December 27, 2008

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

This recent tweet from John Roderick has really stuck with me. It's a perfect concrete example of all the little choices we have to make between short term gain and long-term benefit.
johnroderick johnroderick I'm out of coffee filters. If I get up and go to the store I may as well go to a cafe. Buying filters only helps Future John. And fuck him.
So this year, I'm scaling back on the grandios promises. Instead, I'm simply going to draw of picture of future Todd, keep it in my wallet, and try not to stick it to him too much. Sorry present Todd, but you've had your year.

December 21, 2008

Data Visualization

One of the most challenging elements of any presentation is how to use data to support your points in a compelling manner. In reading an article on health care in The World in 2009 by The Economist, I saw this clever example of using a strong visual element as a background to the data.

With the vacationer hooked up to an IV, the image communicates the message with more impact than the chart alone. The numbers then back up the story by showing how the forecast increases in the number of US patients traveling abroad for medical care over time. The point isn't that by 2015 the number will be close to 15M, but rather that the number is increasing and increasing quickly. The image even communicates the reason behind this increase by hinting at the luxury side of this growing industry.

Two great blogs focus on how to achieve this elegance in data representation: Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Their books by the same titles offer plenty of examples of before and after pictures. Both are must have resources for anyone responsible for creating decks of data. And in today's information workforce that includes must of us.

December 18, 2008

December 17, 2008

What Would You Track on your Personal Dashboard?

Nicolas Felton is a graphic designer who lives in New York and has taken on the sizable task of writing an annual report of his life. That really got me thinking, "What metrics would I measure if I were responsible for writing a report on my life at the end of the year?"

I know my dental hygienist would want me to track how often I floss; my coworkers, how quickly I return emails; my wife, the number of foot rubs I provide. But what would I track? How would I measure success?

I've been working on different options for a week or so (I haven't been tracking the time I've been spending on it, so I can't tell exactly how long). The process of determining my own person metrics has been eye opening and challenging. Some easy things like miles run or pages read jump to mind quickly, but that's not much of an annual report.

I'll have to keep working on what goes on my personal dashboard, but once I have a rough draft of what to measure, the next layer of complexity is to figure out how to track these events. Felton to the rescue with his new website Daytum. It's similar to Spark People, only you can count and measure whatever you want. Now instead of just counting pages read I can track which books I read faster and the number of pages on average per day. This could be additive. But maybe I should start by tracking the number of weird looks I get when I tell people what I'm doing.

November 16, 2008

Provoke Instead of Influence

In a interview with the Wall Street Journal, Malcolm Gladwell said this about his new book Outliers:
"These books are playful in the sense that they regard ideas as things to experiment with. I'm happy if somebody reads my books and reaches a conclusion that is different from mine, as long as the ideas in the book cause them to think. You have to be willing to put pressure on theories, to push the envelope. That's the fun part, the exciting part. If you are writing an intellectual adventure story, why play it safe? I'm not out to convert people. I want to inspire and provoke them."
This philosophy approaches influence from a different angle. Perhaps not a full 180 degrees, but at least a good 45. Sounds to me like he's taking the easy way out. I don't have to actually influence anyone, all I have to do is provoke them. While provoking is fun, and sometimes dangerous, I enjoy the finer skill of actual persuasion.

Although, I was glad to see that Gladwell did manage to provoke Marlin Mann. The beauty of striving to provoke instead of influence is that you know longer care what others think. In fact if they disagree with you strongly that's better than if they agree with you mildly.

The other benefit for us who like to persuade, it that the provokers give us good material to help make our case even when we disagree with them.

Here is Gladwell speaking at the TED conference on spaghetti sauce.

I don't know if that talk provokes me, but I do know it makes me hungry.

November 15, 2008

Making others Immortal

I just read the obituary for Studs Terkel in the Economist. What an amazing example of a man who walked his talk. His words, "I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be." His actions were over 45 years of listening in a way that got people to open up and share their story in a meaningful way.

Studs Terkel
not only actively listened, he believed truth came from open debate.
"That's what we're missing. We're missing argument. We're missing debate. We're missing colloquy. We're missing all sorts of things. Instead, we're accepting."
But what was most impressive about his life time of story sharing was his ability to shine the spot light on others. The story wasn't about him, it was about his interview. His life is a reminder to us all to listen intently, debate with vigor, and give others the attention they deserve. And what an awesome name.

November 3, 2008

Okay Maybe Talent Can Overcome

In the last post, I shared how all the great talent in the latest Indiana Jones movie couldn't overcome a bad decision. It only took about 24 hours for me to see the error of my ways. Here is a perfect example.

Although to support my earlier argument, there were several great decisions behind this talent:

  • Edit, edit, edit.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Edit, edit, edit.
I guess there is value in exposing the younger generation to legacy brands like Star Wars and Indy.

November 2, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Bad Decisions

My wife and I finally watched "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" the other night. What a disappointment! The movie was one part Indiana Jones, one part Close Encounters, and one part Ocean's 12. We couldn't understand why a great story teller like Steven Spielberg would sign on for such a poor story. From watching an interview with Lucas and Spielberg here seems to be the logic behind such a bad decision:
  1. Demand was strong - everywhere they went, people kept asking, "When is the next Indiana Jones coming out?"
  2. Keep the legacy brand alive - Spielberg wanted to make it for those that never saw any of the other Jones movies.
  3. Lucas drove the alien (oh, excuse me interdimensional being) and they went along with it.
Here's a link to Spielberg talking about the movie:

The real moral of this movie is strong talent can't overcome a bad decision.