Category Archives: Best Practices

Trackbacks – A Better Reason to Not Have Comments

Seth Godin’s been getting some heat for not allowing comments on his blog posts (despite trackbacks being turned on.

Seth’s reason is something about not having time to respond to and “curate” each an every comment. Eh. Sure. But there’s a better reason. One consistent with Seth’s position and the fact that trackbacks, as I mentioned earlier, are turned on.

Comments (blog responses hosted on the original blog) don’t allow the comment-author to take ownership and responsibility for their statements. They can start a fire and leave, sticking the blog author with the mess to clean up.

Trackbacks on the other hand have all the benefits of comments without the drive-by issue. The pre-requisite being – the commenter needs a blog themselves. Not a terribly high obstacle these days. Plus, the comment is then presented to another group of readers – in addition to the readers of the original blog (i.e. readers of Godin’s blog see this and readers of the Work Better), thereby connecting communities via conversation.

Last November, 37Signals pulled comments from their popular Signal vs Noise blog. In my response posted at MNteractive, I used Seth Godin’s use of trackbacks as an example for 37Signals to follow.

To repeat myself here:

“[Trackbacks distribute] the conversation across many blogs rather than the hoisting the entire comment burden on the original blogger. Trackbacks eliminate the risk that one anonymous commenter will control the comment thread.”

Godin has no obligation to publish anyone’s views on his blog. Not even his own.

27 March 2007

“This is why I have no trouble whatsoever deleting anonymous comments. Identity matters. If people don’t feel the need to be held personally accountable for their words, I don’t want to talk to them.” – Hugh MacLeod

06 Nov 2007

“…unless you let me know what was up with deleting my comments.” – Steve Borsch

Dave Winer’s never been a big fan of comments on his blog. He doesn’t believe they’re necessary for something to be defined as a blog or for a conversation to occur. Steve’s complaint on his own blog proves that.

Postel’s Law Asks, What Are You Ignoring Today?

There are quite a few memes circling this week I’m actively ignoring. Things where this sentence is exactly the amount of energy I’m giving them. If you also follow Doc Searls, these are snowballs I don’t think deserve pushing.

This is where the attention metadata stuff gets mushy. I’m talking about the triangles in the corners of the Attention Pyramid, the delta between attention & importance, between impression and click-through, between reading and writing, between Postel’s Law. The things I deem important should be associated with my identity, not the super-set of things I’ve given some acknowledging amount of attention to.

Question is, which is more valuable to snowball pushers; people ignoring them or people in their way?

Lawyers That Get Niche Publishing and Podcasting

Some of you may remember the 6-part series I did with Parsinen Kaplan Rosberg & Gotlieb P.A. over at the First Crack Podcast. For your convenience, I’ve consolidated all the PKR&G podcast conversations including 2 bonus conversations that didn’t make the original series.

This week PKR&G came out with their annual lifestyle magazine, “Perfectly Legal”. It includes text versions of many of the conversations and – just in time for the holidays – many other recommendations from the firm. There’s also a nice article on how podcasting builds and extends personal relationships written by yours truly.

All the articles in the 32-page issue were written by the someone with a relationship to the firm, all the photos are of people in the firm, and the magazine itself gets sent out to those again – with relationships to the firm.

This isn’t millions of people. It’s the right people. The people that trust and respect PKR&G, the people that will recommend PKR&G to their friends.

You don’t pick a lawyer by scanning a directory, why would you do the same for a podcast?

IBM Employee Podcasting Guidelines

In an age when every employee and customer is a few mouse clicks from their own weblog and podcast and Forbes is spreading blog FUD it’s refreshing to see Big Blue is not only publishing podcasts, but encouraging their employees to do the same.

As a nearly hundred year-old company that no one ever got fired for choosing, you might anticipate a hundred page document signed off by every lawyer this side of the Mississippi. Nope. Just seven very reasonable, sensible points in the IBM podcasting guidelines.

I agree with 6.5 of them.

I only half agree with high audio quality. As you’ve heard me say before – if we as people were concerned with high audio quality, telephones wouldn’t exist. That said, higher quality audio quality is easier to listen to over the wind noise in my car. There is a different expected level of quality with the IBM-brand than say, IBM is admitting that.

Kudos to IBM for leading the charge for sane employee guidelines.

Why Conferences Should Be Free

Earlier this week, Lori and I were talking about the crazy $500-$1,000+ ticket prices for industry conferences. Considering the you’d have to block the time off your calendar, close up the shop, and book travel, the additional admission cost seems like a good way to artificially prevent people from showing up.

At every professional-related meeting or conference I’ve attended, the best parts were between the formal, scheduled sessions. The hallway conversations, the happy hours, the lunches. The one-on-one with other attendees. Even at the local MIMA Salons, there’s a part of me that curses when the formal session begins.

With the MNteractive Information Architect Coffees and the PodcastMN Meetups, we pick a place, a time, and whoever makes it, makes it. Usually, it’s 80% the same core people and 20% new voices. Then again, there’s usually wireless – so if no one shows up – you can still get some work done.

All this is leading up to an emphatic ‘Damn Straight’ in response to Dave Winer’s Like a BloggerCon post – on the inherent costs of participation:

“Even so, there is a price of admission. To get to the BBQ, or the Homebrew Club, BMUG or BloggerCon, you had to have a ride. To get on the web you have to have a computer and a net connection.”

The best part of Winer’s post is (emphasis mine):

“My experience with these shows is that if you trust the universe, it will take good care of you.”

Elsewhere: 17 April 2007
“How much do conferences cost?” – Eric Rice

This Email is Bloggable Signature

I’ve been thinking about when to send an email verses blog. I’ve decided on a loose guideline: if more than 3 people would find something useful, I’ll blog it. If not it’s an email (or, even better, an instant message)

Somethings, like mailing lists, don’t map well to this guideline. To cover that, I’ve followed Ross Mayfield’s cue and added a “this email is bloggable” flag to my email signature.

This message is blog-able:
[x] yes [ ] please don’t

Notice this is a simplification from Mayfield’s 3 checkbox version – to me “please ask” really means “please don’t”. While reading his Email 2.0 post, I realized the sig could be simplified further. To minimize confusion, I don’t include the bloggable flag in private or “please don’t” messages anyway. That, and “please don’t” never felt right. In addition, if I don’t explicity grant you permission to use a private or semi-private email message publicly – then well, you won’t. Cause that ain’t Web 2.0 cool.

Thus, I’ve revised my flag to read:

– Feel Free to Blog This Message –

Fix the Employee Cafeteria and You’ll Fix the Customer Relationship

Rob over at Business Pundit posts on How Broken Windows Can Kill a Business. As always, insightful.

I’m a big fan of fixing the small things. Not only does it make a change easier to implement, all big things are made of small things, so the big things start to take care of themselves.

The first comment, from David Lorenzo offers insight as compelling as Rob’s original post:

“When I was in the hotel industry and I was faced with a troubled property I would always clean up the ‘back of the house’ first. I would scrub and paint all the areas that the guests wouldn’t see. I would upgrade the meals in the employee cafeteria and I would re-stripe the employee parking lot….I would explain that we were going to improve every detail of our hotel guests’ experience and we were going to start from the inside out.”

Theres Always More Than One Way

“Don’t ever allow yourself to believe that there is only one way to make ideas real.” – Scott Berkun

Stated more traditionally, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

The great thing about roadblocks is they force an evaluation of goals.

For example, you’d like to publish a book and are continually rejected by publishers. Is is that you want to have a physical book on Barnes & Noble’s shelves or that you want to share your ideas with the world?

One answer says mold yourself to what publishers want and wait for them to like you. The other says start a blog over lunch.

Even the Almost Perfect Customer Experience Takes 15 Years

I bought a car last week. We’ve been looking for another one for some time and not been real happy with what’s available (anything under 20 mpg just seems irresponsible). My father-in-law has a fantastic, nearly 15 year old relationship with a dealership. He’s purchased every car I’ve ever seen him drive there. When Jen and I wanted to buy our first car, we went there.

Jen found our new car online. We’d been looking at imports and this was a domestic. We were looking at cars twice as expensive. This was exactly what we were looking for and it was at this dealership. She asked her dad to check it out. He calls back with the whole story, everything sounds good. All we need to do is drive the 4 hours to pick it up.


Then, like the story Christopher Carfi quotes, the warranty salesperson got involved.

We don’t know him. We know the car salesman, we know he guys in the shop. We don’t know the warranty guy. More importantly, he doesn’t know us.

He doesn’t know the kind of drivers we are, what we find important, or that we wouldn’t be there without the aforementioned 15 year old relationship. Then he attempted to sell us an extended warranty for a car we all knew would be fine for as long as it mattered.

Everything else about buying the car was perfect.

Productivity Tip: Empty Your Dock

Back in the pre-OS X days, I used DragThing religiously to keep applications, websites, and documents at my finger tips. That mentality migrated with me to OS X – put everything in the Dock, keep it handy.

Today, I shed it.

Inspired partially by my preparation for the Tiger upgrade and partially by my proficiency with QuickSilver, I’ve emptied everything out of the doc. Only the Finder and Trash are persistent. Everything else, in when in use, out when not.

Even in the half-a-day I’ve made the change, I feel less distracted and more focused. Fewer temptations by Mail (finally a way to turn it off), IM, and NetNewsWire. Plus, I’m more aware of which applications I’m using and what I’m using them for.

Here’s a special half-tip for you (this one, I’ve been using as long as I can remember). Set your desktop to a solid, neutral color – I’m partial to OS X’s ‘Solid Grey’. This way, colors will shift less when you’re trying to find the right hex value and there’s generally less visual noise.

More Gets You to Better

As I mentioned in my interview at, I had an art professor who believed everyone had 5,000 bad drawings in them. Five thousand drawings bad drawings before the good ones could come out.

This perspective is re-iterated in Throw More Pots over at Crossroads Dispatches.

In this same token, I’m a firm believer every organization needs a playground, a skunkworks, a sandbox. Whatever it’s called, it’s a mentality where people can develop a million small ideas to find the ones that work. Whether drawings or pots or business models.

With the relative low cost of website development, in comparison to traditional television marketing, there’s a huge opportunity to try a million different small (potentially better) campaigns and cumulatively get the same return – if not a greater return.

Are Newspapers in the News Business or Fish-wrap Business?

Doc Searls:

“If your paper is worth so much (and it is), and you want to charge for it, how about charging for fresh news, and giving away the stale stuff?”

The ‘more-for-new-less-for-old’ model is a good one. Let’s take a look a couple industries where it seems to work well:

  1. Movies
    If Jen and I want to see the newest Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy right when it’s released (doubtful), I’m paying upwards of $16 at the cineplex. A few months after that, I can rent the DVD for $2 and have a HHGTTG-themed party in the comfort of my own home. I’ll probably wait. The same is true of HBO’s shows, and other cable-only televison.
  2. Apparel
    If I need the hip-est Kenneth Cole or Michael Kors suit, it’s Marshall Fields. If I can wait a season, it’s Off-5th or Marshalls for far less. I usually wait.

Back to the newspaper business. If I want the latest, most up-to-date reporting, I turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or more likely, head to a news-provider’s website via Google News. Always free (if not heavily subsidized). If I want to link to their specific article in this weblog, you (the reader) will need either register or pay to have any context.

This is a disincentive for me to link to the newspaper’s articles. Thereby artificially limiting the useful life of the article (what’s being called the long tail).

This is fine if newspapers are actually in the fish-wrap business. In that case, the paper itself is the most valuable. The usefulness is not in the reporter’s words but in the fish, birdcage, or compost bin the paper eventually lines. Not a message I would send to the beat reporters.

A few months back, I heard the president of Schwan’s Foods talk. From his perspective, Schwan’s isn’t in the frozen food business as much as the food delivery business. Just like Amazon & Wal-Mart not being in the retail business, more the logistics and fulfillment business.

These slight shifts in perspective make a huge difference in your implementation and customer relationship.

If newspapers are in-fact still in the news business, the need to explore avenues that customers readers (not advertisers) will finance. Along the lines of Jupiter Research. Otherwise, they’re a history lesson just like the recording, oil, and airline industries.

Making a Decision is Always Better than Not.

Yesterday, I grabbed a coffee with one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We were talking about project teams wallowing in the unknown and stalling out. He proclaimed:

“Just put a stake in the ground and move on.”

His recommendation reinforces Charlie Lazor’s advice, “You really won’t know until you build it.”

Both of these thoughts require an acceptance of being wrong. An acceptance that the first solution, based on what is currently known, just might be faulty. The only way to find out is to build something and get more information – either from the customers, the technology team, or the prototype itself.

Every instance I’ve seen where a project team wasn’t able to easily define an interaction was due to lack of information. Similarly, every instance I’ve seen where defining an interaction has reached Heated Debate, the available information was faulty. A quick call to a customer or developer diffused the situation immediately.

You Really Won’t Know Until You Build It

I caught Charlie Lazor, talking about building furniture and houses at the University of Minnesota this evening.

I found this quote on prototyping invaluable:

“We spent so much time arguing whether or not it work, and when we prototyped it, it worked remarkably well. We could have saved so much time, if we had just built it sooner.”

My full write-up on his talk can be found at: Your House as Furniture.

The Creative Grotto Vibe

This morning Jen brought up the Temporary Office Space idea again. It’s something she’s brought up before. As a highly-mobile professional, the idea is very compelling. To have comfortable, secure place to send faxes grab a decent cup of coffee, and recharge off a good vibe for an hour or two, I think you can see how tempting it is.

This is why I’m tracking the next iteration of the Gate 3 Work Club.

On a smaller scale, I scanned the blogroll (opml) this morning, Brand Autopsy has a nice write-up on Po Bronson’s Writer’s Grotto.

If you’re interesting in this idea and closer to the Twin Cities, check out the Renaissance Box’s Writer’s Refuge.

Here’s a quick list of what I want from my work space (temporary or otherwise):

  • Wireless Internet
  • Chairs and tables fitting people over 6′ tall
  • Really good coffee
  • 2 reservable conference rooms; 1 for 2-4 people, 1 for 4-8 people
  • An open lofted, studio area where everyone can work quietly, and be aware of others working quietly
  • Postal substation
  • High speed, color copier

More as it comes to me.

Better Email Tips

On MPR the other morning, they had consultant and author Marilyn Paul talking about ways to spend less time in your inbox.

Her suggestion is to institute email subject line tags. You include these tags in your email subject line. Here are the one’s I remember:

  • ty: thank you
  • nrn: no reply necessary
  • nbd: need response by date

More tips on increasing your effectiveness available in her book: It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.

Care and Feeding of Your Harshest Critics

Marqui is paying people to test drive and blog about their content management system.

From Marc Canter on the origins of the idea:

When I first came up with the idea – the question was poised “what if they blog something negative?”

My answer was “that’s a good thing! Can you imagine how powerful it will be for us to listen to and react to that criticism and show that we responded in a timely manner by actually fixing the problems?”

That’ll be worth its weight on gold.

Exactly. People are going to criticize your company’s offerings whether you allows them to or not. By listening to your harshest critics – i.e. most passionate customers – you’ll learn more about what the world expects from you.

I’ll be tracking the Marqui program.

On a related note, we launched the MNteractive Directory earlier this week. The MNteractive Directory is a wiki containing the Minnesota’s interactive design talent.

Wikis, by their very nature, are editable by anyone. Like Cantor, one of the first questions poised was, “What if someone changes something of mine?”

My response is two-fold:

  1. Everything is backed up, so an unnecessary change can be easily reverted.
  2. It’s your responsibility to not put up information that needs to be changed and not change things unnecessarily.

The world is becoming more and more transparent. Therefore we are need to be more responsible and open to criticism and praise. For that is the order – 1. criticism 2. praise.

More Slack Keeps Projects on Track

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Swap in “project” for “emergency” and Eisenhower’s statement is equally as true. Yes, projects are as unexpected as emergencies. If all the variable of a project were known ahead of time – processes, timeframes, resources – the project would already be complete. Projects are in fact the process for answering these questions.

When I was working for a WiFi startup a couple years back, my product manager spent a good chunk of his days in Microsoft Project. Every day, he would tweak the Gantt charts to reflect the current state of the project, and print out the revised plan.

Then as the plan came off the printer, some new information would arrive making the new plan obsolete.

Lately, I’ve been involved in a number of enterprise software projects all at the early planning stages. Project 1 is starting with a Gantt chart. Like all Gantt charts, it depicts a tiered, linear, hand-off process. This is inherently ineffective.

A more effective, collaborative, and true-to-life model is a weave [WorkingPathways_ProjectWeave.pdf]. The pdf illustrates the weave model I helped a design agency work towards.

Another effective planning model comes from Frank Patrick and has traction in the Agile Software development community: the Hurricane model for predicting uncertain futures. The crux – we know where the project is now and some notion of time it takes to get in any direction, but we don’t know exactly where the project will be at that time. That’s the classic quantum mechanics trade-off: you can measure velocity or precision. Not both.

The most effectively run projects I’ve observed are based 2 principles;

  • Slack:Project schedules should have 2 forms of slack built in – 1 day per week and 1 week per month. Only schedule work for 80% of the available time. That’ll keep the schedule flexible enough to adjust for all the unknowns you’ll discover along the way.
    Read more on slack in the excellent book Slack : Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
  • Keep a loose association between work and resources:
    Define the pile of work and define the members of the team. Don’t define it in any more detail than that.

I think Steve Pavlina sums it up nicely:

“No plan survives contact with the real world.”

Find Failure Fast

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” – Thomas J. Watson Sr, founder of IBM

“…fail faster so [you] can succeed sooner.” – David Kelley of IDEO

I’ve got any number of projects in the works at any given time (current count is north of 20). Last year, there was a different twenty. Some of the same, and I’ve found the sign of a good project is one that sticks with you for years. Some of the projects I started last year worked out extremely well (VINE360, others were obvious (in retrospect) failures.

Ultimately, my work is to capture and apply feedback to business strategy. Failure gives clear feedback – and it will persist until you listen. The usability evaluations and ethnographic studies I conduct are about listening for failure early. When it’s easiest to accommodate.

Failure will occur, whether you like it or not. As the earlier quotes illustrate, it’s better to find failure fast than procrastinate. For procrastinating failure only puts off success.

Cost of Stolen Towels Comes Out of Marketing Budget

A couple years back, Amazon attempted two things:

  1. Advertising in print and on television.
  2. Charging for shipping.

They found little return on the first, and a found a huge backlash against the second.

Amazon now finances their Super Saver shipping with their advertising budget: NY Times – Amazon Tries Word of Mouth

Holiday Inn just took a page from Amazon’s playbook.

About the Towels We Forgive You, documents guests’ stories of ‘borrowed’ Holiday Inn towels. An excellent idea, capturing the enthusiasm of their most brand-passionate guests and giving the proceeds to charity.

Yet the idea is only being half-executed.

I agree with David Paul at Perceptional Analyzer when he says:

“I think hotels should encourage guests to take a towel or robe anyway. They take it home, use it, see the logo all the time. What better way to stay top-of-mind for when people are making their next travel plans? Sure there is a cost involved, but it’s called the marketing budget.”

I see a similar phenomenon in talking with clients. They want to proceed with a project, and aren’t able to support it in their discreet budget. While other, related budgets have a surplus.

Should redesigning a website or software product come out of product development’s, customer service’s, training’s, or marketing’s budget? Yes.

As should the customer research driving the redesign. As all those departments are intertwined in your customer’s mind, building a passionate customer base will help all those departments. In this cooperative environment, to paraphrase Seth Godin, everyone gets a Free Prize Inside.

Sales Clerk Shops Competiton With Customer

Until now there were only 5 responses you’ll receive when asking a store clerk about an item:

  1. “Yes, we have it. Allow me to get it for you.”
  2. “Yes we have it. It’s in aisle 4, I’ll show you.”
  3. “Yes we have it. It’s in aisle 4.”
  4. “No, we don’t carry it.”
  5. “No, we don’t carry it. Try my competitor.”

That was before Jhanice Nelson.

Nelson introduced a whole response. It’s a response that understands how shopping fits into a customer’s life goals and how their value to a store can be measured in customer evangelism and lifetime purchases.

“You came to me with a wardrobe problem, and I wanted to help you solve it,” she said. Just because she didn’t have anything to sell me shouldn’t stop her from helping me, she said.

Read the entire article by Jackie Huba @ Church of the Customer.

Success Comes in Small, Cheap Projects

Instead of spending milions of dollars on “The Superbowl Ad”, why not spend that money cranking out beermat campaigns, till you find one that really works? Using beermats in small, test markets, you could easily create 50, 100 (500? Who knows?) campaigns for the price of one decent Superbowl/TV commercial. It would be a simple, cheap and quick way of working out the necessary language to resonate with the beer-drinking public. – hugh @ gaping void

I met a art professor in college who believed everyone had 500 bad drawings in them. Only after getting the 500 bad drawings “out” would you start drawing well. Some professors asked their students to complete 1 or 2 drawings in a 3 hour studio. This professor – 50. Fifty drawings, each from 5 to 20 minutes a piece. Each one to find out what works and what doesn’t. No erasing. If you’re not happy with it, start a new one.

This quick and cheap way to success stuck with me and is one of the underlying principals of Working Pathways. We’re continually asking, “What’s the simplest, quickest, most effective way to reach the project’s goals?”

With this perspective, we’ve reduced turnaround times for some of our client’s research initiatives from weeks to hours. We solicit feedback continually. We provide long-term ‘teach a man to fish’ success.

We’ve all got 500 bad ideas in us, Working Pathways is here to help you get to the good ideas more quickly.

UPDATE: This notion of small, quick, projects paving the road to success is re-iterated by Robert Rodriguez,

“The more experience you give yourself the better prepared you are for the next project…”

This by way of Anita Sharpe’s Thought for the Day, Tuesday, October 19, 2004

5 Tips For Better Customer Interviews

The easiest way to collect interesting, usable data from a research effort is to blend into the background of the subject’s life. Media journalists know this – that’s why they’re embedded in the presidential campaigns and in the military actions.

To give honest unselfconscious, response, subject’s need to be comfortable with researchers – as peers, as collegues, as one of them.

Susan Orlean describes this necessity in her recent interview on MPR’s Midmorning. For good data, she schedules at least a week to blend into the background.

The need to commit time to really see into someone’s life is echoed in Tod Maffin’s the Art of the 10-Hour Interview.

The projects here at Working Pathways move much more quickly than those in either of the articles. We are often charged with capturing usable data with less than hour per respondant. With that in mind, here are 5 tips we use for “becoming invisible” in under an hour.

  1. Make Good Small Talk.
    The weather, the traffic, a recent news item, the goal is to find common ground quickly. You probably share a handful of similarities -find a a couple. Share the joy of meeting someone new is this small world.
  2. They’re the Expert.
    Whatever you’re talking about, they know more than you. Chances are their situation and challenges in whatever you’re talking about are unique. Use the little you know on the subject to probe and show them you can speak the lingo, not that you could take over their job.
  3. Pay Attention.
    Everything is a conscious decision – body language, intonation, language, word selection, wardrobe, facial expressions, everything. Each movement betrays their personality and honest, unguarded emotions. Picking up and following up on these cues is where the good data lives.
  4. Always Be Curious.
    There’s nothing worse than an interviewer uninterested in the respondant. If you don’t need or want another interview, cancel it. Otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.
  5. Keep the recording devices out of hand and sight.
    This is not to be sneaky or misleading. As an ethical researcher, all participants should be aware and give concent to recording. Have an assistant be responsible for the recording equipment. This recommendation is so;
    1. You can focus all your attention on the conversation and not recording.
    2. Your respondant can focus on the conversation, not being recorded. Thereby reducing the chance of them being self-conscious or saying what they think ther researcher wants to hear.

Six Step Process to Motivate Others

In a highly collaborative working environment, the traditional hierarchical relationship between employees doesn’t exist. The result is peers making requests to one another to move their respective projects forward. More akin to a volunteer organization than a button-down for-profit business.

The best volunteer organizations use a 6-step process to motivate peers in assisting. This is a time-proven process for both getting things done and clearly identifying those individuals that are not at all interested in your project. Use it whenever you need to make a request of someone’s time.

  1. Introduce Yourself.
    It’s so easy yet so frequently ignored. If you’re making the request over the phone, it is doubly important that you introduce yourself, the organizations you’re representing, the person you wish to speak with, and why you’re calling.

    “Hi, this is Garrick Van Buren from Working Pathways. I’m calling for Darrel Austin regarding the AcmeCo Accessibility Audit. Is now a good time to talk?”

    This is very similar to my earlier Get Your Email Read post. Notice the “is now a good time…” question. Always provide an out at this point. It’s most polite to do all this upfront. Otherwise you’re wasting your peer’s valuable time and reducing the chance they’ll help you now or in the future.

  2. Provide an Update.
    This is where you provide a quick, 2-sentence background on the project you’re working on who referred you to them. For example:

    “I’m working with Darrel Austin on redesigning the shopping cart process. We’re about to evaluate the new model with AcmeCo’s best customers.”

  3. Define the Problem.
    This is why you need their assistance. Again, make it brief – 1 sentence is ideal.

    “We have evaluations scheduled for early next week and we do not have all the timeslots booked.”

  4. Define the Solution.
    One sentence describing how you want to solve the previously stated problem.

    “The good news is store managers like yourself are helping out.”

  5. State the Urgency.

    “It’s going great, and we have one last remaining timeslot to fill before the end of business today.”

  6. Ask Them.
    This is where you formally request something from them. At this point, they have a clear understanding of the situation you’re in and how they can help. They’re thinking 1 of 3 things at this point.
    1. “I’ll help by filling in that last timeslot.”
    2. “How can I help?”
    3. “I’m not interested in helping.”

    This is your opportunity to make a clear, formal request to them:

    “Can I put you down for the Wednesday 4pm timeslot?”

    If there are multiple ways the person can assist you, start with the option requiring the greatest commitment and wait for a ‘No’ before offering the next option.
    If they decline all options – I recommend re-evaluating them as a future resource.

Yes, and – not But

Improvisational comedy, like all team sports is about effective, high-energy, spontaneous collaboration. One of the seven major tenets of Improv is building off each person’s comment and suggestion with “Yes, and…” rather than dismissing it with a “but…”.

“Yes, and…” extends, explores, and enhances the previous suggestion – building trust among all the team members, moving the entire team closer to a successful solution. “But…” stalls the conversation. Cold. Even worse than dismissing the initial suggestion, team members are now second-guessing their solutions to the problems for fear it will be destroyed by the next “but..” This provides a disincentive to solving to the current problem. Turning the team and project into the stagnant, stereotypical office meeting blah. On a related note, questions frequently have a similar effect on teams – see Stop Asking Questions.

In working with different teams, I’ve heard “but..” used in 3 major ways. Though each usage may not contradict the preceding statement, it does stall the conversation and turns a peer-to-peer collaborative opportunity into a unequal power play.

    The 5 Breeds of ‘But’:

  1. “I have information you, the ignorant peon, didn’t consider.”
  2. “A different team tried that under different circumstances, so it won’t ever work.”
  3. “I don’t want to do and don’t actually want to be involved in this project.”
  4. “I have something off-topic to say, and don’t know how else to make my opinion heard.”
  5. and my own personal favorite:

  6. “I completely agree with you and want to take credit for your suggestion.”

    Here are 3 tips for transforming a serial “but” into a ‘yes, and’:

  1. Firmly focus on starting a solution.
    The final solution is rarely needed immediately. An initial starting point and direction will go far in gaining forward momentum. This means any solution is viable, and the objection raised in the ‘but’ can be addressed when it arises.
  2. Question specifically how the ‘but’ affects the situation at hand.
    This is a simple and effective way to specifically identify which one of the 5 breeds of ‘but’ you’re dealing with.
  3. Force the ‘but’ into a solution
    For often entertaining results, have the offender, repeat the statement back substituting ‘yes, and’ for the offending ‘but’.
  4. Completely ignore the ‘but’.
    There’s a fair chance, the objection is a defensive reaction to a fleeting situation. This is especially true for a #1′but’.