Thursday, June 3, 2010

Meet Leroy Stick

A nomination for Best Press Release 2010: Meet Leroy Stick.

"Leroy" is the person behind @BPGlobalPR on Twitter, the unofficial, unaffiliated PR campaign that pokes fun and hostility at the official British Petroleum PR machine. Leroy keeps smacking BP with his stick,  in 140 characters or less.

In his press release, Leroy tells a good story, explains why he's doing this, tells us why we should be angry, and helps us find a constructive outlet for our anger. He beats public relations, marketing, and brand management folks about the arms and legs by pointing out the folly that exists in their work, but is only made obvious in extreme situations like the Gulf oil spill. Leroy comes off as intelligent, funny, and sharp; he found his voice and his forum and uses it to spread his message.

Great use of Twitter, superior content, and brutal satire that makes you think about morality in the corporate world. We need more Sticks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Job Hunt- Mission Accomplished!

Sorry for the gap between posts- I've been focused on working through a job offer that will get me back to work (and probably blogging less).

Here are the numbers:
* 4 months "in transition"
* 11 resumes sent
* 6 initial interviews
* 5 follow up interviews
* 1 job offer (accepted!)

During my job search, I spoke to people in the career counseling business, people who have been out of work recently, people who know people who are out of work, people who have ever known people out of work, and I kept hearing the same reaction- Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!

I'm no job search expert, but that won't stop me from blogging about it. I think my successful job search came down to three guiding principles:
  1. Figure out what you want, and focus your efforts on that: I make it easy for others to find and use information. I looked at a number of jobs where that was either the theme of the role or where I felt I could apply that theme. 
  2. Network, network, network: This one is obvious. Your network can't help you if they don't know you're looking. Let them know and people will volunteer to give a hand. You never know where you're going to run into the right job- it could be through LinkedIn, it could be from a former colleague, it could be in the stands at a Little League game. Keep talking and keep listening.
  3. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed: I preach Less is More. If you've cultivated a network (even a small one) and you let people know, you're going to hear a lot of advice. Most of it is probably not for you, so listen carefully, thank everyone for their help, and figure out what you think works best for you. I decided to keep a list of all the possibilities and options I heard, while spending my time working on a few opportunities at a time. I didn't apply for jobs where I didn't meet the key requirements and/or didn't have a network connection; these aren't worth the time it takes to apply and manage them. Eleven resumes in four months may sound lazy to some, but I call it ruthlessly efficient.
I secured a leadership role where I'm in charge of managing authoritative clinical content so clients can find and use information to make the best decisions about cancer treatment options. This role fits my criteria for "the right opportunity"-  I get to use my strengths and skills, follow my passion, have a leadership role and a positive impact on patient health while reducing healthcare costs, and work at a small, innovative company surrounded by very smart people.

Mission Impossible? Mission Accomplished!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Fine Print

Two links about reading and understanding the fine print.

Legal contracts and user agreements are filled with difficult to understand content (thus the term legalese). Why can't lawyers collaborate with information designers to create agreements that users can actually understand?

Siegel+Gale = If it makes your immortal soul feel any better… «

Reader Story: Learning to Read the Fine Print

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enterprise Search Summit

I didn't make it up to NYC for this year's Enterprise Search Summit. Going from Speaker to "in transition" is tough, and I hope to be back next year.

Daniel Tunkelang (formerly of Endeca, currently with Google) was there and he posted Marti Hearst's and Peter Morville's keynote slides on his blog, The Noisy Channel. Marti is doing wonderful things with search UI design and Peter is a leader in Information Architecture and Findability.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bad Day at the (Unemployment) Office

Unemployment is complicated. Staying organized, creating structure to your days, and getting things done to ensure you land well takes focus and commitment. It also takes good information management skills- you  have to deal with a lot of information relating to severance, unemployment compensation, and your benefits. If the information you receive isn't well designed, i.e. with the main points and your required actions clearly highlighted, you will make mistakes and possibly lose benefits.

I missed the first biweekly claim deadline for my unemployment benefits. That's a $1000+ mistake. I received several letters from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry- my Claim Confirmation (I opened an unemployment claim), my determination of benefits (I am eligible to receive unemployment benefits), an unemployment handbook, my debit card (the state pays via debit card), and a PIN number to access my online account. The note about the deadline to file my first biweekly claim was buried in the Claim Confirmation letter, which I received before my benefits were even determined.

So I missed the deadline. I didn't read every word of each piece of mail. The most important information wasn't highlighted and I didn't see it. I can rail about poor information design, how the critical information was buried in a stack of mail, and how the point of unemployment compensation should be to help those who have been laid off, not make it hard to get the money owed them.

Maybe the state needs someone like me to make it easy for people to get the information they need to act.

Regardless, I'm the one who didn't recognize what I had to do and I'm the one who missed out on $1000. That's an expensive lesson to learn and I take responsibility for my error. Just because the information is poorly designed or hidden in plain sight, doesn't mean I relinquish my responsibility to read and understand it. Especially when the outcome will hit me in my wallet (or debit card).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Everything is Miscellaneous- The Video

If you have a spare hour (and let's face it, you're going to spend more than that surfing the web today), check out this video about classifying things. David Weinberger talks about purpose as the driver of developing useful classifications or taxonomies. The organization of information can then make it easier to find and use information, which fits my goals. The talk is funny and entertaining, with easy to understand examples. Weinberger makes a strong case for using metadata, including user-created tagging, as a basis for classifying and finding objects.

I'm going to check out Weinberger's book Everything is Miscellaneous.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Seth's Blog: All the news that fits

In his blog today, Seth Godin talks about money/business model driving length of message. This can differ among newspapers, web sites, blogs, and marketing brochures. Seth's point- sometimes the format and business model don't matter- give people the information they need and let them be done. Less is, once again, more.

Seth's Blog: All the news that fits

Monday, May 3, 2010

Writing? Can Do!

I think there are 3 rules of good business writing:
  1. Know your audience.
  2. Be concise.
  3. Other than basic rules of grammar and spelling, there are no other rules.
I was excited to find a new book at the Library that sets down similar rules. Can Do Writing (by Daniel and Judith Graham) provides a 10-step system for effective business writing. The book guides you through the Graham's process to produce effective, concise communications for your target audience.

Can Do Writing helps you with the critical details of defining your target audience, developing and organizing your ideas, and drafting and editing to make it easy for your readers to understand what they need to know and do.

It's a quick read (of course) and there's a lot there to help you become a writer who makes information easy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exactly My (Power) Point!

I enjoyed Dona Wong's response to the NY Times article about PowerPoint.

Bulletpoints may lead to the demise of society, but probably not.

Does the format/tool you use make it easy for your audience to understand (and act on) your message? If the answer is "Yes", then you're using the right tool, whether it's PowerPoint, Word, email, just you on a podium with Arcade Fire playing in the background...

It's not the tool, it's the story you tell and the way you tell it. Even my kid knows that!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SocialMediaPlus Business Summit- See you there!

I'll be attending the SocialMediaPlus Business Summit in Philadelphia on May 25th. If you see me there, let me know you read my blog. I would love to talk with you about making information easier to find and use via social media, the internet, and other technological "advances".

If you're interested in attending too, you can register here:
SocialMediaPlus Business Summit - RegOnline

There is still an early bird registration special of $395 (through Friday). I used the coupon code PBJ15 to get an additional 15% off the registration fee- they're giving that discount to the first 20 registrants- so hurry!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jobs and Blogs, Blogs and Jobs

I'm in transition. I'm looking for new opportunities. I'm insert euphemism here. Anything but unemployed. I'm trying to connect my next role to the theme of this blog, to my personal passion- I want to make information easy to find and use.

The problem I've run into on several interviews is the standard response I hear: "It sounds like you haven't figured out what you want to do". The interviewer leaves one minor point unsaid: "because it doesn't sound like you should be doing this job".

There are many jobs where I can apply my skills and passion to make it easier (for employees, for customers) to find and use information. I don't have a job title in mind; I'm happy to let a company figure that out and I'll explain how I can help them. But it's a hard sell when the skill set and philosophy don't clearly meet the job requirements.

Maybe the interviewers have a point- I should focus on finding (or creating) a role where the primary goals fit what I do and believe, rather than take a job and figure out how to apply my philosophy. As a job seeking objective, that will get my next company a great new employee and make me a happy member of the team.

Still, making information easy to find and (especially) use can be applied to many roles, processes, and tools- even yours. That's what my blog is about.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's Cooking?

How about Pan-roasted Halibut from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook?

Let's see halibut, salt, oil, more oil, more salt. Simple, elegant, delicious...if the halibut is great. (and mine will be- here's a shoutout to my friends at Floyd Alderfer's at our local Farmer's Market)

The halibut is your message, your content, your information. If it's great and you don't overpower it in sauce, then people will want to eat at your home every night. If it's not, don't serve it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kid Stuff

My 10-year-old is working on his 4th grade project- a presentation on the Battle of Antietam. He visited this Civil War battle site, learned about it, took pictures, and did research on the Internet and at the Library.

Last night he practiced his draft presentation. He created a PowerPoint presentation with words sweeping in from all angles (kids love that!), a lot of random facts, and no context or story. I've actually seen similar presentations in business settings, minus the flying text!

We talked about it. What is the main thing you want your class to know? (Answer: it was America's bloodiest day). Are there things the class would know about that you could compare the number of casualties to? (Answer: D-Day, 9/11). Can you incorporate your visit to the battlefield to make your presentation more like an interesting and relevant story? (Answer: we dipped our feet in Antietam Creek, which ran red with blood the day of the battle)

I hope he learned something about delivering information and public speaking. The presentation is a little bit better and I think it will be more fun for him and his classmates.

You're never too young to learn to get your message across to the audience.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Great Minds...Post Alike!

I was going to talk about writing effective emails today, but since Oliver Fontana just did, I'll point to his Less is More Email post at Power Presentations.

Purpose, Actions, Supporting Info: Sounds right to me and, since Less is More, I'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Only Place

I love it when information is easy to find and use. When I'm shopping, if I can quickly compare prices and features of relevant products, I'm happy. When buying airline tickets, I like to go to Kayak to compare airlines, prices, and schedules to find the best fit for my needs.

So why is Southwest bragging that their web site is The Only Place to find and buy a ticket on their airline? The Only Place. The Only Place, repeated about 10 times in their 30-second commercial. Maybe they think if they say it enough, I'll assume it's a good thing.

If I know I want to use Southwest, that's fine; I'll go to their site and buy my ticket. But as a consumer, I want to compare my options and choose the best one for me. Southwest is making me go to at least 2 sites by being The Only Place- that's more time spent searching, writing data down, figuring things out, and making a decision.

Southwest acts like they're doing me a favor by being The Only Place. How are they helping me by excluding their flight information from the travel aggregator sites?

Finding the best travel arrangements is complicated. I want to go to One Place, but that place is unlikely to be Southwest's web site.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Project Charter

When I manage projects, I like to keep my team focused on project business goals and timeframes, while minimizing the amount of information they need to deal with to deliver. In a project, you have a Business Problem and Solution and I keep them front and center in every meeting and discussion. Most importantly I create a simple Project Charter and get agreement from the team and project sponsors to use it as the guide for what we do and how we do it.

The Project Charter consists of :
  • a simply stated Project Background and Business Problem (3-4 sentences)
  • the proposed Solution (2-3 sentences)
  • major milestones, with timelines
  • key expected Issues and Risks (5 bulletpoints or less)
  • Project team members, roles, and contact information
  • Project oversight committee members, roles and contact information
  • Communication Plan (communication types, methods, roles in a simple table)
One page is the ideal, but the Charter usually rolls into a second page.

I use the Charter to initiate the project and I point to it when we need to figure out how to handle problems, whether to change the Project Plan or Design, and how to know if we're on track to provide a real Business Solution.

To me, projects are about solving real business problems, rather than simply implementing technology or process because it's on our annual objectives. The Project Charter helps the team and the oversight group make sure we deliver something valuable.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Speakers Speaking in Code

Just got back from my one-day Digital Fast and I'm starving! It wasn't that hard to stay away from the computer and keep my cell phone off the whole day. Maybe it was because I was sick and stayed in bed most of the day reading? Regardless, it's a nice exercise to try and limit your bit consumption and to recognize how much time is spent (wasted?) on your digital equipment.

In other exciting news, I saw an amazing Wilco concert this weekend in Philly- 3+ hours, nearly 40 songs on a Saturday night. Talk about just the right amount of information...(okay, that was a reach, even for me).

I'll be back soon with a tool I use for making sure I don't overload my project teams with information and keep them focused on our project goals.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How not to keep your customers

In my last post, I wrote about providing the right amount of information, which is subjective when reviewing content, but becomes much clearer when using the content, i.e. in context.

For the past 2 days I've been trying to renew my Norton Internet Security subscription, with no luck. The Express Renewal option didn't make it clear when my credit card would (or would not) be charged. Since I wanted to apply a discount code, this was problematic. Say what you want about Ticketmaster, at least they make it clear whether your credit card will be charged as you proceed through their ticket purchase workflow. Norton's Express Renewal workflow provided too little information.

I went directly to the Norton web site so that I could renew my subscription and apply the discount code. I ended up on a purchase page that let me apply the code, but didn't let me complete the purchase. Maybe there was a problem with their site, maybe there was a problem with my purchase- regardless, I was not given any indication or error message that would help me give my money to Norton (Symantec)- again, too little information.

I then tried the Contact Us page and was faced with a lengthy form to complete in order to chat or even send an email (assuming I wouldn't mind waiting 48 hours for their response). Suddenly Norton decided I needed to provide them with too much information, to figure out what the problem was.

So what's the cost of not have the right amount of information? In my case, it's $50-60 that Norton lost because I couldn't complete the simplest transaction on their site.

After close to a (frustrating) hour trying to renew my Norton subscription, I went to the McAfee site and completed my purchase (including discount) in under 10 minutes.

Sorry Norton- now I'm a McAfee customer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Less that is More

I had a job interview this morning for a project manager position at a local IT consulting firm. During our conversation I heard myself become overly animated when talking about my Less is More philosophy and how I apply it to managing projects- meetings, presentations, project documents. I babbled so much that the interviewer probably thought I was the poster child for More is Less! 

I think the interviewer got it, and maybe even appreciated my enthusiasm, but he also asked how my approach to creating project plans fits with my "KISS" philosophy (his term, not mine). My project plans start at the highest level of project components and work their way down to the gory details, as much as is needed to capture a clear task, even one that has multiple simple parts.

The goal of Less is More is to provide the minimal amount of information to help people understand the message and act on it appropriately. In other words, Less can still be A Lot in some cases.

The Less that is More is relative to the typical quantity of information that people provide, which obfuscates more than it clarifies. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Less is More- Extreme Edition

The folks at Stepcase Lifehack are challenging us to go on a digital fast, and I'm going to take them up on their offer.

If Less is More, is Nothing the Most?

I don't know but I'm sure my family has an opinion when it comes to digital matters. And the truth might set me free!

Your message is not only competing with everything else you're presenting, but also against everything else out there in the virtual swamp. Maybe taking a day off will clarify just how much of your attention is spent down in the bayou.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

YouTube Redesign

Another vote for Less is More from the folks at Tendo, this one on the recent YouTube redesign. Siobhan Nash points out that the clean new look with less unnecessary information is more engaging and easier to understand and navigate. It will be interesting to see if the redesign really pulls more people into the site (because YouTube doesn't have enough users!), engages them, and helps them find the things they're looking for.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"The less-is-more world is here. Get used to it."

Mike Elgan writes about the iPad paradox and argues that customers want great features, not just more features

Whether we're talking about the content or the technology that delivers it, making a simple, great product will solve your customers' problems rather than giving them new headaches.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Alan Siegel's credit card agreement redesign

This is what I'm talking about- make the information easy to read, to understand, and to use!

TED Blog: Alan Siegel's credit card agreement redesign

Here's Alan Siegel's TED talk. I love the simple comparison of the length of the Constitution vs. the Health Care bill- a simple attention-getter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Simplifying the Health Care bill- part 2

The New York Times had a nice page where you can select your status and see how the Health Care Reform bill affects you.You can also scroll down and see highlights of all categories they are covering. Another feature of this page is making it easier to see some of the pros and cons of the new bill.

Now that the bill is published, I'm glad the media is trying to give a summary of it. I suppose they may have to add a disclaimer about the expected impact of the bill, citing the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Simplifying the Complex: the Health Care Bill

The recently approved Health Care bill is lengthy and complex. I've read many news stories to figure out what's in it, but haven't found any that made it easy to understand for those who haven't followed the bill for the past year.

Yesterday the Huffington Post did a nice job of letting me know what's in it for me. They had an 18 point slide show that outlined the major changes we can expect. While it was skewed towards the benefits of the plan, it helped me make sense of the bill and how it affects my family. I would love to see the alternate perspective to understand the objections to the bill, but I'm happy someone put out a simple summary to make this information easy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

So what will I write about in Information Made Easy?

Some of it will be philosophical: Why is Less is More important? Why should we use this principle when delivering content? What is the meaning of life?

Some of it will be applicable:  How can we make it easier for people to cut through the noise and get to the signal? How can we deliver information without wasting people's time? How do we make sure people get our message?

Some of it will be anecdotal: A few days ago, a neighbor got a lengthy letter from a college, telling him his scholarship application was rejected. He and his parents read the letter and filed it away. None of them saw that the son was still eligible for another scholarship with an upcoming application deadline; he missed it and  won't be getting that scholarship either.

I'm sure some (or maybe most) of you think this family should have been more careful in their reading. I think the school needs to be clear and concise in delivering information that is critical to their customer. We are inundated with information and if you want to get your message heard, you better make that message easy to find and understand.

That's what this blog is about.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Well, How Did I get Here?- Part 2

In our last episode, I joined a major Pharmaceutical company as an Information Scientist.

I was fortunate to work with great colleagues including our Director, a thought leader who preached the Less is More approach to delivering information. He believed scientists needed to receive information that directly answered their questions and helped them make sense of their environment and projects. To do this, he hired Ph.D.-level scientists to collaborate with the bench scientists and scientific leaders, and he encouraged these Information Scientists to do high values work- making sure the right information was available to feed key decisions and strategies.

I loved this approach and believe it is part of the answer to information overload. I did well at my new company and was rewarded with promotions to exciting roles in Knowledge Management, Information Delivery, and Information Strategy. I got to work on our Intranet, our Library portal, and our Enterprise Search Engine and strategy, applying the principle of Less is More to solve real business problems.

Unfortunately, our company was recently acquired and I was laid off. The upside is I have more time to espouse the Less is More philosophy of information retrieval and delivery over the Internet!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Well, how did I get here?- Part 1

I'm a biological scientist who became an information scientist and information management leader. I earned my Ph.D. in Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania and worked as a molecular biologist for several years after that. I got to study cool things like Lyme Disease, amoebas, and scrapie, the sheep version of mad cow disease, before turning my attention from the lab bench to the computer screen.

At some point in my career I realized that the day-to-day frustration with generating scientific results worth publishing no longer fit with my personal needs and strengths. When I say "at some point", I mean "when my company ran out of money and couldn't pay me".

I spent several months identifying my interests and strengths and realized I loved and was good at finding and using information. Amazingly (actually, through hard work and perseverance), I found a job in my old home town doing exactly that- working in the Pharmaceutical industry as an Information Scientist. This gave me an opportunity to use my strengths and my scientific background to collaborate with other scientists and get them the information they needed to do their jobs better.

Next post- moving on up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Less is More- an Introduction

We live in an age of abundance where information seems as plentiful as water. While information in the right quantities is critical to learning, planning, making decisions, and getting things done, many of us feel like we’re drowning in it. My goal, my passion, and perhaps my purpose in life, is to help you swim no matter how deep the water.

The guiding principle of this blog is Less is More. I learned this principle when I started working for a Fortune 500 company, providing scientific and business information to R&D staff. I was fortunate to work with colleagues who understood how little time people had to review dozens of pages of content when they just needed to understand a few key concepts and facts to move forward with their work. Less is More became my catchphrase and while some resisted, most recognized that I was helping them by filtering information so they could use it effectively.

Who am I? I’ll tell you in my next post…