Wednesday, March 26

If 80 Percent Of People Won't Change, Why Force Them?

Why Change?
Jim Earley has it right. When forced to embrace change, 10 percent will respond like James Bond, 10 percent will respond like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges, and 80 percent will do nothing at all.

He even drove the point home by citing Alan Deutschman's book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, which found only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.) even after they are told they could prolong their life, restore their health, and even reverse diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Get that? Only 11 percent of people choose life over death. 

Everyone else will more or less choose death, about 89 percent. And, in keeping with the Moe Howard analogy, about 10 percent of those are likely to hasten the pace by throwing all caution to the wind. It's inevitable anyway, they might say, just before they sit back down on the couch.

Most people, even those who belong in the 80 percent, will think this is crazy. I'm not one of them. I think it is crazy to expect anything different. People resist change and they have a good reason.

• Many employers do not articulate a reasonable, achievable post-change vision.
• Many employees mistrust the motivations of leadership for organizational change.
• Many employees rightly know that change is accompanied by loss of job security.
• Many employees cite bad timing, because they don't want their workflow disrupted.
• Many people are predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable.

This doesn't just relate to organizational change, but change in every aspect of our lives. As Stan Goldberg put it in his article in Psychology Today, being is easier than becoming. But I might take that thinking a step further by saying that being is easier than becoming until becoming becomes more rewarding than being. Simply put, change requires a long-term plan with benchmarks.

A personal example about change and momentum. 

My doctor recently told me that I should become a vegetarian. There are a number of reasons, but mostly he has read the widely circulated study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. He has not, it seems, read the less circulated study that notes that people with high cholesterol live longer.  Enough said.

That isn't the point. The point is that his statement led to a lesson in effective communication. When he first told me that I should become a vegetarian — a reasonably athletic 40-something who works out almost daily and does watch his diet despite being raised in the meat-and-potato Midwest — I laughed out loud. I was a skinny, less fit 30-something once upon a time and have no desire for it.

Except, my immediate reaction was the direct result of ineffective communication and not a rebut of what he was saying. And since he didn't know it, I decided to help him. I'll make more changes.

My plan is much more reasonable. I can change my diet by introducing more fish (not so easy in the desert) and fiber and see where we end up. And then, depending on the outcomes, make some more changes or not. The way I see it, some numbers will even out or perhaps I'll eventually be relegated to give up meat because the change won't be as drastic then as it would be today. Slow motion is sometimes better.

A professional example about change and mentorship.

Change for everybody.
I had a conversation with someone who currently works in human resources about this very issue, even if he might not see it that way. He asked me what I would do (and have done) when confronted by an underperforming employee.

I knew what he wanted me to say, but I just couldn't bring myself to say it. He wanted me to say that I might bring human resources into the loop because they have procedures. Sure, there is some validity in this direction for extreme cases at large organizations. However, it seems to me there are better ways before the approach is formalized.

A better method is mentorship, specifically outlining a step program that improves whatever deficiencies the employee might have and then giving them one step at a time. I've used this method to help people improve their writing skills for the better part of two decades. It works for performance issues as well.

Why? Much like Earley wrote his post that inspired this one, people will literally do nothing if they are confronted with a change that do not believe is needed, trusted, or leads to something better. They will literally do nothing even if you tell them their job is on the line. In many cases, they are so entrenched in denial, improvement will not be possible. So unless you want to let someone go, it is crazy to confront people with an ultimatum that will cause 90 percent of them to fail.

The same can be said for organizational change. Rather than convincing people that the organization needs change, try implementing small directional steps that establish trust, reward progress and encourage feedback in order to make employees stakeholders in the process. It's more effective.

After all, the way I see it, it's not just the people who are asked to make changes that can act like James Bond or Moe Howard. People who expect changes to be made can come across that way too.

Wednesday, March 19

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 2

What's Not Next?
Never mind all those social media and marketing tactics that everyone wants you to remember. The life span of most online marketing tactics lasts about six months if you are lucky. Sure, some last a little longer. Some last a little less. But all of them change.

The future of the Internet is poised to leap well ahead of wearable technology that quantifies the self. It's one of the reasons I both praised and dismissed some of the tips featured in 99 Facts Every Entrepreneur Must Be Aware Of In The Digital Age. Most of those tips will last only a blink.

Ergo. Some people predict 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017. I doubt it. It will much more likely be interactive mixed medium and augmented reality interface. Some of the other presentation facts are much more valuable because they monitor the past as opposed to predicting the future.

In fact, some of the most powerful slides from that presentation demonstrate just how powerful change can be. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2000 disappeared by 2010.

The future is flexible. It can be as bright or as dark as we make it. 

The first part of this post — The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1 — expressed some of the brilliant innovations we'll see in the near future. This one touches on something else all together.

Anytime I present On Spreading Messages as part of my Writing For Public Relations series, I point out one ugly truth about communication. For every innovation that propels us forward, someone inevitably invents a manipulation that drags us backward. The same can be said about technology.

As Geoff Livingston reported from SXSW, some of the biggest buzz centered on the surveillance. He suggested that keynotes Julian Assange and Edward Snowden set the tone. Maybe. Maybe not.

NSA
I see it as a sign of the times because some of the greatest innovations ahead come with some of the greatest potential for abuse. It's part of an older conversation that often gets shuffled away into the shadows because it creeps people out. Why? The downside of an everywherenet is the inability to escape it.

Concepts like proximity advertising, consumer profiling, and big data collection are not new, but we tend to ignore them (except when we actively embrace them without wisdom). People frequently tell me that privacy concerns are merely a topic for conspiracy theorists, but conversations that I've had about the future of an everywherenet point to surveillance as a side effect of something better.

In other words, nobody will willingly agree to everything they do being captured, quantified, and assessed. But when you package it as a benefit, everyone wants to sign up. Privacy always seems optional.

Technology is an excellent servant and a relentless master. 

Case in point. My doctor smiled when he said he couldn't wait for the day that I would walk into his office, step in front of a display, and immediately see a complete diagnostic. While working in energy medical services, first responders were among the biggest advocates of transportation computer chips that pinpoint location and provide damage assessments at the scene of any accident. Some technology futurists I know frequently fantasize about a world where you can wave a hand in front of a cash register to make a purchase or unlock your front door without a key. The benefit would be convenience, crime abatement, and (given the option) consumer discounts and rebates.

All of those benefits sound too good to be true, but none of them are free. The price is a complete and total erosion of privacy. And once privacy is given up freely, analysis is only a few key strokes away.

Dystopia
One day, your doctor could be required to submit your health information to a federally-monitored health care system with consensus-approved procedures to help you modify your health. One day, your vehicle might not only be better equipped to assist you but also better equipped to ensure compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. One day, all of your data could be confined to a single processor either embedded in your body or a federal or state issued identification card that must be carried at all times.

Some thought leaders in the technology sector look at these solutions as being vital to what they call the technological evolution of mankind — where our biological circuitry can freely interact with the Internet. And in some thought exercises, they imagine a world where working for the good of society is a foregone conclusion and the pursuit of individual luxuries (what some might call happiness) is old hat.

Think it's all science fiction? Some of it has already been done. What hasn't will be old news by 2020.  

But what does this have to with marketing and public relations? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Personally, I think communicators need to be more than cheerleaders for their organizations. They need to service both the interests of the organization and the public. And by that, I don't mean what needs to be done for their own good. The question always needs to be: If not you, then who?

Wednesday, March 12

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1

When people consider the convergence of social media and technology, they often make the assumption that formats and devices drive the future of the Internet. It's an easy mistake to make, given the abundance of evidence that can be snapped up with a few careless search terms.

It takes almost no time to find out how social media has become increasingly visual and video-reliant and wearable technology that quantifies the self. But then there is the problem with search engines. Google leads the world in self-affirming research. You will only ever find what you look for.

What you might not find is that we are at the end of the device era as we know it and moving toward one where the Internet becomes a system ordinary as electricity. Just like few people will think about the power grid when they plug in to get an electrical fix, no one will think about accessing the Internet.

The Internet will be everywhere. Just state your command. 

The Internet will operate much like that, but voice won't be the only option and wearable gadgets will give way to function-specific augmented reality tools and rooms or surfaces prewired to be an interface. Gestures, keyboards (virtual or physical), and other function-specific interfaces will all be options, making some of the wearable marvels today look like the digital watches of the last century.

In other words, it seems relatively unlikely that smart watches will be accessories to smart phones in the future and much more likely that portable processors that might look like watches will become the hard drive to any surface when you're away from a hard drive optional environment. The result will provide augmented reality, like the Skully Helmet, as the real driver of almost anything.


While the helmet makes sense for motorcyclists, windshields will be the next interface for cars and trucks. Desks, tables, walls, closet doors and windows all have the potential to become whatever interface we want when we want it. But even those kinds of surfaces stop short of potential.

Can you imagine ski goggles that provide topographical detail of the terrain? How about surf goggles that not only help you size up a wave, but also let you know which wave to catch? Or maybe they don't have to be glasses at all. Perhaps a hammer can assist in hitting a nail straight or a duster can pinpoint which areas of your house were missed the week before.

The point is that anything becomes possible when you leap ahead even one notch. And for as much time and thought is being given to the tools we have now, most of it will feel obsolete within the next three or five years, a drop in the bucket when you consider how quickly everything has evolved.


Even more striking than predictions delivered by Walter Cronkite in 1967 as cutting edge is how technology has leapt ahead ten times further than he could have even imagined — with entire industries being built and collapsing along the way. In that same amount of time, we said hello and goodbye to tapes, compact discs, and Walkmen, to name a few. And we'll absolutely do the same going forward.

The point ought to be pretty clear for strategic communicators and public relations professionals alike. Communication and marketing plans need to simultaneously be grounded in the present while preparing for the future. And if you are interested in being ahead of the curve in the next decade, then you might have to consider what this future will look like — a mixed medium accessible without limitations or limited to whatever function-speficic parameters we choose.

All the social media and marketing tactics you know today will change.

How will companies communicate in such a self-selected environment? Chances are that the companies who will win will be those that move away from the self-affirmation models of the present and more toward an open environment of comparisons and contrasts that help people understand the consequences of their decisions. Ergo, instead of quantifying ourselves with devices, we'll quantify the grocery store to help us balance whatever diet our doctor has prescribed and we accepted.

But then again, this assumes we're moving toward a Star Trek-like utopia and not a brave new dystopia. So perhaps it might be prudent to peer into a few shadows too in part two. But in the interim, I would love to know what you think. What do you see as inevitable change in the decade ahead?

Wednesday, March 5

The Influence Of Nobody Strikes Again. Who's Next?

Diana Mekota is a "nobody." Well, I don't think so but apparently Kelly Blazek did. She would know. Blazek operated a successful LinkedIn jobs board. She published a newsletter with about 7,300 subscribers. She was often asked to speak about resumes and LinkedIn profiles. She won the 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

And Mekota? She was a Northwest Ohio native who was in the process of moving back to the area who attempted to join Blazek's job board and followed it up with LinkedIn invite. The response she received in return aimed to shatter her.

"Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial to only you, and tacky. ... You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year, " she wrote. "Don't ever write me again."

Mekota didn't write her again. She decided to share her lesson instead, saving hundreds of other "entitled" members of her generation instead. And in doing so, the story of a "nobody" went viral.

As Buzzfeed, Reddit, and other viral hotspots picked it up, the story grew in size and scope until eventually landing on major media outlets like CNN. As the story gained more attention, dozens of people came forward to share similar experiences. Meanwhile others recognized her frustration.

The publicity and public push back was so severe that Blazek shut down her job board. She later returned her Communicator of the Year award. The Cleveland chapter of IABC reported it was "mutually agreed." Some people are wondering whether she will even be able to rebuild her career despite her apology. Others wonder if she wants to, given she has erased most of her online presence.

The Blazek story is a symptom of a bigger problem. Sociopathic media.

Call it inflated influence. Call it cyber bullying. Call it sociopathic media. Call it whatever you want but know there is plenty of it. Professionals who would otherwise help others in person become convinced that they are superior to those they see as outside their circles online. And why not?

This is the message many communicators are advising professionals and businesses to carry forward. I've met many social pros who profess that responses be limited based upon online influence, social scores, and other such nonsense. Most of them have favorites: subscription rates, page views, retweets, followers, friends, comments, or any number that currently favors them is the one to watch.

Never mind the truth. This year's favored measurement tool will be deemed irrelevant tomorrow. Most people who make this year's "must follow list" will be unseated by others next year. And as I've told various classes for better than a decade, today's inexperienced intern is tomorrow's client.

Blazek forgot all that. Many people do. Sooner or later almost everyone is tempted to chase one metric or another because they see it as some elusive but reachable objective. And for some who are bold enough to reach it, they will eventually discover that there is considerably more air at the summit than they could have ever predicted during the climb. Most is hot.

Social media is overdue for a makeover. Expect more stories ahead.

This is what happened to Blazek. As a side effect to own sense of success, she became afflicted with her own sense of self-induced entitlement. She was a "have." Mekota, quite clearly, was a "have not."

If you really want to serve yourself or your organization online, there are three things to remember. 1. Stop paying attention to "influencers" and start paying attention to the "nobodies" who are primed to depose them, for better or worse. 2. Online influence has a propensity to evaporate at a rate one hundred times faster than it takes to acquire it, which makes its value much more diluted than anyone likes to admit. 3. Some of the loudest voices chastising Blazek for her ill-advised email do the same thing, albeit more subtly and sometimes publicly, day in and day out. Good night and good luck.
 

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