Archive for February, 2009

What kind of screwdriver are you?

February 27, 2009


I had coffee with a friend of a friend today. Like many folks at the moment, she’s looking for a new job. But she’s doing it a little differently and a little smarter.

Many candidates seeking work right now are presenting themselves as Swiss army knives. “Need a Phillips screwdriver? A knife? A corkscrew? Sure, I can do that.”

A Swiss army knife is great to have on hand for the occasional odd job. But it’s an unwieldy Phillips screwdriver. You use it when you can’t get your hands on a real Phillips screwdriver. Jobs of any size  (such as the job a company might want to fill in a tough economy) require more specialization than that.

The friend with whom I had coffee isn’t presenting as a Swiss army knife, or even as a Phillips screwdriver. She does something fairly specialized – more like a Torx screwdriver, which has a star-shaped head. A lot of people don’t even know what a Torx screwdriver is.

But when you need one, nothing else will do. I would think that’s how you want to present as a job-seeker in a tough economy. Recruiters have an oversupply of Swiss army knife candidates willing to fit themselves to the first open req. The candidate who is a genuine fit for that req is always going to stand out.

Waiting for and finding that genuine fit is the hard part. If you’re searching right now, the right thing is out there. And as I’ve talked with three laid-off friends this week alone, my thoughts are with anyone who’s looking and I’ll help if I can.

photo by muckingfajic


Is Using Twitter Twice As Important As Using a Hammer?

February 21, 2009

1430449350_a4392bb04a_mHow many hits does  “how to use Twitter” return on Google? Currently 67,900,000. That’s twice as many hits as “how to use a hammer.”

I just did a survey of the 20 people in this coffeeshop. 19/20 looked up from their laptops and said a hammer was a useful tool. (One said “leave me alone.”) 3/20 or 15% had used Twitter, and two of them thought it was a useful tool. Then I got back to my keyboard and found that “leave me alone” guy had tweeted “who is this idiot asking people about hammers in the coffee shop?”

Here’s the mathy part:  if every Twitter user were Sybil with 16 different personalities and 16 different opinions about how to use Twitter, we haven’t come close to explaining 68MM hits.

Of the posts out there, some are useful. If you’ve never used Twitter (or if this blog post is incomprehensible to you), Cnet’s newbie guide is helpful. Amber Naslund’s Social Media Starter Kit post on Twitter goes deeper and is more business-oriented. Lots of other good ones – what are your favorites?

“How to use Twitter”, beyond the basics of signing up and tweeting, is a lousy question. Many of the “how to use a hammer” results are useless if your goals is pulling nails with a clawhammer, sinking finishing nails, or advanced ballpeenery.  The real question is “how to use Twitter for ___”. You fill in the blank.

I saw this in action this week when @sw_headgeek mentioned that he was having trouble keeping up with his Twitter stream. I asked what client he was using – it was twhirl.  That’s a fine client if you’re using Twitter as I do, as ambient text radio with the occasional @ conversation or dm exchange. But the geek needs to track a few different groups: key influencers in his industry, friends and internal collaborators, @ replies and dm’s, and everybody else. So now he’s giving tweetdeck a try.

Will it be better? Probably – because we’ve considered his purpose before giving an answer. “X is the BEST Twitter tool” is fundamentalism.

Many “this is how you should use Twitter” posts (including the current hot topic, auto-dm’s) amount to fundamentalism also. Me, I don’t get upset if someone auto-dm’s me. I might unfollow  if the dm amounts to “welcome, click my junk”, though.

We don’t need a new etiquette (twitiquette) rulebook, we just need to remember that “social” is the important word in social media. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be nice. Listen, don’t just talk. And when people break those basic social rules, karma will take care of it. The profiles on Twitter spammers say it all – “following 1,363, 75 followers?”

photo by Kyle May

Edge Cases and Guy-on-a-Ship

February 16, 2009


What about the guy-on-a-ship?

A long time ago in a company far, far away we had a meeting about a product migration. The concern: how do we get everybody with the old product a small amount of data to unlock an upgrade to the new product.

There was a quick discussion (blink and you’d miss it) of how it would work for 99% of the customers. Then something happened that made a scheduled 30-minute meeting run into 90 minutes with a follow-up scheduled. That something? We got sucked into discussion of edge cases.

It started with a legitimate (if highly unusual) existing case of a user on a ship in the middle of the Pacific for six months having a computer crash and trying to restore. We solved that fairly quickly. The interesting part was what happened next, though. The  meeting devolved into a game of “top this”: what if guy-on-a-ship had no data connection? What if he had no voice connection? What if, instead of the hard drive crashing, his whole computer caught fire? You get the point – none of these scenarios had happened or were likely to happen, but much expensive managerial time (in what was supposed to be a review, not a brainstorming, meeting) was spent on thought exercises about what if they DID.

I’m pretty sure a lot of expensive time was wasted there. Guy-on-a-ship is a customer, and no customer wants to be called an edge case or treated as a burden. At the same time, keep in mind the diagram above – it’s the Pareto principle squared. If most of the discussion centers on only a few customers, your need is for a problem-solving session (with the few right and empowered people)  for those few customers. Don’t hijack a policy review session (where most of the many attendees will have no input) for that purpose.

What about you? Have you ever hijacked a meeting to deal with guy-on-a-ship? Have you ever been in a meeting that was hijacked to deal with guy-on-a-ship? And have you ever BEEN guy-on-a-ship?

Dunbar Push-ups

February 12, 2009


Seth Godin and Chris Brogan had posts this week that have an interesting overlap.

Seth’s point: in order to be the best in the world at what you do, shrink the world. You do that by defining what you do more precisely (some would say narrowly).

Chris blogged on one of my fascinations, Dunbar’s Number. That’s the “Rule of 150” that states that we can have a finite number of meaningful relationships. I’ve speculated about “Dunbar push-ups” from time to time – if most people are limited to 150, is there competitive advantage in raising that number to 155? 160? Chris is smarter about it – instead of raising the number, he suggests using it strategically. Have the *right* 150 people in your network. And, just as importantly, pick and choose people in whose networks you want to be in the top 150.

These two posts by two smart guys have a lot in common. To define yourself narrowly enough that you’re the best in the world, you have to say “no” to a lot of other things you could be. (I’m thinking about that at the moment – Egghead Marketing? How many marketers are there on the Internet? As a marketer who’s done a lot of things, how would I define myself more narrowly, the way Andy Sernovitz defined himself as the word of mouth marketing guy?)

Chris’ strategic use of Dunbar requires saying “no” too. More precisely, you have to say “no” to the idea that “the biggest network wins.” Instead, you focus on the quality of the 150 top folks in your network, as well as on being ranked as highly as possible in the networks of influential others.

Doesn’t sound anything like democratic or egalitarian. (Not a criticism of Chris’ point at all – just reflects my own struggle with zero-sum thinking). More like social Darwinism. (Happy Birthday, Charles!) What are your thoughts – how do you make your network as powerful as possible while remaining human, friendly and warm?

image by alles-schlumpf