Monday, July 31, 2006

Driving Bush

You've always suspected it, and now the Germans have confessed...



Also, don't miss the classic companion piece, which sets the Bush to music.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

sound and fury signifying what exactly

The Curse of Comic Sans , an article by Jessica Helfand this week in the fabulous Design Oberserver blog, decries the mass culture ubiquity of the typeface Comic Sans.

Now, I can't pretend to by a font snob, although I certainly work with people who are typeface professionals -- but the joy of the article lies in reading an expert writing with passion -- and snobbery!

Better yet, the article includes some fabulous comments, including the following contribution from Thomas Jockin:
If you're going to have to type up a report about how widget X has increased output by 2.2% over a period of 5 holiday sessions, setting that report in Comic Sans is in my opinion a kind of futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence/ content.

Same thing applies to those lovely Myspace pages set in comic sans and cluttered with photos, music, videos, etc. etc. Ugly as hell but still falls within the rubric of "futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence."
Ah, I do love to watch smart children at play. (That would be the banter of professional designers, not the Myspace creators, in this particular case.)

Which brings me to vanity license plates.

The states in which I have lived in the US, Texas and Virginia, are ASWIM in vanity plates. I've seen nothing like this phenomenon in other countries or regions where I've lived.

I've long pondered the proliferation of these hooked-on-phonics, 733t, SMS-esque outpourings of...well, what exactly?

My guess has always, conincidentally, been something along the lines of a ""futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence."

And yes, Jessica and Thomas, I assume the owners of the plates are very probably also fans of Comic Sans.

Has anyone else hypothesized a better explanation for the vanity plates? I would love to hear your theories.

(And yes, I realize that this blog is a crime against graphic design. But at least the current version is innocuous compared to the old template!)
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 3

Part 3 of my discussion with business guru David Maister about the future of book publishing, which orginally appeared as a comment on David's blog. Part 1 of may be found here and Part 2 here. And yes, I have written Part 3 all by myself.  [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]


David Maister's post Writers and Peformers is right on the money—but I’m still disturbed by the cynical postmodern fatalism here.


The growing trend towards trained monkeys and dancing bears worries me (cf Kaavya Viswanathan, the plagiarizing Harvard undergraduate novelist and the Spice Girl-ification of the publishing industry), and I don’t want to go gently into that slick, infomercial-populated night. I don’t know if this generation would recognize a Shakespeare unless he got a hair piece, received a thorough Queer-Eye treatment, and was willing to shake his booty on Americon Idol. Surely the end results is we wind up with more pap culture (sic) idols, and less qualified content producers. Quel dommage. How many Shakespeares, Momma Casses, even Peter Druckers might we be losing in the current system? I’ll take talent and ability over photogenics any day.


Putting aside my high culture snobbery and conservative, meritocratic ideals to turn pragmatic again, I agree of course that most people who want to succeed today as professional content providers will have to promote themselves incredibly agressively (unless sheer dumb luck and good timing comes through for them – not wise to bank on). But I find we’re back at the Catch-22 David described in his recent Marketing Complexity. If you haven’t already made a name for yourself, how on earth do you break into the other marketing channels and capture a critical mass of attention?


At this point, one so-far undiscussed piece of the puzzle is The Long Tail idea that thanks to the power of Internet search tools, it is possible to deliver highly-specialized products to niche markets at a profit. Guy Kawasaki has an excellent post on the tactical items behind Long Tail success stories – which most people forget about. One of the critical factors he cites is “a sustainable population of low-cost producers” – meaning the Long Tail game is about making money as a distributor, or middle man, not as a producer. You aren’t going to make money as Jane or John Q. Author – but Amazon is going to make money off of you.


I may be wrong, but I perceive the loudest evangelists behind the promote-your-way-to-create-success school to be the gatekeepers or service providers behind the “collateral revenue” channels cited above—the A-listers of PR, publishing, blogging, etc—who are A-listers and gatekeepers in some cases because of merit, wisdom, and ability, but very often because of first-mover advantages or the power, money, and reach of the institutions behind them. The gatekeepers behind for-profit promotional channels are going to be the real commercial winners in the Long Tail, celebrity-creator game – the people who are really making money in all of those “collateral revenue streams” they recommend.


This means, of course, that the people who make money telling content-producers how to succeed…are in the business of making money promoting content-producers, but not necessarily in the business of making money for content producers. I don’t know about you, but I am generally wary of taking advice from someone whose financial interests conflict with my own.


Methinks there’s something rotten in the state of iDenmark.


The real corporate excitement around The Long Tail and consumer-generated-content (CGC) seems to be “look, we can get all of these patsy consumers to create content for us for free – the ultimate low-cost production – and then turn around and make a profit off other people’s work.” Referencing back to David's training article (“Why (Most) Training is Useless” ), I feel like we are creating a cultural system that highly rewards distributors but decreases incentives for content producers. How long will creators continue to contribute content for free or for little gain? And how does that system bode for the quality of the content we collectively produce? Somehow, this all strikes me as shades of the fall of the Roman Empire.


I would like to think in the midst of this cynical, postmodern mess there is still room for quality writing, specialized artists, and big, crunchy ideas that don’t always pitch to the groundlings or encapsulate in a CNN soundbyte, that there are alternate paths to success than solely being an entertainer.


Of course, that may make me a premature anachronism and perhaps I should throw it all in and get my hair bleached and my teeth capped.




The Complete Future of Book Publishing Series


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


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The Future of Book Publishing, Part 2

Part 2 of my discussion with business guru David Maister about the future of book publishing, reproduced with his permission. Part 1 of this exchange may be found here. [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]

The following article by David Maister, entitled Writers and Performers, originally appeared on his blog on July 18, 2006.




Shaula Evans, part of my tech team, spotted an interesting discussion with John Updike, which raised some concerns about the future of publishing. Since we discussed the future of writing books in this blog back in February, she thought we all might be interested.


Apologizing for her rephrasing [of Heather Greene's recap at Business Week Online’s Blogspotting], Shaula says



In short, much of the advice to (published and aspiring) authors in the digital age boils down to: "Don't worry about monitizing books. Give books away, and make money through collateral revenue streams."


To which Updike responds that authors are writers, not performers, and not likely to succeed as entertainers.


Of course, you (David) have already addressed in your post the reality that those of us who are not already John Updike are not likely to make money through the conventional book publishing and promotion model, either.


It makes me wonder if the middlemen (Amazon, speaker's bureaus, promoters) are the only ones making money here...



Shaula, I would also relate your comments to the recent stories (New York Times July 17, 2006) about film director M. Night Shyamalan's superior ability at self-promotion. Do film makers need to turn themselves into a "brand" to get their films into blockbuster status? Should we all be taking lessons from Madonna on how to create and market (constantly evolving) personas in order to draw attention to ourselves?


Do these challenges apply also to those of us trying to practice so-called "professions?" Do we consultants, lawyers, accountants, engineers and others have to take note of all this?


I do believe that there is such a thing as marketing with greater or lesser taste, but as much as I want to sympathize with Updike, I think we live increasingly in a pop-culture world where performing and entertaining ARE indeed where the money lies.


And, Shaula, if the writer doesn't want to take control of the marketing, the performing, the persona creation, then, as has always been true in the music business, the intermediaries will write the contracts and make the most money.


Material reprinted from davidmaister.com
© Copyright 2001-2006 by David Maister




About the author
David Maister is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on the management of professional service firms. For two decades he has acted as a consultant to prominent professional firms around the world, on a wide variety of strategic and managerial issues. In 2002, he was named as one of the top 40 business thinkers in the world (Business Minds, by Tom Brown, PrenticeHall/Financial Times). He is the author of five best-selling management books: "True Professionalism," "The Trusted Advisor," "Practice What You Preach," "First Among Equals; How to Manage a Group of Professionals," and the canonical management textbook "Managing the Professional Service Firm." These books have been translated into 14 languages. For seven years, he served as a professor on the faculty of the Harvard Business School (1979-85), prior to launching his consulting practice. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.  He is also the author of a blog, Passion, People and Principles, and the Business Masterclass podcast series, which along with a (free) subscription-service to his articles are available through his website, www.davidmaister.com.




The Complete Future of Book Publishing Series


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


|

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 1

Business guru David Maister and I have been involved in an extended discussion about the merits of book publishing, promotions, and Long Tail Economics over on his blog, Passion, People and Principles. With his permission, I am reproducing that exchange here in a series of posts, and I look forward to your responses. [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]

The following article by David Maister, entitled Should You Write A Book?, originally appeared on his blog on February 6, 2006.


Mike Schultz, publisher of RainToday.com , has sent me an email about his company’s new publication. For $149 you can get a downloadable version of The Business Impact of Writing a Book which surveyed 200 authors – all professional services providers – of over 590 business books. The report overview can be found here.


Some interesting results are that 84% of authors report either Very Strong or Strong improvement in their ability to differentiate their services as a result of publishing their book and 53% of authors report either Very Strong or Strong ability to charge higher fees for their services as a result of publishing their book. The report has loads of quotes from the authors interviewed (I was not one of them.)


Mike said in his email to me that – quote – I know you're not very thrilled with the concept of book publishing these days, but it sure seems to be working out for others. Feel free to blog about it and disagree, too –end quote.


Mike was right that I don't see another book in my future. It’s unlikely to bring cheer to the publishing profession, but I think it will be much more effective for professionals to bypass books from now on and make their thoughts and theories available purely through the Internet.


In today’s world, it makes no sense to take nine months, on average, to get your material together and the same amount of time again (amazingly) to get it through the process of publication. Then begins the complicated business of marketing the book and by that time, the thoughts contained in the book are largely historic. By the time you're in print, the odds are high that someone else has already put similar thoughts into play online.


By publishing work yourself online, through a fast and efficient website, those who want to read the work can be notified electronically of any new material and can read it at their leisure. Who needs a physical book and a bookstore when there’s an RSS feed around? If you absolutely have to mail out print copies, you can still do that, too!


Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you that you don't make money on the book itself, unless by some (unknowable) miracle you become the flavor of the month. A book helps build your reputation, and reputation is all, but online, viral marketing is today a much more effective way for most professionals to do things. Books are so 20th century!


It’s like the music industry, where an increasing number of performers are happy to give free downloads of their music as an incentive for fans to come and see them perform live or to buy their (subsequent) albums. (Arctic Monkeys, anyone?)


Apart from all this, it has ALWAYS been my advice to new authors that the best way to build a reputation is through a regular, reliable and (most importantly) continuing sequence of individual articles, so that your audience comes to depend upon you as a reliable source of new ideas – some good, some not-so-good, but always trying to contribute.


The simple truth is that business people don't read books. They may buy them, but they don't read them. If you can hold people’s attention for the length of an article, that’s pretty good going. You can't impress people much if they don't actually read what you write, and, if they've heard about you at all, with a book they are probably operating on an interpretation of what someone told them they thought you meant in a book someone else told them about. (Believe me, I've been through this!)


And the pace is picking up. Mike Schultz himself told me that the way that people use the Internet nowadays is such that shorter pieces are much more effective and that I might want to rethink my strategy of writing 3,000 word articles. (He’s probably right, too!) Others keep trying to teach me that my blogs should be shorter (Sorry, folks!)


The second reason a series of articles works better than going straight for a book is that reputations are built up over time. A book is like swinging for the fences, betting everything on one big hit. And do you know what the number of business books published in a week in the US is? Probably 50 or so. Per week! The odds against you are huge.


I can tell you from bitter experience that getting a reviewer’s attention is INCREDIBLY difficult. It’s like putting out a record: if you're already Mariah Carey or P. Diddy or whomever, then a) your publisher will promote you b) the record stores will stock your book and c) Rolling Stone will review your new CD. If you're not ALREADY a superstar, then, good luck, kiddo! NONE of that is going to happen.


Finally, of course, putting out the series of articles doesn’t prevent you from subsequently collecting them together and putting them between hard or soft covers and calling it a book. You even get the chance to bury the fraction of your possible chapters that, in retrospect, turned out to be rubbish.


Oh, sure there ARE virtues to books, even today. For one, speakers’ bureaus find it a lot easier to market you if you have a hot book and there is something both effective and gratifying in having a physical artifact which enshrines your (supposed) wisdom.


Still, what many of my friends either don't know or have forgotten is that my own career and reputation (such as they are) were built on a stream of articles. It was eleven (successful and profitable) years between my first article on professional firms and the publication of my first book on the subject. You guessed it – it was, and is, a collection of my articles. Forget books — go for the online articles!


Material reprinted from davidmaister.com
© Copyright 2001-2006 by David Maister




About the author
David Maister is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on the management of professional service firms. For two decades he has acted as a consultant to prominent professional firms around the world, on a wide variety of strategic and managerial issues. In 2002, he was named as one of the top 40 business thinkers in the world (Business Minds, by Tom Brown, PrenticeHall/Financial Times). He is the author of five best-selling management books: "True Professionalism," "The Trusted Advisor," "Practice What You Preach," "First Among Equals; How to Manage a Group of Professionals," and the canonical management textbook "Managing the Professional Service Firm." These books have been translated into 14 languages. For seven years, he served as a professor on the faculty of the Harvard Business School (1979-85), prior to launching his consulting practice. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.  He is also the author of a blog, Passion, People and Principles, and the Business Masterclass podcast series, which along with a (free) subscription-service to his articles are available through his website, www.davidmaister.com.




The Complete Future of Book Publishing Series


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


|

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The real Canadian national anthem

I have spent a fair amount of my adult life as an expat, and if you count my years in Quebec, even more as a language-minority. Hence I tend to bill myself as a "professional foreigner," because after all this practice, I'm getting fairly good at it.

Inspired by the Canadian national anthem playing in the background of the e-card I received from the Ditzy Democrats, I want to share the story with you of the *real* Canadian national anthem, aka how to spot a Canadian overseas.

Years ago I worked in Hiroshima, Japan (the prefecture, not the city) in the Office of the Mayor in a city of 400,000 people called Fukuyama. I worked in the Mayor's International Affairs deparment, and received the updated foreign registration numbers on my desk at the beginning of every month. I not only knew the Western foreigners by sight (vs the ethnic Koreans and Chinese who, even if their families have lived in Japan for multiple generations, are still required to register as foreigners), but I knew exactly how many foreigners were in the city at any time -- usually 100 to 120, plus the third-generation Japanese-Brazilians who had been repatriated to work at the NKK steel plant. And, through the foreign community grapevine, I usually heard as *soon* as a new foreigner came to town.

In fact, because part of my job was to make sure foreigners could make use of municipal services -- without unduly traumatizing municipal employees in the process -- even if foreign tourists were just passing through town, I usually got introduced to people soon after they arrived, whereupon I handed them my business card with my personal "bat phone" number on the back, so they could reach me 24 hours a day if they ran into any trouble in the city.

But, occasionally, I'd wind up a karaoke or at a bar like Shoot The Moon when a new foreigner would walk in that I hadn't met. Now a foreign community overseas is like a small town -- new blood is *very* exciting. And, inside the community, there are strong factions: the Canadians all know each other, the handful of Kiwis are incredibly excited to find another Kiwi, the Australians go drinking together, the Brits deplore everyone else's atrocious abuse of the Queen's English, and the Americans connive to get flag decals from everyone else to stick to their travel gear. So the trick was to find out if a new foreigner was "one of ours"...without being so gauche as to actually ask.

And the Canadian method was fool proof.

You just sidle up behind the new guy or gal at the bar, and start to hum the theme from Hockey Night in Canada:
doot de Doot de doo
Doot de DOOT de Doo
DOOT de DOOT de DOO DOO
Every Canadian in the room bolts around...and starts singing along.

And all the other nationalities completely ignore you.

The test is way better than the ring tone that only teens can hear -- it is a sound that only Canadians will notice!

You may think I'm kidding, but the Hockey Night in Canada theme is really known as Canada's second national anthem. It was written in 1968 by Dolores Claman, and has become one of the longest running theme songs in broadcasting history. It is also certainly (clearly!) one of the most recognized pieces of music in Canada. When the sheet music was released in December 2000, it immediately became the country's number one seller, beating out the likes of even the ever-popular Pachelbel's Canon.

The theme is tied up with great hockey memories from my childhood: going with my Dad and my little brother to watch our JHL team, the Kelowna Buckaroos, play at Memorial Arena; playing pick up street hockey (badly); collecting hockey cards, trading them at school and with the kids in our subdivision, and saving up to buy the special hockey card box shaped like a locker; and best of all, the whole family riveted to our little black and white screen for the 1972 Canada Russian hockey series and Paul Henderson's incredible winning goal on September 28, 1972. (Canadians still consider that win to be one of the greatest moments in Canadian history.) I expect that people who grew up in Canada, especially if they are my age or older, have similiar nostalgic associations.

38 years after the song was written, it is still a great song (despite the many "updates" at the hands of Hockey Night in Canada sponsors), it is still intrinsicly Canadian...and it will still stop an expat Canadian dead in his or her tracks across a crowded bar.
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Happy Canada Day

C'est tout, really. Just thinking of all y'all back home.

Update

I hope I am not remiss in sharing this lovely Canada Day e-card I received today from two of my favourite bloggers. (No guarantees how long it will stay online, so click over there now!)

Yes, Hallmark is truly all over EVERY holiday.
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