cloud had been sighted over southeast Kansas, the city sounded a siren. But warning too early can be dangerous, particularly in a siren-jaded area. The NWS study describes one man’s confused, lackadaisical response: “(1) Heard first sirens at 5:11 p.m. CDT (estimated 30–35 minutes before tornado hit). (2) Went to the TV and heard NWS warning from TV override that indicated tornado near airport drive seven miles north (polygon #30) of his location. (3) Went on porch with family and had a cigar.”

    Twenty-seven minutes later, the man heard another set of sirens. At this point, he “thought something wasn’t right,” so he went back inside and turned on the TV, where meteorologists were still warning that the threat was north of town. Then his wife yelled “Basement!” The report concludes this summary of events thusly: “Tornado hit as they reached the top of the basement stairs, destroying their home.”

    Wow. Some gripping, riveting stuff. The kind of thing that should make most of us glad we don't have those types of life of death kinds of calls to make. Sounding the alarms and sirens when there is the just the chance of a dangerous storm, most of which either do not materialize or are relatively minor, has the tendency over time of dulling the siren's effectiveness, and introducing a kind of complacency in the minds of some residents.  While the problem is fairly easily identified, the right solution to combat siren fatigue is less clear. Different signal sounds for different local conditions is one option, better and more accurate forecasting is another, but eventually when faced with the decision of whether or not to sound the sirens, the need for erroring on the side of safety usually prevails.

    It's just a couple of months until the start of the active tornado season in many parts of the US, and no doubt once the storms start forming in the Midwest and South the siren fatigue discussion will be continued. The larger point in all of this, and why I thought it relevant to write about on a site (mostly) about the workplace - if people can be conditioned to tune out messages meant to quite possibly save their lives, then it is about 100% certain that at least some of the important messages you are sending to your colleagues, your staff, your friends - whatever, have a good chance of being tuned out as well.

    Even if the message you need to convey is an important one, like a tornado warning siren, if it keeps coming in the same manner, at the same time, delivered over and over again, eventually it becomes just another piece of noise in the stream. Fortunately for most of us, the consequence of our messages being tuned out probably isn't terribly significant in the big picture. Most people will carry on just fine by ignoring our message.

    Fortunately, I suppose, the danger is probably more to our own careers.