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Podcasts for Creative and Innovative Listeners

Are you PodLearning yet? Podcasting is “trending hot” now, with literally thousands of choices available for you. If you aren’t in on this yet, it’s time to get savvy. Podcasts are most often audio, sometimes video files which can be downloaded and listened to or watched at your leisure. The ability to choose what you want to tune in to, to listen on your own schedule, and to pause and come back to later makes the podcast a very desirable alternative to commercial radio or television, and the low cost of producing a podcast allows most developers to offer them for free – sometimes with a brief “word from our sponsor(s) at the beginning. The options on your iTunes and related I”players” (I use and iPod nano myself), as well as the prevalence of a variety of podcatchers as apps or software for your laptop allows you to download multiple streams, listen to episodes in serial, and keep up to date via feed subscriptions.

People are listening to podcasts when they awaken and are getting ready to start their day, at the gym, jogging, and driving in their cars. My iPod plugs into my car radio (USB) and I use it so often I am probably going to discontinue my satellite radio subscription! It’s great for long trips or commutes in particular.

As you might expect, the majority of the most listened to podcasts fit into the general category of entertainment. One hot entry, Serial, about a murder and subsequent investigation, leaped to the top of the popularity list last fall. It was produced by staff from This American Life, the number two most often accessed podcast. Others include Radiolab, Freakonomics, and the humor/quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

Still, there are many podcasts that are not necessarily chart-toppers, but have solid following, and a lot of these are more educational, instructional, or (dare I say) cerebral. Several of them should be of particular interest to those who are looking to feed their creative side, or energize their innovative spirit. Here, in no particular order, are seven that you should look into. The links below will help you see what is available and decide if you would like to tune in, but to listen you may have to load the podcasts on your ITunes or your Podcatcher. Happy Listening!

Innovation Hub  From Public Radio International (PRI). The “thinkers, researchers, authors and visionaries who are crafting our future.”

The Accidental Creative  Generally featuring interviews with very creative people.

Innovation that Sticks  Particularly geared to those who are interested in how innovation and technology will affect healthcare.

Killer Innovations  Former HP executive Phil McKinney talks about developing prize winning products and technologies.

HBR Ideacast  From the Editors of Harvard Business Review, some of the best information about how business is being reinvented every day.

The Everyday Innovator  “Practices and Ideas for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators”.

Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series  Produced every week throughout the academic year.

Optimize Your Online Time

There are numerous guides to organizing and systematizing your social media activity online. “How to Maintain a Killer Social Plan in Only Five Minutes a Day” might be a typical title. While I would not immediately swear to the validity of some of the claims these articles make – I think that it takes a wee bit more of an investment to carry out a legitimate strategy – I certainly agree that having a planned, structured way of going about your online business will save you time and insure a more comprehensive approach becomes routine.

What is not often mentioned in these tutorials, however, is the importance of maintaining your interface in a way that supports efficiency and allows you to make the best use of your time. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at the keyboard to get some serious work done and finding that your computer is working sluggishly, web connections are sluggish, and you are constantly waiting for something to load so that you can move on to the next step.

Here are a few tips which, if followed consistently, should help you make the most of the time you spend in front of your monitor. I’ll warn my Apple using friends that I am a complete MS/Android user, so you may need to adapt some of this advice to your system.

Check Your Connection

The speed of your internet connection may not always be what your service provider advertises it to be. A lot of factors can go into this, including cable integrity, hardware connections, use of home wi-fi networks, and so forth. However sometimes there may be problems at the provider end, and you won’t be getting the signal you expect. These problems can be resolved with a phone call (my provider will reset your connection from their office if you call and ask) of if extreme, a service call. One way to find out what your actual connection speed is at any time is to use Speedtest, a quick online program that will show you your “Ping” rate (basically, how quickly you are connecting to the Internet backbone), download and upload speeds. If you connection speeds are quite a bit different than what you expect them to be, call your provider for assistance.

Close Programs You Aren’t Using

It sounds simple and logical, but how often are you switching tasks between your web browser, email tool, word processor, and favorite online game? When you click out of one window into another, the programs you left behind don’t just stop running, they continue to operate in the background even though you have moved on. An easy way to check what’s running on your computer at any time is to open Windows Task Manager, which you can do with the CTL-ALT-DEL key shortcut combination or via you Control Panel. When you see how many programs are running (and using the tabs on Task Manager, you will also see the CPU and RAM usage) you may decide to start closing those programs instead of just minimizing the windows. It can work wonders for your machine’s performance!

Clear Browsing Data

Whenever you use a browser – Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer – it stores information for later access. Cookies, visiting history, and a variety of other information may be going into your browser’s memory cache, and the more information that accumulates, the slower your browser may respond. It is good to clear unnecessary information regularly, I recommend that it be the first thing you do each time you start your browser, particularly if you have been on some extended Web sessions. For a list of links to browser cleaning instruction sets, see this helpful collection from Indiana University.

Re-evaluate plug-ins and extensions

The availability of a wide variety of plugins and extensions for your web browser can truly optimize your online experience. I wouldn’t want to live without my Pocket and Evernote buttons (for short and long term savings of valuable web sites), and I have a few friends who would wear the “P” off of their Pinterest icon if it were physical and not virtual! However helpful they are, every extension or plug-in that you add to your web browser extracts a price in terms of performance. So, use plugins and add valuable extensions, but periodically (monthly at least) review what you have added on. If you aren’t using a feature any more – or rarely – uninstall it and reap the benefit of better performance.

Install updates

I know, Installing Windows Updates and Security Patches can be a real pain – it always takes longer than we think it should. There are some very good reasons why you should regularly update your system though, including protections against malicious people whose main function in life seems to be to find and exploit weaknesses in the operating system code. The frequent patches that are delivered to us are often a response to such attacks. Updates also address general fixes and bugs in the Windows OS, and deliver new features that are being developed all of the time.

If you do not often take your computer with you when you leave the house, you are probably safe to allow automatic updating, which will result in updates being downloaded and installed as they are made available. If you need to restart your computer to activate a change, you will be given the option to do so. You can also turn off automatic updating, which gives you more control but also creates a responsibility on your part to check for updates from time to time (weekly is good!) and install those  you want to activate. For more instructions, see the Windows help site.

Use Disk Cleanup

The Cleanup tool is already installed on your computer if you are using a Microsoft OS, now you just have to use it from time to time. It will find temporary files and others that are no longer in use, empty your recycle bin, and perform other services designed to reduce the clutter on your computer. Follow these simple instructions to use the Disk Cleanup utility, and perform this task once per week or more frequently.

Use an optimization program

In my experience, there is no better thing to do for your computer than to run an optimization program every week or so. I don’t like spending that much time “under the hood” so the convenience of a one stop solution is very appealing to me. The program I use, AdvancedSystemCare, even provides a little desktop icon that uses “smiley faces” to tip me off when it’s time to start a session. ASC – the free version – will give you basic protection from security threats, support system optimization, maximize your hard drive performance, and block most malware. The professional version, which costs (but not much) adds features like registry cleaning, privacy sweep, and even recommendation and completion of disk defragmentation if needed. ASC is not the only tool out there, but it’s a good one. Other choices include Norton Security, CCleaner, and System Mechanic.

These practical solutions to optimizing your computer’s performance, when combined with strategy, scheduling, and efficient Social Media practices, should insure that you make the most of your time online, and reap the greatest rewards!

A Simple Question that Most People Will Answer Incorrectly

If I had to pick one question that you could ask to a cross-section of reasonably intelligent people, and be sure that most of them would give you the wrong answer – and confidently, no less – it would be this one: “What is the shortest day of the year in the U.S.?” Go ahead and put that question in a Google Search and you’ll see. Even they get it wrong. Don’t think those Microsoft folks are any more accurate, a Bing search brings up the same wrong answer.

In fact pretty much every web search engine, and most people on the street, will give you the same wrong answer to this apparently easy question. Here’s the deal.

Everyone, it seems, interprets this question to mean “What day of the year has the least amount of sunlight?” and, when interpreted in this fashion, the correct answer is the one you will hear the most often – the date of the Winter Solstice, which usually occurs around December 31 in the Northern Hemisphere (plus or minus a day depending on the year).

If you listen to the question as it is stated, as opposed to how it MIGHT be interpreted, the correct answer is that the shortest day of the year in the U.S. is the second Sunday in March. You remember that day, it seems like yesterday doesn’t it? This being written on March 9, 2015 it was in fact yesterday. If you were looking at one of your many internet connected devices at 1:59:59 AM on Sunday, the next tick of the clock would have jumped to 3:00:00. The hour from 2 AM to 3 AM is completely eliminated each year when Daylight Saving Time (no, there is no “s” at the end of Saving) begins, which means that the day this happens is only 23 hours long making it, in fact, the shortest day of the year! Of course, the longest day of the year is the first Sunday in November, when DST ends. On that day we get to repeat the hour from 1 AM to 2 AM because that’s when we turn the clocks back. That Sunday is 25 hours long. (Interesting story I heard about an old Indian who was told about daylight saving and said “Only the government would think that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it on the bottom and have a longer blanket.”)

Of course, there are other parts of the world that practice Daylight Saving, and they don’t all follow the U.S. Calendar. In Great Britain for example, DST begins on March 29, and in Iran, March 22. In the Southern Hemisphere (Hello, Australia!) they turn clocks backward in first part of the year, and forward in the latter months – something about the tilt of the earth, I suspect. For all of the world travelers out there, here’s a handy reference guide for you to consult.

Daylight Saving Time has been connected with many arguments, not all of them necessarily true or valid. A lot of people think it was designed to help farmers, but farmers don’t actually like DST, and have consistently noted that “cows don’t look at clocks”. It does appear to be true that Benjamin Franklin first proposed it for the United States back in 1784, but it did not become a general policy here until around 1945 (there were some fits and starts) . Germany was the first country to adopt the policy as a country, in 1916. I wonder if there will be a big celebration for the Centennial next year?

If you want the straight scoop on Daylight Saving Time, there is no better source than Wikipedia, and if you want to know some other lesser-known facts about it, take a look at this resource. I also commend to you the John Oliver piece on Last Week Tonight.

The point of all this, and there is a point, was not really to entertain or to inform you about Daylight Saving Time, although if that happened I will take it as a bonus. The real point is to make you think, the next time someone asks a question, what question was really asked. I’ll address this more later but perhaps this simple example helps you begin to understand how nearly everyone can be wrong about an answer, and that just because we all agree on something, doesn’t mean it is true. Stay tuned!

Content Curation – Why Should Your Nonprofit Bother?

This is Part Two of a Multi-Part Series on Content Curation, see other installments linked below

Part One: What is Content Curation (and why should Nonprofits practice it)?

It’s not really a big stretch for most nonprofits to get into content marketing. In many ways, most nonprofits have been doing this for a long time. We have created countless newsletter, written op-ed columns, developed informational brochures, penned direct mail appeals, and issued press releases. Most of us have files of news stories, professional journal articles, curricula and lesson plans we have created or borrowed (or stolen) from others. Becoming an effective content curator isn’t so hard, or so different than what we have been doing all along, and yet it will help us tie everything together, and even better, to proffer our content to those we serve and care about.

Content curation allows you to add value to all of your social media efforts. Integrating your messages across your Twitter feed, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn account and your email campaigns potentiates the effect of each of these efforts and insures that you reach the widest audience possible with your important information and message.

As an effective content curator, you become the “go to” source on the web for those seeking information about topics relating to your nonprofit’s mission. Delivering quality content on a regular basis leads to becoming recognized as an expert, trusted as a resource, and appreciated as someone “who has my best interests in mind”.

An effective content curation strategy has intrinsic value as well. As you build up your list of resources, you develop a rich, useful repository of information that you and all of your staff can refer to constantly to help you do your work effectively, efficiently, and successfully. You will also find that you can engage your staff by encouraging their participation in content creation and discovery, stimulating them to become constant students and researchers, improving their professional skills and contributing to their development.

Content curation is a very subtle marketing strategy. By answering questions and providing information, methods and or strategies that are relevant to readers’ interests or helps them overcome challenges or teaches them something new, you (at the very least) tie these valuable experiences to your organization’s name, brand and mission. In some cases you can tie content you find or create directly to your products and services, effectively marketing without being heavy handed. Your audience will always be most interested in what you can do for them, and delivering good content answers that question in a very important way. With content curation, you stop being an “Outbound Marketer” pushing your sales pitch or message to a giant audience, most of whom are either not interested or so bombarded by similar messages that drown out everyone. Instead you become an “Inbound Marketer”, meaning that your market comes to you, because they know they will find answers that they seek. They identify themselves to you as possible customers, clients, and supporters.

The process of curating good content (which we will describe in detail in a later installment) is deceptively simple, straightforward and relatively inexpensive. So, even a small organization has the potential to compete on this stage with much larger groups which might otherwise prove to be daunting competitors. Particularly if you serve a niche market, or focus your attention on a few specific issues or a well-defined geographic area, you might find it even easier to provide personalized content that your customers actually want.

The delivery of compact containers of content is perfect for short postings on a regular basis on a variety of platforms. Whether you are creating a blog post, penning a new post to your LinkedIn platform, or writing in any of the different ways that you need to in order to optimize your time and space on Twitter, Google+ or any of dozens of other social media stages, curating content allows you to consistently provide your audience with regular, fresh, up-to-date facts, observations, or lessons. This always renewing source in turn gives people a reason to keep connecting with you over and over. The marketing journey has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, with buyers/users taking individualized and often circuitous paths to a decision point – whether to buy a product, use a service, decide to financially support an organization. Because of this, the old methods of moving a buyer from point A (I know nothing about you) to Point B (I am ready to engage fully with you) is no longer dominated by advertising or marketing methods that used to be the mainstay of any business. Too, the massive changes that have occurred in how people get information means that large corporate behemoths (think TV, newspapers, radio) are no longer in charge of what gets published or broadcast. Now we have dozens of ways to connect with others, most of them are free or very cost effective, and we are in charge of what information is shared, not the media moguls. We are the publishers, we are the editors, we are the broadcasters. Those who learn how to stay on peoples’ radar and wave a sign gently in front of them day after day are the most likely to succeed.

If the above is not enough to encourage you to make your organization into a content curator, I’m not sure what will. I’m sure there are still some skeptics, and if you’ve read this far, stay tuned for our next installment where we will outline the strategies and tactics of effective content curators. You’ll see how embracing a few principles and deploying some relatively simple approaches bring the benefits of content curation into every nonprofit’s reach.

Why I Threw Your Résumé Away

Dear Applicant:

Thank you for sending your recent correspondence in response to the position we posted. It might be polite for me to tell you that we had so many quality applications for this job (which we did), and that we needed to narrow the list down to a manageable number (which was also true), and unfortunately, you did not make the cut. But the truth is, I never read through your entire résumé, and in fact, I threw it into the trash about halfway through my review. The reason for this abrupt move on my part is simple. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to give you a specific answer, as this is a form letter and not an individualized response. Since I throw away nearly 1 of every 7 applicant packages sent to me, I really haven’t the time to be specific for each person who will never be considered for a job. I can tell you that the reason your submission ended up in my trash can is likely one of the following:

  1. You completely misspelled a word. Spell checking tools are built into every word processor on the face of the earth. There is no reason for any misspellings. Ever.
  2. You used a real word that looks or sounds like the right one, but isn’t. Your spell checker will miss this type of error, so it is important that you read over what you are about to send to make sure you picked the right one. Affect does not mean the same thing as effect. Stationary means something is not moving, and stationery is something you write on. Peek, peak and pique are decidedly different words with quite divergent meanings. There, their, and there are also so very different – same with then and than. You have to make the right choice!
  3. You may have used a word incorrectly when there was another that was the right choice. Systemic and systematic get confused by a lot of people, as do continuously and continually. Sympathy is a passive act, empathy is very active. Well is an adverb and good is an adjective, so they are just not interchangeable.
  4. The problem may have been one of punctuation. I can’t tell you how many people use it’s as a possessive article when you only put the apostrophe in if you are indicating a contraction (it is). Semicolons are not the same as commas or as colons, either; you probably learned that in high school and perhaps just forgot. And, although the occasional exclamation point does serve to denote emphasis, three in a row do nothing to enhance your message!!!
  5. Perhaps you went over the line by using expansive pomposity when diminutive verbiage would suffice. Or to put it more appropriately, you use big words when small ones would do. Use means the same thing as utilize, end is more direct than terminate, proof tells me what I need to know, but substantiation just makes me think you are unnecessarily puffing things up. Communication skills are important in pretty much every position, so be clear, not cloddish.
  6. Maybe you didn’t realize that your printer was running out of ink or toner but clearly from the different look of the text, fading out as your document progressed, this was the case. Or perhaps it was that food stain on page two…
  7. Clever non-words like “LOL” or “IMHO” or the smiley face – :) – are great when you are texting your friends, but they have no place in any business document.

By now you may be thinking “Wow, what a nit-pickier, I don’t think I would even want to work for that guy!” Please put yourself in my place. You are sending me a written document that is the only thing I have with which to evaluate you, particularly if we have never met (notice I did not use “meant”). It’s your one big chance to represent your skills, abilities and attention to detail – the types of things that could be crucial in a hiring decision. When you submit a piece that has one or many of the errors listed above the message that comes across most clearly is that you didn’t care enough to take the time to make sure your pages represent you in the best possible light. And, I heard that message loud and clear. So, I hope you will take a look at your copy of what you sent to me (you did keep a copy, didn’t you?) and next time use your spell check feature. Read over your résumé before sending it off, or better yet ask a couple of other people to check  your work for spelling, grammar, punctuation and readability before you ship your next batch out. Take advantage of online resources to become a more skillful writer (and speaker). You may not get the job, but at least someone will read your document to the end.

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