A Man the Universe Will Miss

Stephen Hawking died today, March 14, 2018 (Pi Day!), after surviving for decades after being struck down by a neurological disease that probably should have killed him in 3 – 4 years. He made a lot out of those extra years he was given, and became a renowned physicist. He was also a funny and insightful man. Here are just a few quotes that give a glimpse of how his mind worked.
“My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
“Your theory of a doughnut-shaped universe is interesting, Homer. I may have to steal it.” (To Homer Simpson, in one of several episodes of “The Simpsons” in which he “played” himself).
“They made Einstein a hero, and now they’re making me a hero, though with much less justification.”
“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.”
“I would take things apart to see how they worked, but they didn’t often go back together.” (on his life as a curious youth)
“I don’t know (what my IQ is). People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”
“God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”
“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
“The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.”
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
“Life would be tragic, if it weren’t funny.”
“Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.”
“Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder at what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” (Advice to his children)
“Somewhere out there, Hillary Clinton is President and I’m the world record holder in the marathon.” (On the possibility of alternate universes)
“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die.”
“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”
I wouldn’t compare it to sex, but it lasts longer. (on the pleasure of scientific discovery)
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”
“It will take about a thousand million million million million years for the Earth to run into the sun, so there’s no immediate cause for worry!”
“I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”

Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) R.I.P.

Still With Us After All These Years

We hate it, we curse it, we try to ignore it, but email is still a thing. In fact, it shows no sign of weakening it’s killer hold at the top of the list of communication and marketing tools! As one Gartner researcher notes in Email: The Once and Future Marketing Channel, email is the tool that will help you successfully navigate “an uncertain future marked by disruptive technology and rapidly shifting consumer behavior.”

Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to this powerful tool.

As is true with many of the remarkable tools that have been made available to us through the magic of digital (PowerPoint comes to mind as another obvious example), the problem is not that we don’t use email, but that we so often don’t use it right, well, or to the best effect. Let’s try to work on that. First, there is the issue of manners. There’s nothing wrong with practicing some common etiquette, and if  you want your emails to be read (and – in the case of marketing – responded to) try some politeness. Craft a good subject line so people don’t have to guess at what they will read if they open your mail. Proofread your email, both for clarity, and to make a good impression. Include a comprehensive signature, unless you are mailing to someone who already knows who you are and how to reach you. Oh, and that last line you like to include as a personal statement? Remember that polite people don’t discuss religion, politics or money in public. This infographic provides a few dozen more tips. Marketers, are you doing a good job of maintaining up-to-date email lists? Do you measure the right things when you evaluate your email campaigns? Do you try market segmentation to test different messages? If not, you may be committing some of the biggest mistakes email marketers make. Continue at your own peril.

Speaking of email lists, whether you are collecting potential donors, customers, or supporters of a cause, never underestimate the value of an email address, and the permission to use it. There is a lot of good advice available on how to create a killer email list. You might be surprised to find that most of the strategies don’t involve email, but use other online tools and methods like videos and webinars. And on the subject of value, a return of nearly $45.00 for every dollar invested in a good email campaign is nothing to sniff at, wouldn’t you agree?
About those metrics and measurements, how much do you know about open rates, click-throughs, CTOR or conversions? Do  you know how to measure these metrics? Even more important, do you know what to do with the information you measure, to make your efforts more fruitful and productive? Because I believe in fairness, and giving credit where credit is due, I’m going to suggest that you visit Social Media expert Kivi Leroux Millers offer page for her download that will tell you most everything you need to know about the subject. I’ll warn you in advance though, she might ask you for your email address!

I have produced an email newsletter three times a week for over 4 years, and if you have been thinking that it is high time you started one of your own, let me tell you that it isn’t a simple task but it certainly is a rewarding one. In addition to some of the ideas already mentioned here, you might want to take a look at these 7 Ways to Perfect Your Email Newsletter for even more good tips. And if you would like to sign up for my TNT Newsletter, I’d be happy to send it to you.

Oh, for those of you who work with people who hold to the idea that direct mail (you know, that postal service stuff) is better than email, you might want to help them understand that there is no war needed and no winner sought. The two strategies actually work quite well, and even better together.
Have a great day!

That Blockchain Thing!

Is it just me, or is “Blockchain” the most talked about idea just about everywhere you look today? Maybe it’s time for many of us to start paying attention!
So, as simply as I have been able to understand it, a blockchain is a decentralized network (ledger of transactions) that allows information to be connected with transparency, and without the need to have a manager or intermediary for the chain to work successfully and without corruption. Once data has been recorded within a blockchain, it is very difficult to change it. If someone attempts to change one block in the chain, that effort is apparent to everyone in the chain and, without full agreement, the chain can become invalid. Because there is not a central entity managing the chain, and all information is available to the entire network, everyone is able to verify that the chain is valid and the information is not corrupted.
Ok, if that wasn’t simple enough, maybe you should review this article in which the author explained blockchain to his 6-year-old using a story about a magic village. It’s nice and simple and makes the major points clear to understand. And why do you care? Well, according to many experts, Blockchain truly is “the next big thing“.
This is not a brand new idea, in fact it’s several decades in the making. The concept came into prominence, most agree, with the advent of Bitcoin in 2009. The Bitcoin folks, by the way, have their own explanation of Blockchain, which is worth a review.
If you’re with me so far, and have looked at the links above, you can probably already figure out why people in financial services are interested in Blockchain. But the idea is catching on in many more areas, and even if you aren’t a financial wizard, it is going to affect you soon, or may be doing so already. For example:
  1. Medical Records: Alphabet – Google’s papa – is actively pursuing an initiative to carefully track how every shred of data on a patient’s health record is shared and used. The ability to do this will impact patient care decisions, confidentiality, and doctor/patient collaboration.
  2. Purchasing Food: Among others, Walmart is looking to improve food safety by using Blockchain to track food from the point of origin to your kitchen. Could make tracking salmonella outbreaks, and saving lives, much faster in the future.
  3. Media: Newspapers, TV, social media, and other content providers are ripe for the use of Blockchain concepts. Maybe the demise of #fakenews is actually closer than we think!
  4. Advertising: Particularly in the digital world, Blockchain principles can go a long way to preventing advertising fraud, increasing trust, and improving the customer experience.
  5. Government: The permanent and public validity of information recorded and stored using Blockchain techniques might even make it possible for the average citizen to trust his or her governing authorities once again. Who doesn’t want that?

If you want to see more about business use cases of Blockchain, and how at least one big player (Microsoft) is using it, watch this video (40 minutes). You owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible – I think Blockchain is here to stay.

Have a great day!

Let’s Have a Meeting

…or maybe let’s NOT have a meeting

Meetings – we love to hate them. While few of us would argue that we should abandon all meetings in the workplace – they are often essential to the effective achievement of organizational goals and objectives – probably even fewer would state that they have never wasted time in a meeting.

The cost of ineffective meetings can be massive. Figure it out for yourself. Let’s say you hold a weekly meeting of Department Heads, or sales staff, or your direct reports (and by the way, recurring meetings are often the ripest for killing off) so you gather maybe a dozen people together. That’s 12 worker hours a week times 50 weeks, or 600 hours at risk. If your meetings are even 25% ineffective or unnecessary, your weekly meeting wastes 150 hours each year. If the average employee in the room costs (in salary and benefits) $35.00 per hour, your one weekly meeting has an inefficiency cost of  $5,250 per year! If this is happening all across your company, the costs mount up quickly.

The additional costs, in employee dissatisfaction, disrupted daily schedules, wasted preparation time, and in many other ways are immeasurable.

So, what to do? A good first step is to ask “Is this meeting really necessary?” This is a question that is not asked often enough, but if it were, I’m betting a lot of meetings would never be scheduled at all, and the regular weekly meeting would become a rare occurrence. This does not mean that your team can’t communicate and collaborate effectively, but instead of gathering together in the staff room, or dialing in to the conference call for a traditional meeting, use tools and services that allow for asynchronous dispensing of information, project management, document sharing and group or individual communications. I’m partial to Basecamp but there are many similar tools available, including Trello, and Asana, and there are experts who have done comparison studies for you to help you decide which is right for you.

If you really must have meetings, make them as efficient as possible. Here are a few ideas that don’t cost much more that making smart choices and changing some behavior, but they will go a long way to insuring that the meetings you can’t avoid are meetings that are worth the time.

  1. Make them Convenient: A lot of the inefficiency of scheduled meetings is connected to getting everyone together in one place. We mentioned conference calling, and effective meetings can be held with video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx and others, and again, these tools have been compared and evaluated nearly ad nauseum to help you make decisions about which would work best for your group. Another consideration is where people are coming from – often the meeting is held for the convenience of the boss, but what if the ideal meeting place is somewhere else, equally convenient to all? In case you wondered, yes you can find this online with tools like “Let’s Meet in the Middle“.
  2. Have Shorter Meetings: – gathering for a short, but efficient Status Update meeting is often better than sitting down for a long slog. For various reasons, including our inherent lack of long attention spans, short structured meetings are usually best. Like 15 minutes maybe. …
  3. “Right Size” your Group: In most cases, this means “invite fewer people” (but invite the right people) Most meetings require fewer, rather than more people to accomplish their purpose(s). Often the guest list gets longer than needed because people don’t want to feel left out. This strategy has the added value of making it easier to find a time when all participants can meet – the fewer number of invitees, the more likely it is you can schedule your meeting in a prompt and timely manner.
  4. Have an Agenda: Short or long, in person or dialing in, it’s a bad idea to ever have a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda. Writing out an agenda for your meeting in advance alerts all participants to the topics, goals, objectives and actions planned for the meeting. This in turn allows meeting attendees to come prepared. When you know what is going to be discussed, you can be better prepared to be an active member of the discussion. If additional assets (documents, reports, etc.) are necessary, they will be brought to the meeting and interruptions to “go fetch” will become unnecessary. By estimating reasonable, but effectively short time frames for each agenda item you will also be able to…

Trust me, I could go on and on about this topic, but then the point of it all is using your time effectively, so let’s just stop here for now and wish you luck for you next meeting, and all those that come beyond it.

The Wonderous Internet

Despite the fact that we now have an entire generation of adults who have always known of the Internet, I am not one of them. I still remember the very early days of dial-up modems and the introduction of web browsers, and the seemingly remarkable things that were suddenly available, literally at your keyboard-tapping fingertips.

It takes more to wow me now, so much online business is ordinary, usual, expected. But I’m still finding the capacity to be delighted from time to time by something I stumble across. I hope my younger colleagues find this to be true as well.

Today I want to share with you a few (well, nine of course!) things I’ve come across online that I have found unexpectedly cool, and I know that word “cool” dates me too. I hope  you like these.

I want to give credit to Mitch Joel at Six Pixels of Separation, and his buddies Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire, who have a weekly link exchange/round-robin that is the source for some, although not all of these links. You could do far worse than following Mitch in the future, his group always comes up with some very interesting stuff.

Perhaps you will be interested in the Emotive Modeler, a CAD/design too that takes in descriptive adjectives, and spits out 3D models based on its interpretation of these emotionally charged words. Some odd and interesting shapes here, but I must say most of them make sense.

Going beyond (way beyond) Alexa, You can learn how your BRFF – best robot friend forever – is going to be able to talk to you in a way that will make you feel like, well like he or she is a real person by studying WaveNet. Listen to the demonstrations in the bottom half of the article – amazing!

Nerds of the World (aren’t we all a bit nerdy now?)! Where is a great place to see a Lightsaber Duel? At the Fencing World Championship of course. The force was definitely with the combatants.

You too can write like the President! The new Tiny Hands font may become everyone’s favorite, if the boss has his way!

What would it look like if you took a single exposure that encapsulated every frame of a movie? Do you think you can guess what these movies are on Jason Shulman’s “Photographs of Films” page? See if you can pick out The Wizard of Oz, or 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Who are these Venture Capitalists? For in-depth insight into the people that are in charge of huge pots of money, you have to see The Future List. Don’t forget to drill down deep into each company. Maybe you’ll find that guy you used to make fun of in 7th grade on one of the lists.

Are you aware of the Hidden Cultures on the Internet, like Witch House or Health Goth? Truly, there must be something for everyone online. SMH.

There should be a site like this for every city. The Mapping London Blog will show you more ways to look at this venerable city than you can imagine. Want to see the distribution of surnames in London? We got that! How about all of the Tube routes, expressed as strings of Christmas lights? No Problem. All of the locations mentioned in John Le Carre’s spy novels? Yep. What a treasure.

I hope you find some of these gems as interesting as I did, and if you want to see more articles like this, let me know.

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