You Can Out-Teach The Competition

If you’re a small business, you can’t out-spend the competition on marketing.  But you can out-teach them.  Here’s a great video with David Heinemeier Hansson (a partner in 37signals and the creator of Ruby on Rails).

He’s talking about how they’ve built a great audience through blogs, lectures, seminars and other teachable moments.  Great stuff!

Source:  Venture Beat via Remarkablogger

Learning To Use That New Hammer

hammer

I’m facilitating a workshop this week for a bunch of Learning 2.0 folks in Las Vegas. (No, I have no plans to be “teaching” or “training” — thanks for asking.)  The title I came up with is “Relax!  Everything You Know About Content Is Wrong…”

hammerYeah, part of getting sessions accepted is a catchy title — but I really believe that most everything we’ve taught our students about content in their formal educational history is wrong.  How we design it, how we deploy it, how they interact with it and how we judge if they’ve taken it in successfully.

So I spend a great deal of time nowadays talking to fellow learning designers about that, in the guise of showing them “new media tools” like Twitter and Facebook and NING and Wicker and Spooty and Fitzzle…  (Points will be given for those of you who realize which of those are made up gibberish.)

In reality, these things are just tools.  What we’re really doing is responding to the fact that there are better ways of dealing with today’s learners and their needs, and the existence of some of these new technologies is giving us a long overdue kick in the Kirkpatrick to encourage some change.

Here’s my list of what “old” content looks like:

  • I’m up HERE, you learners are out THERE
  • I know the answers.  You’re supposed to take them in from me.
  • My answers are the right ones.  Yours are not.
  • My content (the text book) is correct.  Your experience or theories are not valid.
  • We measure success on how well you can parrot back to me what I said.
  • Old, gray heads make the best choices about what to learn, when, and how.
  • You start here.  Then you do this, then this, then that.  Then you stop.
  • If I want your input, I’ll ask for it.  And then evaluate it.
  • You in the back — quit whispering. You’ll disturb others.
  • Here’s a list of work to do outside of class. I chose it.
  • These are the accepted resources and authorities. I chose them.
  • At the end, we’ll grade on a curve.  There will be winners and losers.
  • If you’re louder, you get noticed.  If you’re quiet, you don’t.
  • If you agree with my theories, you’ll get praised.  If you don’t, you won’t.
  • You should highlight the stuff that I say is important — it will be on the test.
  • Name in the upper left-hand corner.  Points given for neatness.

So — what did your classroom look like when you were in school?  My workshop at TechKnowledge 2010 (TK10) in Las Vegas this week will break every single one of these rules, I hope.

It should be total chaos.

Using Content To Find New Four-Legged Clients

wateree

Yesterday I spent some time talking to a new client (whee!) about what seems to be a very common problem for small businesses.  And it looks like I’ll be doing some work with them, and actually using them as a case study of sorts.

It’s the Wateree Animal Hospital in Camden, SC.  I found them because one of our little pugs had a sore leg, and I just wasn’t happy with the big “shopping center vet” that we’d been going to — so I asked my Twitter peeps for a recommendation.  They sent me to a town about a half hour from my house, that’s even smaller than Columbia.  Tiny.

wateree

Why did I go there?  Well, because my pets are very important to me, and I wanted someone who’d really care about them.  And take good care OF them. (And it didn’t hurt that their web site had a HUGE picture of a pug on the home page.)

I ended up spending time talking with the owner, with the Practice Manager, and several other members of the staff after Max got his leg taken care of.  They had a pretty decent web site, and had just set up a Facebook page.  But were a little confused about what happens next.

(If you tell people you’re a nerd, you probably have this conversation as often as I do.  And find it just about impossible to explain how to use social media effectively in ten minutes.  Unless you’re Chris Brogan.)

So I offered to come back and spend an hour or so showing them around the Interweb and give them a few pointers, in thanks for getting my doggie back to top condition.  That led to lots of talking, and now we’re going to spend some time adding good content to their site, doing some SEO, sharing out what they know on Twitter and Facebook, etc.  All the basics.

Will I get rich off this?  No.  But it will be lots of fun, I’ll be able to write a heck of a case study, and who knows — someday I may need to get a pug taken care of at 2AM on a Sunday.

Just feeding the Karma machine.

Yada, Yada Yada. Blah, Blah, Blah. Get To The Point!

smc_columbia1

It has come to my attention that some of you didn’t get the memo.  You’re apparently unaware that we’re living in a world of 15-second TV commercials, 140-character tweets, and three-minute “long-form” videos on YouTube.

Nobody gives a rat’s ass about your context, your setup, your overview, your background, your rationale, your reasoning, your formative thinking, or the deductive path that you followed.  Except maybe your mom.  (And she’s lying, you know.)

You need to get to the point, right now.

If it’s a presentation, make it clear and easy to understand.  Here’s one of the opening slides I used last week to explain the talk I was giving:

smc_columbia1

No animations, no bullets, no fancy fonts and it stayed on the screen for about 60 seconds.  But it clearly outlined what folks would be hearing from me, and I referred back to it at least a dozen times in the next 45 minutes.

And while this is great advice for a presentation, it’s also pretty wonderful for blogging, picture captions, white papers and email.  Tell me early on what the reason is for the experience, and let me decide if I want to know more about the other stuff.

(Now as an experienced education professional, with a degree and all, that’s not the way I’d always prefer to work.  If I’ve got you locked in a room with me for an hour, I may spend some time setting up what we’re doing, giving you the “big picture”, or somehow providing context.  But if we’re working online, I’ve got to accept that your forefinger is itching to click that mouse button and move on to something involving either cute kittens or hamsters.)

As a test, hand your copy to a friend and give them two minutes.  Then take it away and ask them to tell you the one big thing that came out.  If it’s not the main point of what you’re doing, draw a big red X through what you’ve done, and start over.

Is Using Social Media Like Pulling Teeth?

One of my favorite evangelists in the Social Media space is Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt on Twitter) the Director of Education and Events for the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP)– a small nonprofit headquartered in Dallas, TX.

Jeff_Hurt_10-14-2009_2-55-51_PMYou wouldn’t think of dental work and social media, but he’s done great work in getting a pretty stodgy group to use some really neat tools — and I ran across a great interview where he actually listed off all the tools that he and his staff use on a daily basis:

What social media sites/tools are you using?

  • Animoto Videos (free or low-cost video creation)
  • Blogtalkradio (interview members, speakers, board candidates, etc.)
  • EventCenter & EventPartner Webinar Platforms (which include webinar microsite, registration process, podcast recording features, text chatting)
  • Hootsuite (to schedule our daily tweets)
  • iCohere eCommunity (velvet rope eCommunity for members only)
  • Facebook Fan Page (for conferences and events)
  • Google Alerts & Twitter Search (for NADP as well as specific industry key words)
  • LinkedIn Group
  • Ning groups (for our own professional learning)
  • Social Collective Conference eCommunity (which also includes event registration, marketing and crowdsourcing features.)
  • Tinychat – to engage in conversations with general public about dental benefits
  • Tweetdeck (to monitor chatter on specific association keywords as well as government initiatives)
  • Twitter
  • Vovici for our research and surveys
  • Wiffiti.com
  • WordPress Blogs (conference blog, public outreach blog, advocacy issues regarding healthcare reform)
  • YouTube


How To Handle Tough Questions From Reporters

I got an email today from Ragan Communications with a lovely little video on “How To Handle Tough Questions From Reporters” that had most of the standard “fess up and take your medicine” sort of advice that your mom would probably give you.

But really, in today’s world of social media tools, there are better ways to handle a reporter trying to nail you on a big story.

If A Reporter Asks About Your Mistress…

…post something on your Facebook page, talking about how you’ve adopted a deserving 27-year-old lingerie model who was so skinny that she might have starved to death.  Remember to link to photos to prove your case.

If A Reporter Questions Your Expense Account…

…tweet that your Gulfstream has been in the shop for the last time, and you’re purchasing Willie Nelson’s old tour bus and will be driving to all of your overseas fact-finding missions from now on.  Don’t mention the ganja in the master suite.

If A Reporter Hears About Your Un-Documented Nanny…

…blog that you’ve embarked on a new Rosetta Stone “full immersion” language lesson series where you get not only the DVDs and tapes, but an actual Spanish-speaking person to come to your house for 45-days to help you prepare for your trip.

If A Reporter Prints That Your Wife Has Left You…

…post a travel review to Yelp claiming that Delta Airlines booked a ticket for a woman with your wife’s name to Mazatlan, along with your pool boy and all your mutual funds.

If A Reporter Calls To Confirm That You’ve Been Laid Off As CEO…

…crumple paper near the receiver and claim a bad Skype connection.

Why “Best Practices” Will Blow Up In Your Face

xjsv12

If I hear one more highly-paid consultant talking about “best practices” I may just have to drop kick them through the uprights on the practice field.  The whole idea is such a crock that I’m amazed anyone takes it seriously.

Here’s a 30-second video of the “Best Practice To Light Your Charcoal Grill Quickly”.  Take a look.

Will you be using this technique soon?  I won’t — unless I want to lose my deck, my wife, and melt my Weber Kettle down into slag.

The point (he has a point?) is that the concept of “Best Practice” assumes that we all share the same conditions, the same metrics for success, and the same risk/reward structure.  The guy in the video was only interested in how quickly he could get that charcoal going — so, for him, it truly was the “Best Practice”.

In my field, learning, I see the same thing happen.  Someone comes out with a list of “Best Practices In e-Learning” with no context.  They suggest that you offer multiple methods for learners to take in the information.  They suggest that you include rich animations, videos, talking parrots and streaming video.  They suggest that you comply with SCORM, NORM, and NNPT. Not to mention offering versions for the deaf, the visually impaired, and those who are allergic to keyboard dust mites.

Uh huh.  My development budget is $250 this quarter.  Not gonna happen.

The whole concept of a “best” anything is a crock, anyway.  What’s the “best” car?  Well, I’m partial to the Jaguar XJS V-12, but it’s hard to haul plywood home in it from Home Depot.

xjsv12

So why do people keep publishing this dreck?  Because we want to THINK we can come up with some kind of one-size-fits all listing of answers that won’t require you to actually know anything about the discipline involved to be an expert.  Sure would be nice:

Jet Pilot
“Best Practice if engines go out, hit big red “fix it” button on control panel.”

Neurosurgeon
“Best Practice if patient acts nutters, stick long steel rod up nose and stir around.”

Hockey Player
“Best Practice to score goals, hit puck thingy into net thingy.”

The harsh truth is that there ARE no real “Best Practices”.  Unless you come up with an exhaustive list of conditions and specifications — developed by an expert who understands both the situation and the discipline — and even then, all you’re getting is an educated guess.

Fire your consultants.  Hire someone who’s actually done it, multiple times, successfully.

Send This To Every Web Developer You Know! Now!

validation

I ran across this amazing usability study of how “inline validation” helps visitors complete your web forms more easily and with a better experience from Luke Wroblewski at “A List Apart”.

(For those of you among the non-technical, it just means that as you type in your answer the software gives you feedback on whether or not it can accept that answer, or you have to say something else — rather than waiting until you answer all 25 questions and hit “submit” at the bottom.)

I’ve long railed at my developers to do this, and they keep whining about how hard it is and that they don’t want to do it.  Now I’ve got the ammunition.  Ha!

validation

Seth Godin On The Tribes We Lead

seth

I’m always telling people about Seth Godin’s book “Tribes” — but I doubt that they go to the trouble of finding, buying, and reading it.  Now you can just watch him talk at TED about it:

Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.

seth