Facebook and The 4-Hour Workweek

Facebook 4-hour workweek
I reviewed Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero talk at Google in this previous post, and suggested that Facebook could help create a new class of messaging, in keeping with the recommendations in The 4-Hour Workweek, that makes less-frequent checking of email a practical reality. I said I would elaborate in a future post. The future is now.

But first, let’s look at the past. Merlin was full of wist as he recalled his first email account in 1993, and how special each message felt because only a dozen or so of his friends had email. Email was a much more personal experience then. Now it threatens to overwhelm everything, with many people living most of their lives in their email inboxes. This should not be. There’s much more to life.
In his New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss suggests that a key to productivity and a fulfilling life is to go on a low-information diet and eliminate distractions so you can focus on priorities and actually accomplish important things.

One of his key recommendations is to check email no more than twice per day, and to facilitate this and reset expectations among those sending you messages he suggests creating an auto-responder for your email along these lines:

Greetings All,
Due to high workload and pending deadlines, I am currently responding to email twice daily at 12pm et and 4pm et.
If you require help with something that can’t wait until either 12pm or 4pm, please call me on my cell phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank you for understanding this move to greater effectiveness.
All the best,
Tim Ferriss

But what about people who need to be more available, whose success depends on timely response to key customers? What if responsiveness is one of your important priorities? For example, if you work in PR and a reporter with whom you are developing a relationship sends out an email to several potential interview sources, you don’t want to wait a few hours to find out about it. Someone else will have responded and will be in the story.
And sometimes you’re not at your computer. You’re in a meeting or otherwise having a life. News doesn’t happen in a predictable 8-5 schedule. So how do you stay in touch?

One “solution” to prevent missing an important email message when you’re out at a meeting is to have your Blackberry set to vibrate each time you get a new message. I used to do that. It was extremely disruptive. And it’s rude to have the Blackberry on silent mode, and then just pulling it out every so often to check messages. It tells people with whom you are meeting that they don’t have your full attention. Because they don’t.

With Facebook, you can recreate Merlin’s Edenic email world of 1993 all over again, and establish a priority level for your messages that goes beyond flagging in regular email.After all, if you’re only checking email twice a day, it doesn’t matter whether the message is flagged as highest priority or not: you’re not going to see it until you log in. That’s why you need an alternate way for people to get in touch when they really need you urgently.
If you use the Mobile application in Facebook, you can receive a text message delivered to your phone whenever someone sends you a message, or pokes you, or writes on your wall, or sends you a friend request.

So, I’m thinking I might adapt Tim’s autoresponder as follows:

Greetings All,
Due to high workload and pending deadlines, I am currently responding to email twice daily at 11 am CT and 4 pm CT.
If you require help with something that can’t wait until either 11 am or 4 pm, please call me on my office phone at 507-266-2442 during regular business hours, and ask to have me paged if I’m not at my desk.

Another way to reach me quickly any time is though Facebook (www.facebook.com). If you’re not in Facebook yet it’s easy to sign up, and 150,000 people a day are joining. Search for Lee Aase in Facebook (I’m the only Lee Aase there…one of the benefits of a unique name), and click Send Message. I will get an alert text message sent to my cell phone, so I’ll know you’ve sent me an urgent message. I’ll get back to you right away.

Thank you for understanding this move to greater effectiveness. I hope it will mean that I will be able to completely respond to the non-urgent messages on that regular schedule, and give everyone the service they need.

All the best,
Lee Aase

Michael Hyatt says his experience with the 4-Hour Workweek method has made him more productive, and he’s the CEO of a major publishing company. If you click the link above you’ll see how he’s tailored the Ferris formulation of the email autoresponse.

Even someone as promiscuous is accepting Facebook friend requests as Robert Scoble is would not likely be overwhelmed by text messages in this system. I’m one of Robert’s 4,701 friends, but I’m unlikely to send him a message unless I think it will be REALLY interesting.

If someone sends you a message in this way through Facebook that you don’t think was urgent, you can let her know that this was one that could have waited. And if she persists in not respecting the boundary you’ve set, you can block further Facebook contact.

In this way, Facebook can be not only the Spam Killer because it lets you segregate personally meaningful messages from everything else, thereby turning back the clock toward Merlin’s email Camelot; when combined with your cell phone and Facebook Mobile it also can serve as a 24-hour pager that alerts you when someone truly needs to get in touch urgently.

If you’re one of the self-employed “new rich” Tim Ferriss describes, giving your cell phone number may be the best and simplest way to let people reach you urgently. If you work for a company where someone answers your phone when you’re not able to take a call, maybe this work phone/Facebook message option will be a good option, instead of giving your personal cell phone number to anyone, including spammers, who sends you an email. We’ll see.

What do you think?

TechnoratiTechnorati: , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking Back: One Year of Blogging

one year of blogging
It was a year ago Monday that I launched this blog with three posts, the first of which alluded to mine being one of 50 million or so. Now Technorati says there are something over 70 million non-spam blogs.

As you look in the archives, you’ll note that my first posts were on July 30, 2006 and then I went dark until September 21. I wasn’t sure it would really be “OK” to have a blog, but then I got the responsibility for New Media as part of my work portfolio, so I decided to really plunge in and learn. Since then I’ve done 212 other posts, or nearly two every three days.

Here are some highlights, themes and lessons learned from my first year of blogging.

I’ve done several book reviews, including The Tipping Point and Blink! by Malcolm Gladwell, Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter, I Dare You! by William Danforth, Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra, Wikinomics and, most recently, Made to Stick. I recommend all of them.

One book I didn’t review, but which has been the concept behind many posts, is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Click here to read my thoughts on GTD.

I’ve blogged, some of them live, several conferences and seminars, including a Ragan conference in Chicago (where I met Jeremiah), the WHPRMS conference for health-care PR and marketing professionals, an Advanced Learning Institute conference in October, and a similar one in April. More recently, a colleague and I attended and presented at a healthcare marketing conference in Orlando, and last week I was on a panel at the Frost & Sullivan Sales & Marketing East 2007 event. Liveblogging is a great way to take notes on presentations, so I can refer to sites mentioned by the presenters. If it helps others, that’s a nice bonus.

I discovered that my blog was a great place to share personal and family highlights, from our Bible Bowl vacation, to my daughter Rachel’s wedding, to our electronic, multimedia Christmas letter.

On the media front, this has been the year of the buyout and layoff, particularly with newspapers. That has lots of implications for people like me who work with news media.
My biggest surprise, though, was a post on a related topic, when Dr. Max Gomez lost his position as the on-air doctor at WNBC. I began to notice that this post was getting visits every day, even several months after I wrote it. Then I noted that my WordPress.com dashboard was telling me that “Dr. Max Gomez” was a phrase people were using to find my blog. I thought, wow, are people searching for Dr. Max Gomez on Technorati? That must be how people are finding it, right?

I was surprised when I did the search in Google and found what you see below:


Somehow my blog post ranked ahead of Wikipedia’s entry on Dr. Max in Google!

I found something similar with my review of John Kotter’s penguin parable. Which just does go to show that blogs are naturally built for search optimization.

Most recently, I’ve been amazed by Facebook, which has led to several other posts.

It’s been a great year of learning, and while I’ve invested some time, the financial cost has been zero.

Where else but the blogosphere can you learn so much at no cost?

I’m looking forward to continuing my education!

TechnoratiTechnorati: , , , ,

Book Review: Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, is the best book I haven’t read.

It would be the best book on communication I have read; if I had read it. I listened to the Audible audiobook version instead.

From the urban legends about the business traveler being drugged and one of his kidneys harvested and razor blades in Halloween apples, to JFK’s moon mission challenge, to successful campaigns against teen smoking, movie theater popcorn and Texas litterbugs, Made to Stick is rich with examples that illustrate, as their subtitle say, “why some ideas survive and others die.”

The author brothers identify the main problem people have in communication as “The Curse of Knowledge.” Typically when we are making a presentation, for example, we are speaking about something we have studied extensively and consequently know well. The Curse of Knowledge is that we can’t remember what it was like to not understand. We forget the listener or reader.

Made to Stick: The Essence of SUCCESS

The antidote to The Curse of Knowledge involves shaping your ideas and your presentation of them according to a checklist that (almost) spells SUCCESS. Sticky ideas, the Heaths say, tend to have many of these traits:

Simplicity – Be relentless in boiling down to the core of the idea. As the authors quote a defense lawyer, “If you make 10 points in your closing arguments, the jury won’t remember any of them.” Make one main point. Extra material isn’t just superfluous; it’s harmful. Maybe Conrad Black’s legal team should have taken this advice.

Unexpectedness – Surprises, like Jared Fogle losing more than 200 pounds by eating at Subway, or one serving of theater popcorn having more saturated fats than a full day of unhealthy diet, get attention and get people talking.
Concreteness – don’t use vague phrases like “maximizing shareholder value” because these aren’t guides to action. The more concrete you are, the sure you can be everyone is understanding. And concrete details, especially in storytelling, contribute to credibility.

Credibility – sometimes this comes from authority, and sometimes from anti-authority, like a lifelong smoker telling her story of getting emphysema in her 20s. Some of the most powerful credibility comes from the audience, as they experience and interact with the idea.

Emotion – Involving people at an emotional rather than an intellectual or rational level increases memorability. That’s why international relief charities ask you to adopt a particular child instead of giving to a big pool.

Storytelling – Instead of reams of statistics, boil the essence of the idea into a story. Or better yet, be on the lookout for a story that makes the point. That’s what happened when a Subway manager noticed Jared’s weight loss.
I hope this review encourages you to check out Made to Stick for yourself. As the authors’ web site says:

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of idea success stories (and failures)—the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher’s simulation that actually prevented prejudice . Provocative, eye-opening, and funny, Made to Stick shows us the principles of successful ideas at work—and how we can apply these rules to making our own messages “stick.”

Check out the Made to Stick blog, too. It has an interesting post relating to medical school teaching that demonstrates how presentations can be tailored to be more sticky.

Wikinomics Book Review

wikinomics book review
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, provides an excellent overview of the technologies and trends that are so disruptive in the Web 2.0 world. While traveling today to the Frost & Sullivan Sales & Marketing East Executive MindXChange, I had the opportunity to listen to the first couple of chapters of the Audible.com unabridged audiobook version of Wikinomics.

I had previously listened to the whole book on one weekend when I had lots of yard work to do. The upside of audiobooks is you can listen to them while you’re doing something else. The downside is it’s hard to take notes when you’re holding a power washer, so it takes a second listen to get maximum benefit. But at least you know where the highlights are.

Let me share a few.

The Wikinomics authors, who also maintain a companion blog and wiki, see four great trends shaping the 21st century landscape:

Openness – As exemplified by Rob McEwen, the CEO of the gold mining company Goldcorp, who made his company’s geologic data available to the world to get bright people from outside his company to help find more gold deposits on company property. By providing the data and $575,000 in prize money, he enlisted more than 1,000 virtual prospectors, who helped find targets that yielded 8 million ounces of gold, turning his company from a $100 million business to $9 billion concern.

Peer production, or Peering – Getting masses of individuals to collaborate openly, as exemplified by Wikipedia. The Apache server and the Linux operating system are among the other varied examples of peer production the authors cite.

Frankly, Tapscott and Williams are too deferential to laments from Bill Gates and others that peer production eliminates the profit-making opportunity for businesses and other purveyors of intellectual property. The answer to that (and the authors should have been stronger about this) is: SO WHAT? (Please forgive my shouting.) There may be economic disruptions and dislocations if open-source software like Linux or Apache displaces proprietary software like Windows, but people like Gates with entrenched interests forget that the ability to make money isn’t a divinely ordained right or the ultimate societal good. What matters to users of software or services is the cost of a product or service and its value.

Businesses exist for their customers, not vice versa. If someone (or an organized group of volunteers, as in Wikipedia) provides a service for free that was previously expensive, that’s a good thing. People can then spend their money to buy other services, so they get the formerly expensive product plus something else, as the societal bonus of Wikinomics.

When the Berlin Wall fell, political leaders and journalists talked about the “Peace Dividend“: if we as a society didn’t have to spend as much money on defense, we could spend it on other good things.

The same is true today. For example, craigslist is a great service for its users, enabling them to place free classified ads (in many communities) for everything from rentals to job postings to personals to items for sale, such as theatre tickets. It’s terribly disruptive for newspapers, which formerly milked the cash cow of classified advertising.

Does it hurt newspapers? Certainly. Is that a problem? If you own or work for a newspaper. Will western civilization crumble because of it? Hardly. Instead of paying several thousand dollars for a job posting classified ad in the newspaper, companies can post to Monster.com for a few hundred dollars, or craigslist for free. The companies can then invest the savings in other areas important to their growth.

That’s the “Wikinomics Dividend.”

The other two trends the authors examine are Sharing and Acting Globally. But instead of discussing them in a post that’s already too long, let me suggest that you get the book yourself.

The key value of Wikinomics is in providing broad trend overviews. The examples used, from Flickr to YouTube to MySpace aren’t the main point. Future competitors may one day render these irrelevant, too.

If you’re looking for the latest new thing, Wikinomics isn’t the place to find it; it is, after all, an old-media tree-killing production. But Wikinomics does give the theoretical framework upon which to build your understanding of changes in today’s economy.

Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra: Book Review

Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra was one of the free books I highlighted here, with a promise of a future review.

The future is now.
In Pyromarketing, Stielstra exchanges the mass-market metaphor of the flood and the word-of-mouth marketing metaphor of the virus for one that is much more meaningful and useful: lighting a fire.

Stielstra says that while flooding market with advertising worked during the earlier mass media era when TV was new and choices were few, it is increasingly impotent in a time when consumers receive 3,000 or more messages each day (and sometimes it seems I have that many in my email inbox alone.)

Viral marketing likewise misses the metaphorical mark, because many consumers are immune to your messages, and therefore can’t pass them on. To use a non-marketing example, consider computer viruses. Macs have no appreciable problem with viruses not only because of Apple’s superior system software, but also because Apple has in the vicinity of five percent of the computer market. There isn’t a critical mass of potential carriers that makes it easy for a virus to spread.

As Stielstra analyzed the analogy of fire, he found that unlike other metaphors that break down when stretched too far, what he now calls Pyromarketing has great explanatory power.

“Every fire needs fuel, oxygen, heat and the heat from the combustion reaction itself. Heat excites the fuel, breaking its molecular bonds at the ignition point freeing the fuel’s electrons to abandon the fuel and join with oxygen in the surrounding air. Ignition temperatures vary significantly from one fuel to the next. The reaction gives off additional heat which excites neighboring fuel and causes the fire to spread.”
Just as fire depends on fuel, so does marketing. Just as ignition temperatures vary from one fuel to the next, so do the “ignition points” of consumers. And just as fire spreads, so excitement about products spreads. “In PyroMarketing consumers are the fuel and their ignition points also differ widely. There is money stored in their wallets, but there is a very strong bond between consumers and their money. Marketing provides the heat that excites them and, if it can heat them beyond their ignition temperature, it will cause them to exchange their money for your product or service.”

Here are Stielstra’s Four Steps to Pyromarketing (and incidentally, he practices what he preaches in the “Touch it with a match” step, by offering a free audio download of Pyromarketing):

  1. Gather the driest tinder: Focus your promotions on those people most likely to buy, benefit from, and then enthusiastically endorse your product or service. They are the only ones whose ignition temperature is within reach of your advertising. They light easily and burn hot. The driest tinder is where word-of-mouth wild fires begin.
  2. Touch it with the match: To the extent you can, give people an experience with your product or service. If you want people to laugh, don’t tell them you’re funny, tell them a joke. Experience is the shortcut to product understanding. It touches people deeply and generates more heat than advertising, igniting even the mildly interested.
  3. Fan the flames: Fanning the flames means giving people tools to help them spread your message throughout their social network. People spread messages more effectively than advertising. The fire is hotter than the match. This is why the process that spreads your marketing message must be different than the one by which it began. Leveraging the power of personal influence is the only way to expand your marketing fire beyond its point of origin (the driest tinder and mildly interested) to the masses. By understanding the process you can equip people with tools to exponentially increase their reach and influence.
  4. Save the Coals: Saving the coals means keeping a record of the people you encounter through your marketing so you can quickly and easily reach them to fan the flames or to tell them about new products that match their interests. This allows your marketing to build equity and keep pace with the needs of your growing business.

I believe this book has much to commend it, and the Pyromarketing metaphor has great explanatory value. He uses the examples of the marketing of The Purpose-Driven Life and The Passion of the Christ. His behind-the-scenes look at the Purpose-Driven marketing of both the Rick Warren book and the Mel Gibson movie does give some insights as to how those became mega-hits. Networking with pastors and churches was clearly an important way to gather a critical mass of those most likely to “buy.”

My only issue is that he applies his metaphor to the growth of Christianity itself, which cannot be explained in natural terms. Jesus’ disciples were not “the driest tinder.” They all abandoned Him on the night He was crucified. Saul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus to become the Apostle Paul, was burning with hatred for followers of Jesus. It was not anything inherent in their character, but rather the call of Jesus, that transformed the apostles. He didn’t choose them because they were the right ones; they were the right ones because He chose them. And Scripture says it was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that added 3,000 souls to their number (Acts 2:41).

That’s where I think Stielstra takes it a bit too far, in making the growth of Christianity a case study for his Pyromarketing paradigm. If the goal would have just been gathering excited crowds and “touching them with the match” of Jesus’ teaching, that had happened well before the Cross. Jesus fed 5,000 men (plus women and children) because he had attracted large crowds already; then he said some hard things (see John 6), and most of them went away.

Jesus did not describe the Kingdom of Heaven as a fire, but as a farmer going out to sow seed far and wide (Luke 13.) The job of the church is not to identify target markets effectively, but to spread the Word, and to leave the growth in God’s hands (1 Corinthians 3:6). I believe the missing element of Pyromarketing as it applies to Christianity (and what is missing in many church-growth philosophies) is adequate recognition of God’s decisive role.

According to a couple of stories from 2005 (here and here), there was some controversy involving Rick Warren and his discomfort with having his book mentioned in Pyromarketing… and this led to a delay in publishing Stielstra’s book. Apparently it was published in September 2005.

But Greg Stielstra didn’t set out to write a theological treatise, and neither did I in this blog. I’m sure he means well in sharing his faith naturally, as just part of what he does as a marketer. His Pyromarketing metaphor holds together well and provides a useful framework for understanding many social phenomena and buying decisions, including those for items (such as movies and books) of a religious nature. I recommend you read it for yourself (or listen to it for free). It just needs to be understood in the context of a personal God who wills and acts, and is not bound by human psychology and marketing principles to build His Church (and in fact often acts counter to human wisdom to show His power.)

In a future post, I plan to discuss more areas in which I think Greg Stielstra’s Pyromarketing concept applies, and particularly how today’s technologies make it much easier and cheaper to gather the driest tinder, touch it with a match, fan the flames and gather the coals.

I guess this is a little heavier than my Weird Al posts, huh?

TechnoratiTechnorati: , , ,