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    Before you know you want it

    As the World Wide Web has developed and evolved the methods and strategies utilized for information discovery have also undergone tremendous growth and evolution.  In the late 1990s portal and categorization technology from Yahoo dominated. If you wanted to find something, chances are a walk down Yahoo's categorization hierarchy was your starting point.

    Over time as the web exploded in content and complexity and since human-curated categorization simply could not keep up with the growth, search took over as the primary tool for finding content. This market was led by Yahoo for a time, and eventually came to be dominated by Google.  More recently, social discovery has come to rival search as a primary and important mechanism for surfacing important and meaningful web content.  I know something is important, and quite likely worth my time and attention if a trusted friend or colleague has shared it on Twitter, or recommended it on Facebook.

    But despite the obvious improvements in the underlying technology and usability exhibited by the evolution of discovery tools and methods, there still seems an element of inefficiency and imperfection in the strategies and actions that many of us leverage to find interesting information.  Keeping informed of news and developments in our areas of interest, and perhaps most importantly, surfacing content and expertise in adjacent or complimentary spaces, the kinds of resources that are most likely to expose us to new thinking, ideas, and challenge our conception of the status quo, is increasingly seen as an endless, and hopeless struggle.

    It is only logical that there is something next, something better and more effective than the combination of search and social curation and discovery that most of us have come to rely upon in an attempt to learn, adapt, and stay informed.  What if the next development is a kind of new technology that not only presents you with a collection of relevant resources and links based on your active preferences and the content shared by your trusted networks, but is intelligent enough to predict what you will be interested in next, and offers information and insights based on a more informed prediction about not just what you may have liked in the past, but what is most relevant to you today, and quite likely tomorrow.

    That is the basic premise behind an interesting startup from Finland called Futureful.  Futureful is in the process of developing what they call a 'Predictive Discovery Engine'.  What exactly is 'predictive discovery?' From the Futureful 'about' page:

    Futureful’s predictive discovery engine analyzes relevant information flows to open up the potential future around you. We use a combination of personal, social and contextual filters to understand interests, influences and intentions, and provide you with inspiring seeds to play with. Then its up to you to pick and choose, discover and share. 

    I have to admit that while a little unsure about the specific ability of Futureful to build and successfully deploy the self-described predictive discovery engine, I do think that in time, and perhaps sooner than later a better, and more precise method and technology for information discovery and presentation will have to emerge.  The current, seemingly unsustainable cycle of adding feeds to Google Reader, adding friends on the various social networks, and the development of new and improved mobile devices that provide constant access to all the noise, with only a passing ability to discover the signal will eventually have to change.

    If you are like me, you might feel like you are reading every possible blog, news source, and mass media site you can find.  You may have developed a large, diverse, and valuable set of networks across numerous social platforms.  You are constantly reading, updating, reviewing, and sharing.  But despite all this activity, you never shake the feeling that you are missing something. So you add 'more'. Another feed, another friend, an so on.

    Perhaps we don't need more, we need more precise.

    Perhaps we need a way to see the future before it arrives.

    How about you - what do you do to try and manage the balance between information overload and the sense you are missing something?




    Cards of Change

    I came across the site Cards of Change, a collection of images of business cards uploaded by people in some kind of career transition or crossroads, usually caused by a layoff or other involuntary circumstance.

    Participants take one of their former business cards and imaginatively and creatively edit, adapt, and improve the card's content in a kind of 'rite of passage' that visually and tangibly helps to mark the passage from one career stage to the next.

    The site's mission is 'to collect as many business cards and stories of positive change of people who have recently been laid off and connect them with new opportunities from potential employers, business partners and people who make the effort to look on the bright side of life.'

    Of the many hundreds of cards loaded to the site, there is most often seen an excitement, optimism, and enthusiasm from the recently separated workers.  In many cases reading their adapted cards, cards that with a few pen strokes and cross outs they have turned from 'business' cards to personal ones, we get the sense of relief and release.  We can feel along with the card owner the weight of stress or pressure of having to be someone else for business, and the lightening of their spirit once they saw that weight removed.

    Of course the stress and pressures of being out of work had not likely set in yet as the card owners took to constructing these new creations, but still, I imagine the physical act of transformation of the old into something new has to be seen as at least starting the transition process on the right note.

    The other observation I had from reading through the card collection was that there were and still are a lot of unhappy people out there and when presented with a better and more enriching (both financially and emotionally), opportunity, many of seemingly productive and happy workers will race to the door.

    I wonder if many of us were provided the opportunity or the necessity to design our own cards would they look at all like our 'official' ones? Or if we could, would we start crossing out words and phrases, replacing them with ones that match our truer selves?  

    I recommend checking out Cards of Change, I bet you will spend at least a few minutes looking at the cards and tiny stories.



    Winter Wonderland

    In these parts of the country the arrival of 'real' winter is kind of paradoxical; we know it is coming but we are always surprised when it actually arrives.  We talk about everyone forgetting how to drive in the snow, of towns and cities failing at clearing highways and streets, and of seemingly irrational runs on grocery stores for milk, eggs, and bread.  Essentially if you get snowed in for a few days, a steady supply of French Toast can be prepared.Cold Miser

    In much of the United States Midwest and Northeast the last two weeks have seen the abrupt onset of what looks to be a long, hard winter - snow, wind, cold, even blizzard like conditions in some areas. The winter weather simply overlays a new set of problems and worries on managers and staffs that probably really didn't them. Most organizations are doing more with less in 2011, and adding extra time and stress to the simple task of getting to and from work is just another headache with which to be dealt.

    But for most people and organizations the start of the winter weather season does present very real issues - meetings and events cancelled, or at least shortened; school closings that force employees to make alternate child care arrangements (if they can); morning commutes transformed into multiple hour, gas wasting and frustrating marathons; and if in the case of day of deteriorating weather conditions employees distracted and worried as they stare out the windows wondering if they will be able to make it home or pick up their kids.

    How organizations, and more importantly managers react, respond, and address staff and work issues caused by winter weather conditions says much about what the organization values, and I think, says quite a bit more than anything written down in values and mission statements, or is plastered on the careers web page under the 'What's it like to work here' banner.

    To me, there are only three possible options for managers and organizations when dealing with winter weather and its impacts on work and staff:

    1. The Pioneer Approach

     If we are open for business, then everyone is expected to be here, full stop.This sometimes is a necessity, obviously for retail and other public and customer facing workplaces, or for professional basketball teams. There are definitely many organizations that take pride in toughing it out, and swapping stories about '3 hours to drive 4 miles' stories.  But for newer arrivals to the organization, perhaps that started in spring or summer, this attitude can at first be a shock.  If you manage in one of these environments, you had better make sure the team is aware of your kind of old-fashioned 'uphill in the snow both ways' mindset.

    2. The essential roles gambit

     If you are in an 'essential' role (good luck figuring that out), you are expected to come in, otherwise stay home.  This can work if really all you need to do is keep minimum organizational capability during a snow event, but it certainly can have a negative effect on morale - 'What do you mean, I'm not essential?'. Because even non-essential people pretty soon figure out that the 'non-essential' list is the same one used for the 'budgets are getting cut, who can we let go of' exercise.

    3. We are all adults, use your best judgment

     Truly, the only sustainable approach and the one most likely to succeed over what can be a four or five month winter.  The employee knows best about their commute, their confidence in driving in bad weather, their mental state after or before a nightmare drive, and their family obligations.  The manager should have a good handle on the current work load, the ability of the group to adjust, adapt, and re-prioritize if necessary, and how the overall diminished capacity impacts the larger picture.  Bottom line, the manager needs to understand when and how to handle these situations in a way that keeps employees safe and productive, and makes sure the essential obligations at work are met. Perhaps one way to manage this is to actually prepare, (maybe too late already for this season), and set some general expectations and guidelines for the staff, but always tempered with the 'use your best judgement' conclusion.

    You are not a hero for sitting in your car for three hours to then sit in a cube for three hours, only to get back in the car to repeat the process to get home.  And managers that think a sign of their great leadership is that their entire team fought the weather to make it in to work is misguided.  A real leader or even a good manager has set up an environment and process where using and exercising individual and balanced judgment is valued and demonstrated.


    Does Technology Change Everything?

    Over the weekend I watched the archive of a presentation given by Allen Delattre, Global Market Managing Director for Technology for Executive Search firm Korn/Ferry at last week's GigaOm Net:Work conference in San Francisco.

    In the presentation Delattre makes some interesting predictions about the increasing impact of the major technological shifts that enable (or perhaps require) organizations to grow more global, collaborative, and virtual, while acknowledging that 'virtualization' and 'collaborative' have become so overused as terms that they have lost some of their punch. But despite this, the very real effect and impact on new technology from social, to mobile, to collaborative has had on organizations, augmented by the growing influence of the Gen Y and Milennial cohorts, have created such a new environment and set of challenges that the fundamental human resources issues of leadership development, identification of high potentials, and succession management all need to adapt to this new, technology-based reality. 

    Delattre sees the ability to understand and successfully implement these new technologies as not only critical to organizational growth and survival, but that the most successful leaders of the future will be the ones that are best able to assess, adapt, synthesize, and implement new technologies to support business strategy and to unleash the best performance from employees.  And since the technology landscape continues to evolve and change so rapidly, Delattre theorizes that traditional organizational succession planning approaches that often emphasize 'coming up through the ranks' and often taking rotational assignments in different parts of the organization will no longer be the best way to find and groom future leaders. His remark that successors for big-time CIO positions used to count on 'surviving that SAP project and bringing in it only at double the original budget' is both sad and amusing.

    This is a simple and really direct argument that the technology itself, is a primary driver and leader of the massive changes in organizational structures and that it presents significant impact on the nature of leadership and talent management.  When these kind of 'technology changes everything' speeches come from hot tech companies, or from systems integrators that stand to benefit greatly from the consulting and advisory fees they stand to earn from helping clients navigate the myriad choices on offer, you would be forgiven for taking the remarks with a grain of salt.  But when a Managing Director of a leading executive search firm makes the case that technology leadership is a fundamental and an imperative for tomorrow's leaders, then perhaps a second listen is warranted.

    You can take a look at Delattre's presentation at NET:Work below, be warned, the first few minutes are a series of 'Did You Know?' style statistics about globalization, economic, and demographics.  I think by now we all get the idea the world is changing pretty rapidly. Delattre's remarks start at about 4:10. 

    What do you think?  Do these new technologies present not just better ways of getting things done but rather a core and enduring change in what tomorrow's leaders must understand and master?



    1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazing

    This may be a surprise to some, but I do appreciate (sort of) that not everyone that reads this blog is as fully invested and familiar with the nuances of sports, and in particular professional basketball.  1/2 Man

    So you may not have realized that the title of this post, 1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazing was not just meant as a general descriptive phrase, but rather was/is the nickname of an actual person, legendary street and playground legend Anthony Heyward.  The nickname stems from a famous Heyward slam dunk over a much taller player. The full details of Heyward's nickname from Hoopedia:

    An original member of the AND 1 team he earned Street Name, 1/2 Man balling at Rucker Park. After driving the lane and dunking on a dude that was much bigger then him, Rucker MC Duke Tango called him 1/2 Man 1/2 Amazing. The name has stuck ever since and we all know who was the first player to have it was (sorry Vince Carter). 

    Like many of the other streetball legends that have come before and since, 1/2 Man never has 'made it', that is, obtained the highest level of accomplishment in professional basketball, a contract with an NBA team.  There are various theories why fantastic street ball talents like 1/2 Man have largely failed to make an impact in the Association, from lack of experience in structured offensive and defensive systems, to games that are kind of one-dimensional and thus easily defensed at the NBA level, or to a perception that the street or playground game is simply inferior to the NBA game, and consequently its stars, while talented, are by and large a level (or two) below top professional caliber.

    I suppose it is debatable whether or not any individual playground star like 1/2 Man was or is talented enough to make it in the NBA, logically you would have to assume that if indeed an NBA contract were offered guys like 1/2 Man would jump at the chance, since even the minimum NBA salary (between about $500K and $1.4M based on experience) is bound to be far greater than what can be earned in the playgrounds and on barnstorming tours playing in local gyms.

    But more interesting to me in the case of the NBA largely ignoring the playground legends, is considering how much of the snub is due to pure basketball ability and potential, and how much is based on these players not having the 'correct' background and more typical developmental experiences of NBA players. Even today, most new NBA players compete in American colleges, even if for only a year or two.  Non North American players usually have experience in high-level professional leagues in Europe. With only the occasional exception (e.g. Rafer Alston, AKA 'Skip to my Lou' ), no one steps from the playground to the NBA.

    Ok, so you are not in the business of stocking and NBA team. Sadly, neither am I. But chances are you and your organization is looking for help right now.  Chances are even in a recession, your company has to fill and back fill jobs. 

    Chances you are looking to the same sources (Top 20 colleges, LinkedIn, or employee referrals) that have always worked for you in the past.

    Chances are you don't have a scout watching the talent on the playground.  And that is too bad.

    Because that is where 1/2 Man 1/2 Amazing plays. 

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