Archive for October, 2010

Things learned at TEDx

October 25th, 2010

Erik Dobberkau's TEDx RheinNeckar badgeLast Saturday I had the pleasure of attending TEDx RheinNeckar, my first TED-related live event ever, and here are some things that came to my mind during and after it.

The organizers did a great job, really, I must say it was one of the best events I’ve been to so far. Everyone was to wear the depicted badge around their neck so people would immediately know your name. One excellent detail: At the bottom it had a section “Talk to me about:” that you could fill out yourself. Unfortunately not a lot of people did, because for those who did it turned out to be a real conversation starter during the breaks. More than half of the guests were students from the local university, a lot of them not having written anything on their cards, and they flocked in their peer groups as they would do on any given day, instead of starting talking with a complete stranger, building relationships and so forth.

Something that seriously bothered me was the whole PA thing. Obviously there was no professional sound technician present, resulting in some minor technical hiccoughs, but what was also optically annoying was the microphones they were using, because these were really huge headsets. Okay, the decent small and skin-tone one are more expensive to buy, but when you rent the whole thing I don’t believe it’s much of a cost difference, but a huge difference in visual appearance. And you always want your speakers to look as good as possible, right?

Speaking of who I have to mention that a large portion of the speakers also have books published, which were also on display in the back of the room, and the speakers would sign them and so forth. Now, since the claim of TED is “Ideas worth spreading”, guess what I think people should do? Right, get their ideas out! So I wondered why nobody gave away their book for free or at a discount price (at least it was not announced) — which again results in telling myself the story that maybe these people are not so much interested in spreading their (partly counterfeit) ideas as they’re interested in making a buck.

Speaking of stories, I learned a very valuable lesson in the first session called “People and Economy”. Picture this: You have a great topic to talk about, you’re a great presenter, but still you don’t succeed all the way at making an impression. How’s that? Two things: Keep in mind that you have to be authentic. Don’t give the impression of putting yourself over your topic. Show humility. The other thing: If your talk covers an interrelated topic, it’s almost a sure bet that in an audience of more than 200 people there are some who either already know what you’re talking about or know even more or more precise about one single aspect you’re just scratching on the surface. That’s not a good combination with the posture of “I know I’m a good presenter”. And one more thing which I touched on, but important enough to repeat: Show humility. Not one of the speakers started with “Thank you, glad to be here” — a shame. And don’t sell your organization or product unless it’s charity. Organizers, please don’t invite these people. There are enough trade shows out there.

And the last thing I want to talk about is a personal comment on one the the stories from the first section. The talk was about change leadership, and the speaker suggested that a leader has to set an example to his followers, giving the example of the CEO of a company should not only cut costs by cutting on staff expenses, but set an example by replacing his Mercedes by a VW Golf, so employees would see “Look, even the boss is saving, that’s how serious the thing is”. The only problem with this idea is that not only employees start telling this story, but everyone who sees what’s going on. What happens is that a potential customer is less likely to do business with someone who’s looking like he’s on the direct way out of it. Instead, the thing to do is to create a story that shines a good light on what you’re doing. So if you buy a Prius or some other Hybrid, you can start telling the story of raising eco-awareness and that you’re thinking about replacing your whole car fleet with Hybrids, but since this is a major investment and you want to make sure your staff gets a high quality car, you’re testing it yourself. Now how does that sound?

Why we’re bad at being great

October 21st, 2010

When reading the marvellous interview with John Sculley on CultOfMac the other day, I wondered once more why we (meaning people living in Germany, but there are other countries sharing this fate) are so bad at being great. Don’t get me wrong here, there are hundreds of engineers creating great stuff every day, but that’s what I’m talking about. They’re good at solving problems, like how to fix a screw in a hole.

But what we’re bad at is having great visions. By solving today’s problems, we’re not necessarily crafting the future. But the future has never belonged to the Bozos and their manuals. Conclusions left to you. Trust you to be smart enough.

Competence Creates Redundance

October 20th, 2010

Last week, a new quiz show debuted on German TV, and something remarkable happened: The candidates were asked what service a certain phone number belonged to (it was the coastguard). Next day the coastguard posted a (outraged) press release that their phone lines had been down until early morning because people called them as they were still seeking proof that TV had not given them incorrect information.

Now someone might think that this is a one-in-a-million event, but I don’t think so. It’s just the tip of an iceberg that the old media doesn’t (want to) see. I bet if you go through all online search queries from that night, you’ll find a similar result.

This happens all the time, and it’s increasing each day. People are getting more competent on how to find information they’re looking for, it’s a slow but steady adoption process. They realize that everyone has instant access to information, unlike a few years ago, when in order to spread a bit of information a journalist would have to search an archive, going through microfilms and almanacs for hours. That’s when information was scarce, because it was isolated.

Today almost everything is connected, creating an abundance of information. So the journalists’ job has shifted from retrieving to collating information. What’s unchanged is the verification part, but exactly this is the critical point. As people become more sceptical of what they’re presented, your verification only matters so far as they’re going to trust you. (Note: This only seems to apply to news, when it comes to entertainment people still shut their brains down.)

The notion that not all content (i.e. news) is created equal only holds true with regard to trust and relevance. If you remove these two, everything is just noise. That’s what the web is. And we have learned to search and pick our sources according to our personal preferences. We’re collating our information ourselves, the vast majority of which is free. This is what bothers people like Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner because it renders their business model redundant. So he’s not getting tired of fighting for paid content for the online and app versions of his print products. Politicians have joined this quest too, mostly because they are afraid of a future where people cannot be influenced through an established and limited number of channels they more or less control. They want to make the internet a reflection of the “real world”.

But this is not going to happen. People have become their own journalists because the entire chain is availbale for them. From research to printing press, they have everything at hand, plus a worldwide audience. If they care about some topic so much they eventually become the best in their field, and also are writing for a loyal audience, then maybe they can monetize their passion this way, be it by ads or a premium subscription model or something we haven’t thought of up to now. The Springer approach, trying to trick people into believing that their content is better just because it must be paid for doesn’t work out. The value is elsewhere, and sometimes, it’s moving quickly.