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Showing posts from January, 2012

Culture and Technology: How Cultural Factors Impact Engineering Decisions

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There is a persistent myth that engineering is some sort of universal truth that is unaffected by national, regional or company cultures. This is something I have heard when I am doing intercultural workshops -- comments like "all this stuff about cultural differences is interesting but it doesn't apply to me because I am an engineer, I work with other engineers and we all think the same way".  No, they don't. While there are universal technical laws and some shared aspects of engineering culture, the approach to solving engineering problems is strongly influenced by culture.

I have seen many examples where this has happened, in the design of trucks, airliner control systems and even silicon chips, but one case in particular shows how culture can play a surprising role in the design of a successful solution, France's TGV high-speed rail network.  Anyone who has worked in France or worked with French engineers has probably noticed the difference between the "…

Communicating Social Media Restrictions: Lessons from the London Olympic Volunteer Ban

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When the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, LOCOG, announced a social media ban for volunteers the reaction was mostly negative with just a few thinking their position was reasonable.

At the time I wrote my initial comments in Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitude to Social Media where I argued that while there are sensible reasons to restrict social media use, the way it was handled could have been improved. Most people I talked to agreed in principle with my point, but asked exactly how it could have been handled better. Maybe it is too late for LOCOG but may other organizations are in a similar position and there are valuable communication lessons we can learn from how this case has been handled.

First of all, I believe that LOCOG has two separate issues: the substance of the ban and the way it is communicated -- at least based on published reports like this article from the BBC. If this article is correct then the rules appear to be too restrictive, partly beca…

Early-Stage Startups: Here's How to Get Impressive Search Results

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Maybe you have an early stage startup with a minimum viable product and you are somewhere between the kitchen table stage and your first funding. When you search for the name of your startup on popular search engines all you see is your own website, your own blog and then irrelevant results. This will change when you get covered by Mashable, TheNextWeb, TechCrunch and so on, but for now it doesn't look very impressive. Without a PR budget you can't pay for professional help but there is a simple, entirely ethical way to make sure that your company practically owns the first page of search engine results -- the only thing most people look at anyway.  Here's how.

Search engines like Google use complex and secret algorithms to decide which sites will be listed first in search results, but what never changes is that the most important sites will always be on top. If you don't have many mentions then all sorts of irrelevant and spammy pages will appear quite high in the li…

How to Have More Ideas: The Magic of Notebooks

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At the end of lectures and workshops one of the questions I hear most often is "How do you get so many ideas?". Some people turn this round and ask "Why don't I have so many ideas?". In reality everyone has ideas, the only difference is that some people write them down and everyone else forgets them. You think you will remember, but without the help of a note you are likely to forget the idea, though frustratingly you remember that you had a great idea, and now it's gone.

Ask writers, speakers and other people how they manage to put so many ideas together and the answer is pretty much always the same: I write down ideas as I think of them. Where you write them down isn't so important. I write some in Moleskine notebooks -- I find the solid little books inspiring -- many on scraps of paper and the rest using tools like Evernote. Collectively I refer to them all as the Ideas Box, though this is a conceptual box because they are never all physically in on…

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop

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After the  summer while I was benchmarking social media monitoring tools I watched a number of demos, including an early version of Odimax's SocialGuru. At the end of the demo founder Atal Malviya asked if there was anything else that might be useful to add.

One feature I asked for is an emergency stop button for the scheduled actions, the equivalent of the big red button you find on all large, dangerous machinery that shuts everything down when something goes wrong. The reason I ask this is because most social media scheduling tools don't have a quick way to suspend or abort all of the scheduled tweets and updates. In the case of a crisis this would be very useful.

Early in 2010 I was lecturing on crisis PR at the American University of Paris and I recall that one of the examples I gave was the December 2009 crisis when several Eurostar trains were stuck in the tunnel under the sea. People turning to Twitter for news were first surprised to learn that @eurostar was at the ti…

Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations

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People from the few societies that are not hierarchical -- Netherlands and Scandinavia mainly -- often have difficulty grasping how strongly hierarchical societies can function. When I explain this point in culture workshops they usually ask how any organization can function when people are unable to contradict the boss or even to report that something doesn't work. This happens not just in faraway countries that you have only ever seen in National Geographic. It can also happen closer to home in those organizations where the culture is more hierarchical than usual for the region.

Yet societies that are strongly hierarchical -- what culture experts call "high power distance" cultures -- can be highly effective. Look at Japan, for example. This is possible because in any culture where hierarchy is always very strong the people are also raised in this environment and have learnt how to behave to make things work. One very typical compensation is for people to use more ind…

Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitudes to Social Media

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According to family legend, my great uncle Willie went to Paris with the UK Olympic team in 1924 then continued to wear the blazer proudly until well into the 1950s. News that the London 2012 organizing committee intends to ban social media use by volunteers (BBC article) shows that they are perhaps out of touch with what motivates people today -- I doubt that anyone is doing it for the blazer -- and also highlights the extremely polarized attitudes to social media.

Reactions to the ban on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are almost entirely negative and reveal that many social media users are really baffled by the decision. This is hardly surprising since social media users are by definition generally favorable to social media use and strongly critical of any restrictions. On the other side there are some equally puzzled users who find the rules reasonable. Perhaps a more balanced view is that both sides are right in a way, but Locog -- the clunky abbreviation of London Organizing Comm…

What Businesses Can Learn From Facebook Timeline

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Now that Facebook Timeline is available to all users worldwide (if you haven't got it yet go here and click Get Timeline Now) I hear more and more people complain that it is not as good as old Facebook. Yet I am sure that when Facebook announces the next major redesign people will be grumbling that they want to keep Timeline. This "New Facebook Effect" is well known. I wrote about it last year in The New Facebook Effect, The Rosetta Stone and Why It is Important for Communicators. It has also inspired many comics/cartoons like this classic 2010 State Of the Web by the Oatmeal.

Since 2005 Facebook has changed many times but this latest change goes beyond the usual tweaking of layout features. When you look at it more closely you realize that it is much deeper, much more clever than all the previous updates,  teaching three fundamental lessons for all businesses.

1. DON'T WAIT FOR COMPETITORS TO MAKE YOUR PRODUCT OBSOLETE. It is tempting to stay with a successful prod…

Why New Solutions Fail to Oust Email in Business Communication

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Email has been the backbone of business communication since the 1980s. When it was first introduced it changed the way people worked, driving the shift from physical letters typed by secretaries to self-typed messages, accelerating the pace of business and enabling more remote collaboration.

Since then technology ha advanced. Thanks to better hardware, better software and faster networks we now have many alternatives that address some of the well-known limitations of email, yet email is still for most people the standard way to contact a company or organization.

For years people like me have taught businesses how to use alternatives to reduce the burden of email and shown people simple techniques to make email more effective (See, for example Three Timesaving Tips for Email). Some people go even further, like Atos CEO Thierry Breton, who famously banned internal email to improve productivity -- bosses worry about social media but email is one of the main time wasters in modern busine…