Archive for December, 2009

Magic words

December 28th, 2009 Kevin No comments

Some words make more sense than others. They offer a little magic in every sentence you find them. My basic rule: they must “work well” under almost all conditions, and work here means they must make sense. In other words, they must help people know what you are saying and understand it as you say it.

Here are three of my top “magic words”:


“Stuff” tops the chart of magic words. Use it wherever you would like in your next conversation and see what I mean. It calms things down at the same time it leaves lots of flexibility to let people fill in the gaps between your thoughts. Stuff is the ultimate one word sense maker for the English language.


Thing also works real well. Particularly in the “thingie” or “thingy” form, this word solves lots of language ills (missing or inadequate description, simplification of a complex thought, etc.). It replaces longer, more complicated explanations of what something might be. With it, you get to the point and make it clear what you want to do with it or about it without worrying too much about exactly what “it” is.


Verbs can be troubling. “Go” seems to escape much of the wonkiness placed on other more complex verbs. At one syllable, it packs a punch! When I think of it, it constantly comes back to me as the ultimate action statement. Simple, to the point, and almost invisible. Go!

Magic words are the building blocks of understanding. This is what I look for in mine:

1) one syllable

2) broadly defined

3) context friendly

4) well-received (they have a sense of humor, are well-manored, and leave little aftertaste)

5) hard-working (can be used over and over again without offense)

Have any “magic word” candidates of your own?

Categories: Thoughts Tags:

Questions let others invent and own results

December 25th, 2009 Kevin No comments

Questions let team members invent and own great results.

Here are the steps:

1) Pick a topic (sales priorities, product launch, services approach)

2) See the end result (increased sales, product acceptance, ecstatic customers)

3) Question the team member 1-on-1 about his or her part

4) Aside from questions, remain silentavoid answers and statements completely

5) Stand back and make space for each member to invent and own what happens next

Simple in theory, hard to achieve in reality.

The questions are the critical lever here.

Well-asked questions let folks invent what needs to happen next.

Then they own what they invented and act on it to make it happen.

Questions: what an awesome business tool!

Categories: Thoughts Tags:

Group success depends on ideas that copy well.

December 21st, 2009 Kevin No comments

There is a tradition that dates back at least as far as the 14th century, attributed to a scholar named Ibn Khaldun. He noted that social groups grow and decline in patterns. Some groups evolve and grow better than others, religious groups provide good examples. Businesses offer other examples, consider Zappos, Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Whole Foods. What happens that helps those groups grow, evolve, and adapt?

What causes some business groups to evolve while others go the other way?

Much is said about the leaders of groups, and their critical role in group success. There is another line of thought, not necessarily distinct from great leadership (often great leaders get the next point, it’s why they are great):

Business ideas that copy well and make market sense offer a huge competitive advantage.

Richard Dawkins, a british author and scientist, coined the term for ideas that copy well, they are “memes.” It rhymes with “creams.” When done right, business memes hit to the core of what each person in the business stands for. Then, the minitalks of the minitribes (the eight people or less we normally speak and work with on the job) will relate better to the big talk of the bigger tribe (the 12 or more folks who make up the entire company).

If memes (copyable ideas) are the key to success, is there a formula we can follow?

Hard to say. Business books talk about core mission, values, and purpose. These are getting there and often are forged by a few to pass along to the many. Memes don’t care who creates them (this is why great leaders intuitively work well with memes), but they are picky and subject to high volatility.

Here is one potential formula for monitoring our memes and pruning the not so great ones while honoring those that copy well, stick around, and make market sense:


The Formula


Talk with everyone. Memes are not selective to source, the new worker can be responsible for a great meme just as the person who has been with the company for 10 years.

Pay attention to what is said. Memes are tricky sometimes. They hide amidst other thoughts and ideas. The memes are the ones that jump out when we pay attention, they make solid sense, and sound right.

Locate the potential memes. When you hear stuff that individuals say that appears to copy well and makes the most market sense, cull them out.

Try ‘em out with other people. Take the memes you found and try them out. Do they copy well in reality? What market sense underlies them? Explore the memes, put them to the test.

Confirm that you have true memes. If the meme is copyable and makes market sense with a cross-section of the company’s individuals, then you have found a keeper!

Build a story with the memes. If memes are ideas that copy well, great stories are the mother load that stores a bunch of memes in one spot. Great businesses invariably rest on solid stories cobbled together with ideas that copy well: those market savvy memes!

Test the story. Does the story hold up? Do people believe it? Can they retell it? Does it make market sense? Does it reflect the company well and truly? Is it authentic?

Tell the story over and over again. If the story works well, it does so with the vast majority of folks who currently work at the company. It also does so with those who recently join or apply for a job. How does the story work? What effect does it have over time? This is the critical, and often neglected, essential step in the entire formula. Retell the story daily. And when the telling begins to change, even slightly, pay attention! Not all memes are helpful…

Weed out the negative memes. Some memes are highly copyable and no good for the business. Ultimately, they make no market sense. Watch for them and get rid of them… they are the worst kind of weeds!

Fit the new, positive memes into the story. When new, beneficial memes arrive on the scene, fit them into the story. Retell the story with the new meme and let the story adapt over time to changing circumstances, different people, and volatile conditions. That’s it! Build a great, successful business one meme at a time.

We will all benefit from building our businesses by paying close attention to our memes:

(1) those great ideas that copy well and

(2) make great market sense.

Categories: Thoughts Tags:

Google Wave: an introduction

December 15th, 2009 Kevin No comments

I wrote a brief introduction for Google Wave.

Here it is:

The best way to get comfortable with Google Wave is to use it! Just try it out, it can be fun, more so with friends! Ask around, see who is waving, it helps to have others in your waves. There are also public waves.

Search recommendation to start (the search box is at the top of the middle screen, where is says in:inbox):

“with:public Austin [or your city/hobbby/etc.]“

Replace “in:inbox” with your search. Any search “with:public” together with any word imaginable you pick let’s you access waves that are available for everyone to see with that word or phrase in them. Pick one with only a few numbers indicated (numbers under the date or time stamp of the wave show how often people have been active in the wave).

Enjoy the introduction and let me know if you have any comments. Cheers!

Categories: Technology Tags:

Talk proximity: musings on here, near and there talk.

December 15th, 2009 Kevin No comments

Where do our talks happen and with whom do we have them?

Here’s the break down:

1) talk in our own heads is “here talk”;

2) the close-by conversations we have with friends and others is “near talk”; and

3) talk with folks we may not know well or with whom we do not share much in common is “there talk.”

Let me explain.

Here talk.

“Here talk” happens right here; as in, no one else is around. We use our “inner” ear to hear here.  Here here! Here talk is always with us. These talks loop around all day long. Listen to this chatter, it’s amazing! We are constantly chatting ourselves up: this is our “here talk.”

Near talk.

“Near talk” is the talk that happens close by. These talks we share with our intimate circles of friends, trusted work colleagues, and family. This is the minitalk of our minitribes. We like these talks (mostly) because they are familiar to us. We also accomplish a lot of our important stuff during these talks.

There talk.

“There talk” is the talk that happens further away from us. As in, not here, there. There there. When more people are present, near talk shifts to there talk. This talk often happen with folks we don’t know all that well. This is also the signature talk of our large tribes, which is also “Big Talk.”

Neither here nor there.

Too often, our talks are neither here nor there. When that happens we feel uncomfortable. Something isn’t right. We are missing something, we can’t see the whole picture, we’re not getting it. It’s neither here nor there, and the place in between is no fun at all.

Here and there.

Sometimes though, everything just clicks. That’s when we are here and there. When that happens, we get it. This is the best feeling, often it’s when we sense the “aha” moment. We finally get it! We understand, share feelings, and have no doubts.

My hunch.

I reckon we can talk here and there more often than we do. We can bring these two kinds of talks together so there is no distance between them. Sure, it’ll take work. For example, it means we’ll have to know where here is. Next we’ll have to go ahead and figure out where there is. That’s great, because once we know where our talks stand, we can then accept the space in between. And then, shrink it.

Shrink it.

That’s right, that’s the final step: shrink it! Shrink the space in between there and here. When that happens, we make there here. And when that happens, we have found common ground, cleared things up, and crafted mutual understanding. That’s when we really get it.

[I know, easier said than done. Oy.]

Categories: Learning, People Tags:

Flow charts and all those skinny arrows

December 14th, 2009 Kevin No comments

You know what I am talking about? Those skinny, wee little arrows that populate most flow charts. The arrows point us in the right direction and walk us through a sequence of events from one box to another, or from a box to a circle, triangle or other shape. Do this, then that, then the other thing. All the way to the end, or more common, to do it all over again (like in the infamous feedback loop: rinse, wash, repeat).

Why are the arrows so skinny?

As far as I can tell, our knowledge diet makes those arrows do all the heavy lifting in real life. That is where all the good, rich stuff gets done. The space in between the events, the time and space from the first box to the next one in a flow chart, that is where the magic happens!

So, here’s to robust arrows!

Knowledge is a flow and a place. Let’s honor the flow more. Give those arrows more room, let ‘em roam a bit. They are really important to our bottom line way of getting things done.

If you are into flow charts, that is.

Categories: Consulting, Technology Tags:

Why we say things that make no sense to others

December 10th, 2009 Kevin No comments

Classic situation. We are excited. And chatty. Could be about the Galapagos islands, a great new indie band, an obscure dish we had at an ethnic restaurant. Doesn’t matter what it is: we are excited about it. We have lots to say.

Here’s the thing: none of it makes any sense to the folks we talk to at that time! What’s up with that?

Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford Ph.D. in psychology, wanted to know more. She designed an experiment. Asked for volunteers. They sat down in the laboratory. No white coats — just their fingers and ears (those were the key parts in the study anyway).

One person tapped out a song on the lab table; sitting nearby was the other person, ears wide open, trying to guess what the taps were all about. So: one tapper, one listener, and a whole lot of stuff in one person’s head (the tapper) that was maybe or maybe not in the other person’s head (the listener). That is what the experiment was all about. And there were more than one set of these tappers and listeners. You know, to deal with the “four out of five dentists” kind of statistical stuff.

The songs were really popular songs. Like the happy birthday song, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Jingle Bells, this kind of thing. So popular, in fact, that the tappers on average thought that the listeners would get it right about half the time. 50%! That’s because they were singing the tune in their head! It made complete sense to them.

Do you wanna know what actually happened? And mind you, this is the genius of the experiment. Elizabeth asked the listener to name the songs. Oh… and they tried. Guess how they did? Terribly. As a matter of fact, they hit about a 3% accuracy rate. Yikes. Now, that is a huge gap between perception (they’ll get it right 50% of the time) and reality (3%). What to make of this?

Turns out, when something is in our head and we already did all the work to get it in there in the first place, it’s easy to forget others might not have the same stuff in their heads as we do. If that is so and we go ahead and try and explain it to someone (whether it’s a song, a story line, or a news clip) we often skip the foundation stuff and give only tiny pieces of the bigger story we already figured out.

Like in the experiment, we “tap” out bits and pieces of the thing we are talking about and leave the vast majority of  the “need to know” stuff in our own heads. That means the person we talk with often has slim to no chance of having the same stuff lighting up in their heads that is lighting up in ours.

So what?

Well, at least now we know why we, and others, make so little sense sometimes. We “get it,” or they “get it,” and we or they neglect to say how it is we know what we know and for what reasons we know what we know to someone who is just catching up.

Now what?

Well, do something about it. Slow down your speaking rate, provide a foundation of what is being said, and pause lots to allow clarifying questions from the other person. Connect what he or she already knows with what you are saying, use metaphors, simple analogies, offer context as well as content. Help him or her out, “throw them a bone,” as the saying goes when more facts are needed to make sense of things.

Unless of course, you really enjoy making absolutely no sense!

Categories: Learning Tags:

Why do we talk (for what reasons do we communicate)?

December 7th, 2009 Kevin 1 comment

We love stories. Before modern media we listened to people in person. We imagined the scenes they described. We heard their tall tales, listened for ancient myths, and waited as wonderfully elaborate legends began to unfold.

To this day we call up fables, parables, metaphors and analogies. These stories deeply imbedded within our language seep into our talks and make a mark on most every discussion. Each of these language devices is a story we share in common with friends and strangers alike as we travel through life. We visit one another and let these collective stories surround us, so that we may better understand each other.

There are also two bigger stories in each talk. Aside from the parables and metaphors, there is also the story we listen for and add to as we talk (the content story) and the one we participate in as we listen and speak (the context story, or, the biggest story of them all). There you go, getting two stories for the price of one.

For this post I am interested in that second story. That story explains the reasons we communicate in the first place. That is almost always the story that matters more than the content story. In other words, what we say means something to us and makes sense and what folks take away from what we said counts most for them because that is how they make sense. And these are not always the same! The take away can very much depend on the purposes for communicating in the first place. So, what are they, anyway?

Why do we talk? And by that I mean, for what reasons do we communicate? Some reasons:

1. to connect

2. to control

3. to express

4. to learn

5. to teach

6. to relate (establish, maintain, and adjust relationships)

7. to share (what’s on our minds, in our hearts, and from our guts)

8. to compliment

9. to experience

10. to be

How does this list match your own? It is interesting when you list them out like this. Did you try? How did you do? Disagree? Have some to add? So, for what reasons do you communicate?

The more I become aware of this question, the more I see the story within/outside a story. So if there are always two stories unfolding, where are they? Next to each other, one on top of the other? Are they even connected? If so, how so? That relationship between the content story and the context story can be critical for meaning and understanding. Or more simply, getting along!

Maybe we don’t look for the second story because it’s the one that makes the least and most sense. As Dan Areily, an author and researcher, points out, we are highly predictable in our irrationality! Part of our unique gifts and quirks involves not disclosing that second story. For whatever reason (etiquette, politeness, shyness, forgetfulness), we rarely talk about the second story. Instead, we often fixate on the first story, the one with words leading the charge.

I have a hunch: being aware of that second story can completely transform the first!

Do we even know the reasons we communicate? Do we ever ask [ourselves first, then others]? This has been a good question for me to ponder in my talks lately. And truly, with a great sense of wonder, I enter into my conversations curious: for what reasons do we communicate? The story that unfolds is equally as exciting as the one hogging all the content and words.

Categories: People, Thoughts Tags:

Thought boomerang.

December 4th, 2009 Kevin No comments

Yes you have. You have sent something out there. A thought or a string of them. Straight out into the universe they went. Right into the waiting ears of a good friend, a colleague, or even a complete stranger. And nothing. Flat line. Dead silence. Lead zeppelin. Unheeded thoughts, like dimes, arrive in dozens. What should you do? Just you wait. Really.

That’s the trick. Just wait. Patiently wait. Sit on it like an Australian “boomerang master.” Not the Foster’s oil-can-kind of Australian, mind you. The real deal: the ancient kind, the first peoples who figured out how to throw a club and have it come back to them. They called that club a boomerang. Sit on the thoughts as if you threw them like a boomerang.

More often then we know, what you said is working its way through space and time. Of course, if that thought was not such a hot one, beware. Because it’s on its way back and karma truly is a boomerang. Putting that situation aside, for the real good thoughts, your shared thinking is a “thought boomerang.”

So sit back and welcome it home. It’s coming. Ready or not. Here it comes.

Categories: Thoughts Tags:

It’s less than we think and more than we do.

December 3rd, 2009 Kevin No comments

Thinking is critical. We do lots of it. It helps us clarify what’s what. How things might go. Where it might be happening for us. Coulds, shoulds, oughts, mights. The work of getting it out, on the page, and viewable is key. When that happens, it’s generally true: it’s less than we think and more than we do.

Solving the knowing/doing gap happens when we get a handle on this funny equation. Part of the handle of getting around to it is having more thinking to noodle over in the first place. That way, we can know which part is the “less” part of the “less than we think” and which part is the “more” part of the “more than we do.”

Part of the handle, of course, is knowing when we are done with our thinking. By then, it’s high time for us to get to our doing.

Categories: Consulting, Thoughts Tags: