Getting out of Quadrant 2

When you start out in life, just get out of school, and are out there pounding the pavement for that first job or trying to make that first sales call, more often than not you’re carrying around a mental model that says: “To pull this off, I need to get my point across effectively.  I need to convince the person I’m meeting with that _________”  (they should hire me; they should buy this product; they should give to my organization.)   In service of this goal, you execute your plan of where the meeting is going to go, you get your points across, and you do most of the talking.

Why not?  It’s what you’ve been trained to do.  It’s a Quadrant 2 approach.  And it often doesn’t work.

About 10 years ago, right before I headed into a job interview, my wife said to me, “Make sure you give THEM time to talk too.”  Novel.  In the first of the three interviews I had that day, meeting with a garrulous, extroverted Vice President, I spoke for about 5 minutes of the one hour interview.  And I got the job.

Most high-achieving Type A folks need to move to the left.

And all of us need to figure out in which quadrant we are most comfortable, and to figure out how to get better at switching from one to another depending on the person we’re meeting and the relationship we’re trying to build.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Tap, Tap, Tap

Today I’m going to hear Dan Heath talk about his new book, Switch, which is about how to create changes in people’s behavior.   I count myself an adamant fan of their first book Made to Stick, so I’m looking forward to the talk.  Made to Stick is of the only actionable books on communications I’ve read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to communicate, sell, interview, connect, or tell stories more effectively (yes this means you!).

Often when I’m asked to do a “how to fundraise” presentation to a small group I’ll start with the “tappers and listeners” experiment that Chip and Dan cite early on in Made to Stick.  The finding was published in the Journal of Political Economy by Dr. Elizabeth Newton, and the experiment goes like this:

Have everyone in your group pair up.  For each pair, elect one person as the “tapper” and one person as the “listener.”  The goal is to have the “listener” guess the song that the “tapper” is tapping.  All the tapper can do is tap her finger on the table in sync with the notes of the song she wants the listener to guess.  So, if the song is “Happy Birthday,” the tapper would tap: “tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-taaaaaaaaaaaap.”  (tap out “Happy Birthday” and you’ll see what I mean.)    Have each person be the tapper once and the listener once

Before everyone gets started, ask them to estimate how often the listener will guess the song correctly.  (You should do this too, right now.  Just write it down or remember your guess.  Will the listener guess right all the time? Half the time? A quarter of the time?)

Now run the experiment and see what happens.

I did this yesterday with a group and it played out like it does every time.  People laugh out loud – it’s a combination of excitement, joy, frustration and embarrassment.  And they do a terrible job guessing the songs and a terrible job guessing how good they will be at guessing the songs.

Yesterday, my group’s median guess for how often the tappers would get the song right was 25%.  In Dr. Newton’s experiment, which was much bigger, people estimated 50%.  And in fact, people in the experiment guessed right 1 in 40 times (2.5%).  In my group yesterday the group guessed right 8% of the time.

Put another way, people estimate that “listeners” are engaged in a coin toss (1 in 2), when really it’s a shot in the dark (1 in 40).

What’s going on here?

Dr. Newton’s article is titled “The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis.”  The Curse of Knowledge in this case is the song that the “tapper” has playing in her head.  As she’s tapping, she literally hears each and every note, and she just cannot imagine what it feels like to be a listener who doesn’t have that tune, who just hears “tap-tap-tap-tap” and thinks “well that could be ANYTHING!!”  The tapper and listener can’t help but get a little bit frustrated at each other.  The tapper thinks “well c’mon, this shouldn’t be so hard,” because she hears the notes accompanying the taps; and the listener wants to please the tapper and wants to get it right but just isn’t getting enough information.

I love having people do this together because it is simple, fun and visceral.  You can tell people a million times to explain things simply, to use narrative, to tell stories, to avoid jargon…and you won’t get half the effect you have after they’ve played this 5- minute game.

It’s easy to remember what it feels like to be both a tapper and a listener and from there you can begin to understand how your own knowledge, expertise and experience are hampering your ability to explain yourself, your story, what your organization does, the change you hope to see in the world.

The next time you’re telling your story and you see a blank, smiling face across the table, take a moment to think: what does this sound like without the accompanying music?


add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Pitching you, without apology

Everyone knows knows that if you run a startup you need an “elevator pitch,” a description of your business that’s pithy enough to capture the attention of a potential investor in the length of an elevator ride.

You know what else needs an elevator pitch?  You.

You need to have a practiced, smooth, two- to three-sentence, “I’m so-and-so and this is who I am and what I do” at the ready.  It takes practice, so know that you’re working on this and play with it until it is right.

To be effective, your personal elevator pitch needs to be direct, simple, energetic, enthusiastic, genuine and unapologetic.  The last word – unapologetic – is the surprising one.  It’s amazing how often people belie, in what they say or how they say it, that they are not proud (or feel like they’re not supposed to be proud) of who they are and what they do.

This is a shame, because I bet what you do is worth doing, and I bet the person you’re talking to believes that as well.

So, if just for this moment, keep your inner critic hidden away and pitch yourself with pride.

*                               *                               *                               *                               *

(P.S. If you are a professional fundraiser this one takes on extra significance.  Often fundraisers either don’t like describing themselves as “fundraisers” – so they stumble over how to describe themselves – or they do say they are “fundraisers” but then make caveats or other kinds of apologies.  Since every fundraiser, as a representative of the organization, is selling themselves first, it’s doubly important to get this right.)

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Tweet your subject line

Remember memos? They used to be sent around in manila interoffice envelopes, a list of names crossed off on the outside.  Memos presaged their digital doppelganger, email, with “To:, Cc:, Date:, and Re:” laid out in black and white.

Difference is, you used to get a few memos a day, and when you’d scan a memo, you’d see the whole thing.  So the subject line (“Re: Project status update”) wasn’t important.

Now people are receiving and scanning tens, maybe hundreds, of emails a day, and they are figuring out how to triage and prioritize them based on three fields: who sent the email, the date/time, and the subject line. Since you can’t change your name or what time you sent the email, the subject line has become the most important part of what you’re sending. 

So avoid generic subject lines and summarize the email instead. Create a 140 character Tweet of your email. Be the opposite of generic.


Not “Project update.”   Instead, “We’re on track for Friday’s deadline”

Not “Hope you’ll join us!”  Instead, “Hope we’ll see you Monday at 6pm – tickets running out”

Not “Re: Our meeting.”  Instead, “Sorry I have to cancel tomorrow’s meeting [Re: Our meeting]”

This may work better internally than externally, since externally you may not want to stand out in this way (or maybe you do).  But I bet 80% of the email you send is to your 10 closest contacts anyhow.

Tweet your subject line to help them (and you!) figure out why you’re writing.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

I hate newsletters…

…and form letters, and customer service notes that sound like customer service notes and most anything that was obviously written by lawyers trying to sound like lawyers whenever it’s not 100% necessary.

Like this note I got the other day from eBay’s customer service department, which includes gems like:

“Thank you for taking the time to write back to eBay regarding your concern…”

“I would request you to check your Account Status Page where you can easily get the detailed report of the fees charged on your account…”

“If you need further assistance, please don’t hesitate to reply to this email and let us know…”

(Yeah, I can tell they’re dying to hear from me.)

Compare that to this note from Moo cards:

“I’m Little MOO – the bit of software that will be managing your order with us.  It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who will print it for you in the next few days.  I’ll let you know when it’s done and on its way to you…”

“Remember, I’m just a bit of software.  So, if you have any questions regarding your order please first read our Frequently Asked Questions at: and if you’re still not sure, contact customer service (who are real people) at

One of these companies is communicating that they care about every interaction and that personal connections matter to them.   In one of these companies, the naysayers lost, the people saying “Yes, but…” failed to choke the life out of things, and doing something memorable was more important than avoiding looking silly.

No one ever loses their job because they took something great and made it unremarkable.  And that’s a real shame.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

10 ways to save conference panels

It’s really astounding how poor most conference panels are.  The biggest problem is the expectation that if you get four smart, interesting people together on stage to have a conversation, that they’ll automatically have an interesting conversation.  Most of the time, they won’t.

Great conversations grow out of shared norms and trust between the actors – in this case, the panelists, the moderator and the audience.  Trust is often hard to build, so let’s start with norms.  Here’s what we can do right, every time:

  1. Start with a great moderator. Moderation is a skill, and it requires asking tough questions and a willingness to cut people off.  The moderator also has to know the subject area to be able to direct the conversation effectively.
  2. Empower the moderator. No matter who’s the best-known person on stage, it’s the moderator’s show.  The moderator is the master of ceremonies, not a sideshow or “nice to have.”
  3. Don’t have panelists from wildly diverse fields. No matter how impressive the names you can pull together, most of the time you’re trying to have a conversation focused on a (bounded) topic.  A civil rights lawyer, a CEO, a cabinet member and a movie star talking about “women’s issues” are going to have a very hard time getting past generalities.
  4. Prepare the group. Have the moderator talk to the panelists before the presentation, and set the ground-rules: no responses greater than 60 seconds, I will cut you off.  You can’t have a great panel if everyone shows up the day of the panel without having talked first, by phone or email (but preferably by phone).  Having a few of the panelists know each other is a big plus.
  5. Set goals. Your panelists are likely not improve artists, so don’t expect spontaneous insights without some map of where you’re going.   Decide in advance, and share with your panelists, points you’re going to make sure you hit in the discussion.  You can do this in a way that keeps the conversation organic, but gives a sense of milestones and a destination.
  6. No powerpoint presentations. Self explanatory.
  7. Short introductory remarks. Tell panelists they have 2-3 minutes.  They’ll still take 5, but probably won’t take 20.
  8. (in the Q&A) People must ask questions. Questions from the audience are great.  Speeches from the audience are not.  Insist that questions be one sentence long, and be willing to redirect, restate, or take a pass on a question that’s off topic.
  9. One question, one response. The norm should be that only one panelist responds to each question – and then make an occasional exception.  With a lax moderator, each panelist feels like they’re supposed to pipe in, and this can be deadly.  If each question gets 4 responses, and each response is 1-2 minutes, that’s 5-8 minutes per question asked.  Yawn.
  10. Go deeper, not broader. Whoever is asking the question (moderator or audience), the moderator should be ready with follow-ups that start with “What did you mean by….”  “I didn’t follow you when you said…” “Doesn’t that contradict…” The goal is to uncover things that are surprising and delightful, which only happens when you break through the stock answers.

Until we get this right, the main function of panelists will be as names on a program to attract conference attendance, and as validation of the stature of the panelists themselves.  This is fine as far as it goes, but it takes so little to do a whole lot better.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Communication cop-out

With the launch of the new iPhone 3Gs today, the handheld wars are in full swing.  Lots to get excited about here, and you can mark your calendars: 2009 will be the year when the blurry line between computer and cellphone communications is erased forever.

Our habits rarely evolve as quickly as our technology, so we’re still acting like different rules apply depending on whether you write your emails on a computer or a handheld.

Apple and BlackBerry both include an automatic signature for all emails you send, an istant cop-out that says “Sent from my BlackBerry handheld device” and “Sent from my iPhone.”   It makes sense for the companies — free advertising — and while I can’t remember if BlackBerrys were ever hip, I do remember the first few times I saw “sent from my iPhone” after a signature, and I must admit it conferred a halo of cool for a few weeks.

But with iPhones ubiquitous and smartphones representing one third of global handheld market share, the rules have changed.  The  “sent from my smartphone” email postscript is an anachronism, as it’s saying “give the note I’ve sent some slack because I didn’t type it on a proper keyboard.”

I think this is risky.  It gives the sender the illusion that she gets to take shortcuts instead of remembering that every communication is a chance to build rapport and connection, and every note that doesn’t do this shouldn’t be sent in the first place.  Really.

(And if you’re going to leave on the email signature, at least personalize it.    The best I’ve seen so far: “Awkwardly typed on hopelessly tiny keyboard…pls. excuse brevity and typos.” )

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Don’t forget

Everything you write online (email, blog, twitter, text) can and will get anywhere else in an instant.  This isn’t news, but ask yourself:  do I write EVERY email/blog/tweet assuming that the people who are closest to this can and probably will read and share what I’m writing?

This isn’t just about search and the fact that web pages from 2002 still exist.  And it isn’t only about whether your party photos on Facebook might get in the way of the job you hope to get a decade from now (though that matters a lot).  It’s really about the power of tribes to amplify any idea and get that idea/thought/reflection in the right hands in an instant.

The most velocity is in tight networks where the word gets out silently and before you know it.

So why not assume that the people who know and care the most are reading everything you write, and there won’t be any surprises down the line?  The upshot is that this isn’t just risk avoidance; it forces you to think big and imagine you have exactly the audience you dream of — because you just might.

This is as much about awareness as it is about discipline each and every time you write.

(and no, I didn’t have something fall into the wrong hands.  But a few things in the last few days  got into the right hands very very quickly, and man was I happy that I was conscious about each and every word I wrote.)

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

An email tax

It’s pretty well-established that we have an email free rider problem.  Since there’s essentially no marginal cost for each additional person I email….voilà, SPAM represents more than 90% of all email sent.

But what about inside your organization?  I suspect you have a lot of email threads involving a back-and-forth conversation with 8 people copied.

What if you had to do the math?  30 seconds to read an email, another 30 to think about it and maybe respond x 8 people = 8 minutes of organizational time spent.

On average the people copied on your email earn $0.50 – $1.00 per minute (some more, some less, but let’s keep the math simple…and never mind that everyone’s supposed to be producing much more than they cost the company).  So each time you Reply All, even if just to say, “Thanks, Cary,” or “This will be great!” it’s cost the organization $8.  That doesn’t sound too terrible until you figure 50-150 emails/day/person in your organization…thousands and thousands of dollars per person per year because we’re lazily copying people.

Plus all the time people spend wading through emails instead of thinking.

Some ideas:

  1. Disable the “Reply All” button for emails
  2. Or if that’s too technical to implement, create norms that makes replying all unacceptable
  3. When a chain gets going, after the second note it’s someone’s job to write the group and say, “We’re taking this offline, I’ll update everyone on where we ended up.”
  4. Reply All and type “Remove me”.  Short term this increases email traffic, but pretty soon people will start thinking twice.
  5. Create an email tax: charge people $0.25 for each reply all, with a 3x match by the company ($1 total per Reply All).  Give the money away to a charity, and have a “Reply All” volunteer day to boot.  Everyone wins.
  6. Pick up the phone instead.

There are some conversations that whole groups need to follow by email, but not nearly as many as we think.  Make it cost something to send to everyone, and you’ll have more time left to do…just about anything.

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Invention request

Could someone please invent an email viewer akin to TweetDeck? This way you could have vertical columns of emails from different groupings that you establish, allowing you to pre-filter what you are seeing and have whole verticals that are “read right now” and others that can wait? Colors, filtering into folders, etc….they’re all not addressing the basic problem which is to pre-apply some sort of classification to emails as they come in, rather than leaving that up to you.

If you think about it, given how much we all rely on email, our interface has barely changed in the last decade. Is there some great innovation out there that I missed?

Tweetdeck lets you group replies and scroll left/right as well as up/down
Tweetdeck lets you group replies and scroll left/right as well as up/down

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook