The Power of an Index Card

Are you stressing over a  pithy tweet of 140 characters or SMS of 160 characters? Has your job become an endless stream of snippets of conversation? What happens when you have to expand this topic online in a meatier format, or goodness forbid…take the conversation offline?

In this age of life streaming, it seems we are trying to strip everything down to the bare minimum. Minus the reflection. Minus the details. Minus the divergent perspectives. Minus…well, the meat.

I challenge you to take back your thoughts and embrace the power of the index card.

Not an online version of the index card or other quick-catching electronic note taking tool.

A paper index card.

Several years ago (it pains me to divulge how many) I was on my high school’s debate team. On Friday evenings, I would participate in LD debate and then Saturday mornings, I would compete in domestic extemporaneous speaking (or extemp for short).

According to Wikipedia, domestic extemp is:

Competition in DX involves the selection, preparation, and presentation of a four and a half to seven minute speech on a topic relating to United States domestic and foreign policy, domestic commerce, politics, the economy, and the like. The speech is to be delivered entirely from memory or with the aid of a small note card limited to fifty words…Thirty minutes before their assigned speaking time, each competitor draws three topics at random from a pool, selects one of the topics, and returns the other two.

Prior to competition, we would have to devour TIME Magazine, Newsweek, WSJ and other periodicals to copy and study articles we thought might aid us in the topic we would be given during competition. Keep in mind, this was before the power of Google and mobility of the iPad. We had to actually copy the articles and lug them around in file containers.

In the beginning, I used to fill that index card to the max and pray the judges would not ask to see my card and dock points for going over the word limit. Gradually, I became more comfortable speaking and was able to use less and less words to recall certain facts, quotes and key points. Before long, I no longer had to take the card with me into the room to give my speech, but I always took the time to develop my thoughts and list them on an index card prior to my speech.

I still use index cards when I craft a post or important slide presentation. If I can talk up to seven minutes with no more than 50 words on my card, I feel confident I know my subject. Can you say the same for your 140 character tweet?

The Magic Recipe

Are you seeking the magic sauce that equates to success in the social space? Well, you aren’t the only one. People will tell you it is SEO, marketing, community….you name it. Who doesn’t have an answer? Is there a common denominator that works for all?

Perhaps, it is being grateful.

Being grateful is not to be confused with being thankful. Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but there is a difference between the two words. It became quite apparent to me after re-reading, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (If you haven’t already read this book, drop what you are doing and get yourself a copy. I guarantee this is the best business book…self-help book…you will ever read! It should be required reading in school-of course, that would just ensure no one would ever read it, so never mind.)

Carnegie discusses the secrets of a certain magician. When other magicians think of the audience as being suckers who have come to watch a show, the magician would say to himself before his show:

I am grateful because these people came to see me. They make it possible for me to make my living in a very agreeable way. I’m going to give them the very best I possibly can.

Everything this magician did was for his audience…his community. Why? Because he loved them, regardless. He did not love them only because they did something specific for him. This magician had a genuine interest in people. Being grateful is proactive.

Saying thank you?

That is reactive.

Why it is important to have a Jack of All Trades in your team

Today, I have a special treat for you. At home, my husband and I have conversations…not arguments. We challenge each other intellectually. Last week, Leo and I went back and forth over if being an expert was or was not more valuable than being a Jack of all trades. So, I guess instead of continuing to verbally spar with me, he asked to take the debate to all of you and allow him to guest post here on Report Report. Enjoy and discuss!

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a figure of speech used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one. (Wikipedia)

Depending on who you ask, this can be a good or a bad thing. As my wife knows all too well (since we have had many discussions on this topic :)), I’m one of those people in favor of having a Jack of All Trades in your team (or even being one yourself), as I believe such character is an essential component in any company these days, given the increasing importance of multidisciplinary knowledge.

On change, creativity and innovation

If you want to realize how fast things are changing these days, try to talk with kids about how things were during your childhood. I tried this with my 7-years-old not that long ago, and it was quite an experience to try to explain to her how it was to live in a world where the only ways to reach my best friend was to either walk to his house or to call his neighbor who had a landline. To which she replied: “What is a landline?”

This fast pace of change is happening everywhere, both in our personal as well as in our professional lives. As Sir Ken Robinson explores in his brilliant book “Out of Our Minds”, there are three main concerns in the minds of business leaders all over the world:

  1. “they believe a rapid escalation of complexity is the biggest challenge confronting them”, and they expect it to accelerate in the coming years
  2. “they are equally clear that their enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment”
  3. “they agree overwhelmingly that the single most important leadership competency for organizations to deal with this growing complexity is creativity”

These leaders believe that creativity is a crucial competency to be able to keep up with the pace of change, constantly innovating to remain competitive. It is important then to realize that innovation usually comes not from deep specialization in one field, but more often than not it comes from making connections between distinct fields, or as Clive Thompson very eloquently explains in a recent article on Wired:

“If you want to spot the next thing, [Bill] Buxton [principal researcher at Microsoft] argues, you just need to go ‘prospecting and mining’—looking for concepts that are already successful in one field so you can bring them to another.”

Doesn’t this ability to navigate multiple fields look a lot like a characteristic you would find in a Jack of All Trades? It certainly appears to be that way to me, and to illustrate this better, let me share a story with you.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…

Many years ago, on a certain Christmas Day, my brother and I decided it was time to fix what was probably one of our worst deficiencies in the visual arts: we had never watched Star Wars!

After my brother and I watched all three original movies in the same afternoon, I was completely captured by the story, by Luke’s journey of self-discovery, trial, and fulfillment.

Not so long after that Star Wars-filled Christmas Day, I read an article where George Lucas mentioned that one of the biggest inspirations for the stories of the films, especially its structure, came when he read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book by Joseph Campbell first published in 1949. After reading this article, I obviously went to a bookstore (this was pre-Amazon, after all) and bought the book that same day.

As soon as I started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces I realized how valuable it had been to have spent a good chunk of my early teenage years typing piles and piles of texts for my mom and her friends, who were all studying Psychology (my brother and I made some good money charging per page). It so happens that Campbell’s book was heavily influenced by concepts such as archetypal figures and the collective unconscious first explored by Carl Jung, whom I already knew from quite a few of those Psychology texts.

I was so passionate about these ideas, and the power of the stories that followed The Hero’s Journey structure as described by Campbell in his book, that even though this had absolutely nothing to do with my career in software development, I enrolled in a screenwriting course, which then led to start a Bachelors in Social Sciences with Specialization in Cinema right immediately following.

At the first day in this new university, going through my first formal arts-related study, I was absolutely sure I would flunk very quickly, having only my previous logical/analytical/technical studies as a starting point. But it turned out I was quite wrong, since many of the concepts I learned for software development were quite useful and, above all, the curiosity to explore diverse topics had prepared me well for that course. It prepared me so well, that on my first screenwriting class at the university (in a discipline called Argument), my professor discussed The Hero with a Thousand Faces at length with me, and even let me borrow his own copy of another brilliant and seminal book inspired by Campbell’s masterpiece: The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler.

Jung conquers Hollywood (and PowerPoint)

The Writer’s Journey is a terrific book that focus on explaining to writers the concepts explored by Campbell, proposing a slightly simplified version of The Hero’s Journey.

The story of how this book got started is also fascinating, with its inception as a seven-page memo that Vogler wrote when he was working at Disney as a story analyst, as he describes himself:

“It was written in the mid-1980s when I was working as a story consultant for Walt Disney Pictures, but I had discovered the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell a few years earlier while studying cinema at the University of Southern California. I was sure I saw Campbell’s ideas being put to work in the first of the Star Wars movies and wrote a term paper for a class in which I attempted to identify the mythic patterns that made that film such a huge success. The research and writing for that paper inflamed my imagination and later, when I started working as a story analyst at Fox and other Hollywood studios, I showed the paper to a few colleagues, writers and executives to stimulate some discussion of Campbell’s ideas which I found to be of unlimited value for creating mass entertainment. I was certainly making profitable use of them, applying them to every script and novel I considered in my job.”

After that memo spread like wildfire throughout Disney and many other studios and agencies, Vogler was assigned to work in research and development at the Disney’s Feature Animation division for another masterpiece of the movie industry: The Lion King.

Now let’s check everything we covered so far in this plot:

  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces book by Joseph Campbell, which was influenced by Carl Jung’s studies in Psychology
  • The Star Wars movie saga, which was inspired by Campbell’s book
  • The Writer’s Journey book by Christopher Vogler (along with his original memo), which influenced and continue to influence studios and many screenwriters up to this day

In this very short list we have Psychology, Writing, Screenwriting, and Filmmaking, all connected through borrowed concepts from other areas that helped to improve their industries. And the story doesn’t even stop there.

Earlier this year, I decided to enhance my presentation skills, so I did some research on interesting materials on the topic, and amongst those items one in particular caught my attention: Resonate, the brilliant book by Nancy Duarte that my wife mentioned in a previous post. This book introduces a great framework to create compelling presentations that can seduce and capture audiences through the use of engaging stories. And what are some of the sources of inspiration mentioned by Duarte in this book? Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. :)

In the end, all different fields and industries are now more connected than ever, increasing the importance of having a Jack of All Trades in your team, with the ability to cross different fields, fostering ideas that can help bring innovation in your industry and give you that much needed extra edge that all companies are desperately in need these days.

About Leo:

Mix together a passion for learning, leadership, collaboration, search, knowledge sharing + a few other things and you will probably get Leo (Leonardo Souza) as a result. Used to enjoy the warm weather in Brazil, now he lives in snowy Boston with his wife and kids, working as a Technical Instructor at Microsoft, and practicing the art of parenting. You can find him at his technical blog on search (http://searchunleashed.wordpress.com), at his personal blog (http://opinioespessoais.blogspot.com), or at @leonardocsouza.

Revealing Yourself Through A Verb

Nancy Duarte is a fascinating storyteller. If you haven’t heard her speak, check out this TEDxEast video. If you haven’t read her books, Slideology and Resonate, I would highly recommend reading to improve your storytelling and presentation skills. In her book, Slideology, Nancy talks about how she and her husband hired a life coach and undertook an exercise to find out more about who they were as individuals and draft a life mission statement. For one of the exercises, each had to choose three verbs that embodied their perceived individual motivations. Duarte said this process was one of the most clarifying exercises she had ever done.

Back in my teaching days, I used to ask students to introduce themselves on the first day by telling me and their fellow students all the standard name, rank and serial number information and an adjective used to describe themselves. After reading Slideology, I thought I should have asked what verb best described them. After all, aren’t we defined by our actions?

So, here are the verbs that resonated with me as I was working through this exercise to develop a professional mission statement.

Adapt

verb (used with object) to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly; and verb (used without object) to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc..

One of my favorite books is The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle. This book remains on my desk as a reminder that one has to adapt to life and not force fit solutions. No person or company can remain the same forever. Adapt to your surroundings and avoid adaptation for the sake of keeping up with the cool and colorful crowd. Be yourself as you go along with the flow of life.

Educate

to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling.

You know the saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach?” Throw that notion out the window because it has no place in the business world. It is essential for one to adapt the mentality of teach the teacher, so the person being taught can survive and thrive on their own and spread the word and teach others. This is how new efforts and culture spread in a business environment. We all have something we can teach, just as all of us have something we can learn.

Share

to use, participate in, enjoy, receive, etc., jointly

It isn’t all about you and your ego and what you have written or have done. It is about recognizing others as the hero of the story. Be inspired and learn from the talents and gifts of others. Last week, Aaron Strout wrote about the power of curation. Collecting data or information to tell a story only works if you share the story with others. Stop being jealous of the gifts of others and give thanks for how they have inspired or educated you.

Nancy Duarte shares a list of verbs in her book, Slideology. Take a look at the list or create your own. What verbs describe YOU?

How to Leave a Job

There is a lot of unrest right now. The economy and lack of jobs is worrisome, work/life balance seems to be anything but in balance, and folks in the social space are playing musical chairs in the job market. It is a topsy turvey world and all of us are trying to find our footing.

So while I am seeing a slew of posts such as how to know when is the right time to leave your job and what you need to do to get your new job or how to handle an interview, I haven’t seen content addressing what to do when you have scored your next dream job and are making your way to the exit door of your current job. It’s a small world. The same connections you worked to secure your new position will also be noticing the way in which you leave your existing position.

Even if you have the boss from Office Space and you fantasize about what you would do when you hand in your resignation, it must remain that…a fantasy. Building bridges will not show you are superior and will only hurt you in the long run. Instead, put some thought into how you want to be remembered and leave your job in a manner showcasing your work integrity.

The way you leave a job is just as important as the way in which you score a job. Here are some ways to keep your integrity intact and leave on a good note:

Clean House

After you hand in your resignation, it is so easy to think, “that isn’t my problem any longer” and not give 100% effort. Of course, some may argue that once you have submitted your resignation you are no longer giving your full attention or effort because your headspace is now thinking about the next leap, but I challenge this thinking. In life there are choices. We can choose to be fully engaged and put our best foot forward and not resort to excuses society has conveniently given to us. No, you can choose to be the better person. Leaving your house or team in havoc does not shine the spotlight on whatever issues you think the team or organization may have had, it shines a spotlight on you and your actions or lack thereof.

My mantra (and I am sure my former team was very tired of hearing this phrase repeatedly) is, ‘”Make sure your own side of the street is clean.” Meaning, you can’t go about casting stones and complaining about other people’s garbage if you have a heap of your own on the front lawn. If there are known personnel or project issues, do not leave that mess around for the next person to clean up. Your replacement will have enough on their plate without having to worry about what skeletons in the closet you may have left for them. Bring issues to life and try to resolve before your departure. At the very least, make sure your superiors and replacement are aware of these issues and the steps you have taken to find a resolution.

Draft a Transition Plan

Even if your replacement is already a member of your team or organization, ensure this person is not left wondering what your team (or yourself) did or did not accomplish. Compile team/project history, timelines, status updates, and recommendations into a single document or library. Give your replacement enough information that he/she can begin building their own roadmap. Leaving your co-workers to flounder in your absence is not the way to stick it to them or prove the point of why you should have been invaluable. It only proves the point that you no longer belonged on that team.

There is a lot of chatter about personal brands and the risks of leaving a company. In the community space this is a real fear that must be addressed. Just as I was about to hit publish on this post this morning, Doug Haslam published a great example of how organizations can embrace the personal brand and not overhype the concern of integrating personalities. Doug writes, “As for social media in corporations, the worry that a standout personality will risk crippling social media efforts when that person leaves should not be a worry at all. A company just needs a succession plan, and then someone to be the successor.” It is not your place to determine the successor, but you can make the choice to ensure a smooth transition by creating a solid transition plan.

Ask for Feedback

No one is perfect. If you really want to start your new position with a clean slate, learn from your mistakes. Know your strengths and weaknesses. You may have a pretty good idea of what those strengths and weaknesses may be, but often we tend to sweep such knowledge under the proverbial rugs in our brain. Make the choice to ask for feedback. When leaving my last position, I asked co-workers to give me a POINt evaluation. Each person identified:

  • Pluses: Identify the good things about the person.
  • Opportunities: Identify the positive changes this person could make to be even better.
  • Issues: Identify how this person might overcome certain weaknesses.
  • New thinking: Identify workable solutions for this person.

I wasn’t golden. No one is. In fact, I knew my areas of weakness, but to see them identified by another and in print drives the point home. It is not about rising through the ranks quicker, but being a better person. Seeing this feedback helped me find the courage to remove the rugs and stop hiding the garbage that I should take responsibility for cleaning.

So, take a moment before you get all giddy about your next job. What will you do with your two weeks (or however long the transition time) before you walk out the door? Who will you be and how will you be perceived? The choice is yours.

Share some other items to keep in mind when making a transition. As a person leaving a job, what have you done to build a succession plan? As a replacement, what do you wish the person before you would have done?

My Mission (And I Choose to Accept)

Two years ago, 7 August, my position at Radian6 was announced, I married the same day and made Boston Podcamp our honeymoon. In fact, August 2009-August 2010 was filled with every possible life change. What can I say? When I choose to go all in…I go all in. Adaptation was the name of the game.

These past two years have felt like 20. Don’t get me wrong…this is not a negative statement. As I look back, I cannot believe how many people I have met and what we have accomplished together. Transitioning to Radian6 after working in the DoD for eight years was anything but simple. Ask David, I still call him Sir. Having a formal communications style was both a strength and a weakness. Over time, I think I managed to lighten up a bit. Just a bit.

Thank you to David Alston and Amber Naslund for taking a chance on me and giving me the wonderful opportunity of working for Radian6. It has been an adventure! Very rarely did either David or Amber tell me no. They let me explore and grow into the position. The entire Radian6 family is quite close and I am thankful for the support of all of them. You couldn’t ask for a better set of folks to work with each day.

To my community team-this parting is bitter sweet. Each of you has so much to offer and both Radian6 and the community have much to look forward to because I know you will blow their socks off. Living the life of a community manager is rough. There are times when you are lonely, frustrated by the lack of too many people, or just frazzled by how quickly our world moves. At the end of the day, though, I knew each of you would always be there doing what you do best. Thank you.

This Monday, 8 August, I will begin a new adventure as the Community Management Strategist for Aetna. Thank you to Chuck Hemann who invited me to participate on a panel at Blogworld NYC. He set this ball in motion and inadvertently played matchmaker because he also invited Jim Storer to participate on the panel, who brought Dan Brostek of Aetna to the panel too! And just like that, lightening in a bottle. Thank you, Chuck and Jim for introducing me to Dan.

And just while I am saying so many thank yous, I cannot forget to say thank you to you. And you. And you.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me over the years, challenged me, and accepted me just as I am.