Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blog moved

Sometimes epiphanies strike like lightning.

Sometimes you have to be true to yourself.

Sometimes your boss has a really good idea.

Sometimes you have to pull a Holly Hoffman and move your blog. I don't have a large readership anyways, so I think it will be okay.

I was never really excited about Silvertongue Communications. I believed in it, but I was never excited by it.

All my boss did was suggest a new title, and suddenly the direction of my blog is clear. Suddenly I'm excited about. Suddenly I know what I want to talk about.

Please visit my "new" blog, The Snarky Optimist. It will feature the same sort of content, but the writing will be better because the writing will be ME.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: Seth Godin's "Tribes"

Last week, my wonderful manager handed me a copy of Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes. Since finishing it, I have been asked at least a half-dozen times whether it is worth a read.

I’m not going to recommend this book. I am going to tell you what I think, and what you can expect if you choose to read it. As for whether or not it’s worth a read, that decision is completely up to you.

What I like

I liked that Godin does not dismiss or disparage non-leaders.

“The merits of leadership are so ingrained that it’s natural to say, “I’ll take the lead.” Sometimes, though, it may make more sense to take the follow. […] It takes guts to acknowledge that perhaps this time, right now, you can’t lead. So get out of the way and take the follow instead.” – page 87

I also liked that Godin does not try to bait the reader into adopting his doctrine by dangling the standard carrot of success. Motivational writers are often guilty of portraying success as the Holy Grail – feeding off a reader’s desire for wealth, fame, or whatever they envision as the reward for being successful, whatever that means. Tribes doesn’t do this.

In addition, I would like to mention that a very large portion of this short book consists of anecdotes and case studies – stories of interesting and exciting people who took a risk and accomplished impressive things. I enjoy these tidbits a great deal, because they function as vivid illustrations of the thesis. Without these engaging little tales, Godin would be just another author harping about leadership. Instead, his writing embodies the classic copy writing mantra: show, don’t tell.

What I don’t like

I do not like the fact that Godin demonizes the word “manager”. Ever a fan of contrast and juxtaposition, he seems intent on glorifying “the leader” at the expense of “the manager”. While I am quite certain that what he is really trying to do is make a distinction between leadership styles, he ends up coming across as bitter. He dismisses the possibility of positive top-down change. He denies senior executives the right to spearhead a movement of their own, insisting that they must support junior leaders – or get out of the way.

Godin could have avoided demonizing managers the way he does by the insertion of one simple phrase: managers can be leaders too. Instead, he opts for saying things like this:

“Managers stamp out deviants. That’s what they do.” – page 132

Another thing I do not like about Tribes is that it contains several clear and puzzling contradictions. Godin appears to get so caught up in extolling the virtues of courage, passion, faith, and risk-taking that he forgets what he’s written the moment the page is turned. While the snappy, micro-chapter format makes Tribes easily digestible, it also reads a bit like Godin suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder. I do hate to be petty, but Godin dilutes his message somewhat when he contradicts himself.

I will provide an example. Serving as an inspirational closing of the book, the following quote enjoys pride of place, occupying a page all to itself:

“I’m not sure where I’m going. I’ll lead!” – Emanuelle Heyman

Well that’s very nice, thought I. And yet I remain perplexed, for on page 87 Godin says:

“Leading when you don’t know where to go… that sort of leading is worse than none at all.”

Hrm. But let's move on to something interesting.

Something interesting

Seth Godin is a very capable writer. Subscribe to his blog and you will certainly see. Bloggers of all stripes (myself included) could stand to learn a thing or two from him. He is a master of writing for the Web… but something seemed off to me about the writing in this book.

Ay, there’s the rub: Godin is a blogger, and a good one. I discovered that reading what is indisputably Web writing on a printed page seems a little strange to me. You don’t see it very often. This is not a bad thing: thousands of loyal blog subscribers will buy this book and they expect the same writing style they know and love, be it tailored for the Internet or not. And Godin certainly delivers. The style you see on his blog is what you will see in Tribes – complete with funny little parenthetical interjections and overzealous use of juxtaposition.

Now pay attention, non-fiction writers, because I learned something here. As a veteran of many a literary essay, I have the habit of flagging quotations as I read a book, regardless of my reason for reading it. I generally flag quotations that appear to be important to the sense and progression of the book.

I hit page 45 and had to stop flagging what seemed to be important, because I was flagging almost everything I read. And therein lies a lesson any good blogger knows, and any non-fiction writer should learn: if it’s not important, if it doesn’t need to be said… don’t say it. Make every word count.

In any case, since I was unable to select quotations on the basis of importance, the quotes I’ve included at the end of this review were selected because I enjoy them, plain and simply put.

My conclusion

I liked this book. Tribes is the literary equivalent of low-calorie snack food. Consisting only of a tidy 160 pages, it is a short and easy read – something to tide you over between meals. The writing has a nice flavour to it and it makes you feel good about yourself.

One thing about low-calorie snacks is that they aren’t particularly nourishing. Tribes isn’t particularly rich in content or insight. It isn’t a manifesto, but it is interesting.

The other thing about low-calorie snacks is that they contain an implicit call to action. When I make the choice to eat a little package of those 100-calorie wafers – the ones that pretend to be Oreos – instead of demolishing a row of Double-Stuffs, I have to ask myself why I don’t make similarly healthy choices in all areas of my life. Tribes is like that: more than anything, it is a call to action. I have to ask myself why – if I went through the trouble to read a book on unconventional leadership – I don’t try my hand at being a leader more often.

And I think that is all Mr. Godin really intended to accomplish.

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Appendix: Quotes from the book

Many people are starting to realize that they work a lot and that working on stuff they believe in (and making things happen) is much more satisfying that just getting a paycheck and waiting to get fired (or die). – page 9

But the Internet is just a tool, an easy way to enable some tactics. The real power of tribes has nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with people. You don’t need a keyboard to lead… you only need the desire to make something happen. – page 6

Organizations that destroy the status quo win. – page 35

“How was your day?” is a question that matters a lot more than it seems. – page 11

Leadership is a choice. It’s the choice to not do nothing. – page 59

All you need to do it motivate people who choose to follow you. The rest of the population is free to ignore you or disagree with you or move on. – page 65

You’re not going to be able to grow your career or your business or feed the tribe by going after most people. Most people are really good at ignoring new trends or great employees or big ideas. You can worry about most people all day, but I promise you that they’re not worried about you. – page 68

The art of leadership is understanding what you can’t compromise on. – page 79

The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate. – page 86

The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way. The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success. – page 108

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Graphic CV

Many thanks to David Eaves, from whom I borrowed and adapted this concept.

A Curriculum Vitae (CV or résumé) can be a very handy thing when it comes to applying for jobs and showcasing your expertise. Many people think that the usefulness of a CV stops there, but it can be a lot more useful than that. With a little tinkering, your CV can serve as an enlightening career planning tool.

I believe that in order to get to where you want to be, you must first know where you have been, where you are now, what you care about, and why you want to go to that new place. An excellent way to do this is to use a graphic CV.

Curriculum Vitae is Latin for “course of life”. I don’t know about you, but when I am representing and thinking about my life, I certainly don’t want to do it with a dull categorized list of my education and work experience. My life and my career goals are directed not only by my experiences but also by my passions – and more importantly, by the interplay between the two.

The graphic CV helps you interpret your experience and skills in a more holistic way. It gets you looking at the big picture and asking yourself some very important questions. It is an activity worth doing on a regular basis.

I chose to use a Venn diagram, but there are certainly other ways you can do it. This is what my graphic CV looks like today:

Representing myself visually in this way facilitated several realizations. The things that I have done in the past, would like to keep doing or do again, and I am passionate about (intersection of all 3 circles) are the things that define me most strongly. My real goals are found where my aspirations and my passions intersect.

But this prompted me to ask myself some important questions. Why am I not passionate about all my aspirations? Why do I not actively aspire to pursue all my passions? Why do I want to continue to pursue things like SEO when I am not passionate about them? Do these things align with my intentions and modus operandi?

What it really comes down to is defining who you are, what your real career goals should be, and what steps you need to take to get there. It comes down to challenging yourself and your own self-concept.

How do you make a graphic CV?

Step 1 – Figure out your intentions. In broad terms, what is your personal mission statement?
Step 2 – Figure out your modus operandi. How do you do what you do? What are your personal best practices and conventions?
Step 3 – In very general terms, list your activities. For example, since I am currently studying English Literature and French (among other things), I wrote “academics”.
Step 4 – Decide what you want to think about, and name your categories accordingly. You can choose as many or as few categories as you want.
Step 5 – In general terms, make a list of the things you’ve done, the things you want to do, things you think about and things that interest you.
Step 6 – Go through your list and categorize each item – each item can fit into as many or as few categories as you like.
Step 7 – Input your items into your diagram. If an item fits into multiple categories, place it at an intersection point.
Step 8 – Think about what this graphic representation says about you and your career goals. Ask tough questions. Challenge yourself.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Jaywalker’s Guide to the Galaxy

…With all due respect to Ford Prefect.

This post is actually about innovation in the workplace. While it’s true that only some people prize their careers enough to refer to it in galactic terms, it made a better title and I enjoy the Douglas Adams reference. So there.

I liken innovation, creative thinking, nonconformity and radical new ideas to jaywalking. Institutions and businesses function much like traffic: the rules of the road are designed to keep everyone safe and ensure order. Without them, we’d simply have hazardous work environments in which nothing ever gets done. Things like sidewalks and traffic lights are conventional practices and ways of thinking. We have them for a reason – but sometimes they can slow you down.

Jaywalking is about taking a courageous, proactive approach to getting where you want to be. If I want to be at the café across the street, convention says that I should walk down the road to the nearest intersection, wait until the traffic light signals the appropriate time to cross, walk between the lines to the other side of the road, and then make my way to my destination.

Careers and businesses often work much the same way. There is codified way of doing things. If you want to do something or get somewhere, you follow the procedures.

But isn’t it sometimes faster to just walk across the street, traffic laws be damned? Isn’t it sometimes more efficient to jump straight to the solution?

That is called jaywalking, and this is how to do it well.

Be goal-oriented.

The purpose of jaywalking is to arrive at your destination as quickly as possible. The purpose is not to be a flagrant nonconformist or an annoyance to respectable motorists.

Innovation works the same way. Innovate for a reason, and make that reason clear to your colleagues and superiors. Developing a new, more effective way of completing a task looks a lot better to a manager than radical action that benefits nothing except your overblown sense of individuality.

By all means feel free to experiment, but remember that you probably won’t get anywhere if you’re not heading somewhere.

Look both ways.

Jaywalking entails a certain amount of risk. Make sure you assess your circumstances before you start trailblazing. Awareness (of self, system, and situation) makes it significantly more likely that things will go well.

Be assertive…

When I am driving, I can’t stand it when some pedestrian jumps off the sidewalk unexpectedly and makes a mad, zigzagging dash for the other side of the road. I much prefer experienced, assertive jaywalkers who wait for an appropriate time to cross, and move at a constant pace along a predictable trajectory. It also helps if they make eye contact.

Innovation is the same. Startling your coworkers with an unexpected, radical new way of doing things will just make people anxious if you are anxious yourself. If you behave like you think you’re doing something wrong, they will probably think you are.

Connect with people. Make it clear that you are confident in what you are doing and make it easy for them to understand where you are headed. They’ll be happy to touch the breaks a little to keep you safe.

… But don’t be a dick.

Do not scorn those who choose to obey the rules or abide by convention. If they want to wait until the little man says walk, let them. If you think they are limiting themselves, inspire them by stepping off the sidewalk, but do not try to drag them with you.

Do not flip the bird at motorists who do not slow down or who honk their horns at you. You are breaking the rules and they are not. They have a right to complain or disapprove of your actions – you’re slowing them down for the sake of attaining your personal goals, and it is your responsibility to handle dissent in an adult matter.

This is especially true with your superiors. You can only curse at so many SUV-driving motorists before someone decides to make you a hood ornament, so mind your manners.

Be smart or be road kill.

Just as some towns and cities are more jaywalker-friendly than others, so some institutions and businesses are conducive to creative thinking, while others punish it. It is important to consider your business context before you attempt a leisurely stroll across the corporate equivalent of a six-lane highway.

Remember that your straying off the beaten path presents – more often than not – a significant inconvenience to others. Your superiors are more likely to slow down and let you experiment if they don’t have a mile of high-speed traffic behind them. Managers with pressing deadlines and high stress are to radical innovators what 18-wheelers are to jaywalkers. Act accordingly.

Sometimes, jaywalking isn’t faster.

Sometimes traffic changes while you’re clambering over a median. Sometimes you end up stranded for longer than it would have taken to go the long way ‘round. Sometimes people impede your creativity right in the middle of a project and your exciting new idea ends up making you look like an idiot because no one supported you.

But that doesn’t mean you stop jaywalking.

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Image credit: Bob Ionescu

What kind of thinker are you?

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.”

- A. A. Milne

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Memo to Fellow Bloggers

Your blog -- like Silvertongue Communications -- is probably a relatively harmless endeavour, but if you are blogging anonymously or engaging in any kind of online journalism, workplace whistle-blowing, or political blogging, you'll definitely want to read this document on bloggers' rights, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF's recently re-launched Legal Guide for Bloggers is just a basic roadmap of the legal issues you may inadvertently encounter while blogging, and a review of concepts like fair use and defamation law.
Please note that EFF documents are written from an American legal standpoint, but it is a great resource and starting point for bloggers of all nationalities.

Monday, March 23, 2009 on Using Twitter to Engage Citizens

The private sector is using Twitter as – among other things – a new support channel through which they can respond to the needs of consumers who may not use (or benefit from) their conventional support methods.

Twitter is turning out to be a pretty powerful marketing and support tool. But what about in the Public Sector? While every social media tool has its dangers, the time has come to ask if the Government of Canada can benefit from engaging citizens via Twitter.

Additionally – and more importantly – it is time to think about what harm will be done if the Public Service doesn’t get on the Twitter train.

Want answers? Read this great article from

Improve Your Communications Skills With One Word

This post was inspired by (and largely borrowed from) The Two Most Important Words in Blogging, by Brian Clark of Copyblogger.

You can improve your communications skills, make more compelling arguments, be more persuasive and get better reactions from people in both speaking and writing.

And you can do this simply by using one special word.

That word is because.

When you are making a statement, argument or request, it is important to be specific and to explain your motivations. Ensuring that people understand your needs and your situation can be as simple as providing a reason why — and because is the most effective transition word for explaining that.

“Be specific in your assertions, and always give a reason why,” says Brain Clark of Copyblogger. “Especially when you want people to take some form of action.”

Just how powerful is the word because? Social Psychologist Ellen Langer performed an experiment in which she asked to cut in line to use a photocopy machine. She tested three different ways of asking and recorded the responses she received.

When she said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

60% of the people said okay.

When she said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

94% of the people said okay.

It seems that supplying the explanation that she was in a rush made a huge difference in the effectiveness of the request.

But here’s the really cool part. When she said, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

93% of the people still said okay!

The word because is such a powerful trigger that it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the reason why is really relevant or not. The point is that people usually respond well to specific requests that give a reason why.

So, make a point to use this word in your writing and your daily interactions. Because it just might make a big impact.