Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

02
Jun
09

Bold Words Refocused

Note: This is the last post for Bold Words that will appear at https://boldwords.wordpress.com.  Going forward, Bold Words will be self-hosted at bold-words.com. To continue receiving content from this blog, please be sure update your subscription information as described below.

My silence the last two months isn’t a reflection of not having anything to say. Instead, the last two months have been filled with an internal debate about whether there was value in continuing to share what’s on my mind. To that end, I’ve changed a few things that I hope will improve this blog and your experience reading it:

  • Bold Words is now self-hosted (bold-words.com). Most subscribers should continue to receive their feeds as before; however, if you subscribed when my URL was still a wordpress.com address, you’ll need to update your subscription. You can receive content via RSS or email.
  • The design is still in flux, but I’ll retain a clean, easy-to-read design that makes it easier for site visitors to read and find content.
  • I’m committing to three posts per week; Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • I’ll handle any topics related to work on my new business blog at brittraybould.com.

Why the changes?

I consider these changes a re-commitment on my part to writing on a regular basis. Setting up the second blog and business site was an acknowledgment that I need a separate place to address work-related topics. The content at brittraybould.com focuses on helping small business owners and marketers find solutions to their problems, a topic of interest to me, since that’s what a do, but not necessarily of interest to the bulk of the Bold Words audience.

What’s next?

I expect the Supreme Court nominations will provide plenty of material during the coming weeks and months. The economy, and how we’re choosing to address financial issues, occupy my thoughts, too. Plus, I’ll have to address at some point the way we talk and write about things like the swine flu. If nothing else, our changing relationship with language is worthy of thought. Teens conducting entire conversations by text versus calling on the phone or sharing ideas via the 140 characters of Twitter all fascinate me.

I hope to spark conversations and make this summer one to remember.

31
Mar
09

March Madness

March has proven a crazy month. Between work, travel, and illness, I’ve had little time to write. However, I’ve been doing a lot watching and listening.

I’m baffled.

We seem to have lost our collective minds.

The country was so outraged over bonuses paid to AIG that Congress responded by proposing a 90% tax. Never mind that the Constitution frowns on singling out a select (small) group of people for legislative action (e.g, bill of attainder).

Critics of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were calling for his head after he’d been in office less than three months. These calls came despite the reality that few individuals could offer truly different alternatives and the consensus is that we won’t know of months, if not years, whether initiatives implemented to date will have the desired impact.

Pundits are posing the question of whether President Obama (and his family) suffer from overexposure. From appearing on Jay Leno to hosting a virtual town hall, Obama seems to be everywhere. So the question is asked, “Can he do all those things and his job, too?”

What we’ve overlooked through all this madness is our role.

Does it make sense that AIG executives who played a role in the current mess are receiving a bonus? Hardly, but when did we become a society that embraces the breaking of contracts? We also need to be careful what we wish for. If Congress proved willing to tax a selective group, what’s to keep them from doing so in the future at your expense versus the corporate bogeyman?

Tim Geithner, whether you agree with his policies or not, has undertaken a herculean task. In our 24-hour news cycle, he’s operating under circumstances that likely would have broken the New Deal before it was ever implemented. We also put unrealistic expectations on how a public official should handle himself. Do we want polished politicians whose expertise lies in sound bites or bureaucrats whose expertise lies in sound policy?

To the last bit of madness, I say this: while I didn’t vote for Obama, I find the criticism of his every action to be ridiculous. No manual exists for the job he holds. Lyndon Johnson put it best when he said, “The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.

I believe we are a nation made up of mostly smart people. Isn’t time we started acting based on our intelligence instead of our fear?

11
Feb
09

Bad Science Language

115045505_621679f0ca_mLanguage in science is a challenge. Science comes with gray areas that both intrigue and confuse.  Getting it right every time is unlikely, making science a perfect example of ongoing thought evolution. However, few things make me more angry than when science is twisted to suit agendas. Consider the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield:

The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found. (link)

One thing in particular caught my eye a little later in the article:

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

Herd immunity brought to mind Mark Earls and his insights into why humans do what they do. I was pleasantly surprised to see him post today on this very issue:

As I’ve noted before, vaccination is a HERD thing: its real power works at a population level. If that falls below a certain level, then diseases that used to cause significant damage can become prevalent again. Fuelling the conversation that suggests that there are risks or any evidence of risks leads to the lower level of compliance with the vaccination programme and creates the opportunity for the resurgance of once almost unknown childhood diseases. Particularly when the science is so damn clear. (link)

I will never understand why scientists elect to promote ideas that aren’t backed up by real research. It seems like these pretenders are discovered with relative ease once someone elects to take a hard look at the data. Very little seems to be gained while a huge amount is put at risk.

Scientific language becomes even more important when we’re talking about things that impact lives directly. Parents want to know what they can do to best protect their children. Inaccurate information only makes this harder to do.

As a layperson, I can think of few positions that come with greater social responsibility than that of scientist. This responsibility includes choosing one’s words with care. Each individual has a right to his or her opinion, but once it’s expressed publicly, the individual must accept the consequences.

Image via Flickr by ms_cwang.

09
Jan
09

Happy Ex-Customers

The web abounds with stories about unpleasant customer service experiences. In the context of today’s economy, customer service is more important than ever, even when dealing with a customer who wants to leave one’s service for another. Admittedly, making it easy for a customer to leave you for a competitor seems counterintuitive.

However, in both of my recent customer service boondoggles, my original reasons for moving weren’t due to unhappiness with the service itself.  Since both companies chose to act the jilted lover, I’ve gone from being a positive reviewer to a disgruntled, almost-former customer. Prior to my poor experiences, there was every reason to think that some day I might use these companies again.

Protecting You As An Excuse

I appreciate as much as the next person companies who protect my interests and any investments I’ve made in their services. However, when that protection is used, a layer at a time, to hinder a switch between services, it looks less like the company is protecting me and more like it’s protecting its interests.

In this particular instance, I was attempting to consolidate my domain names with one registrar. As I followed the necessary steps, I kept going back and forth between the FAQs, looking for details on completing the transfer. Over the next three days, I discovered three different things I needed to do before a valid transfer could be completed. Every time I did a search in the FAQs, I never found a single entry for domain transfer that listed all of the three things I was told needed to happen.

Made Up Answers

I’d much rather a customer service rep said, “I don’t know, but let me find out,” versus making up an answer. A larger provider recently bought my local carrier, which has resulted in a number of policy changes, including the necessity of signing a new contract. I’d considered switching to another carrier, but decided to see if the new owner was worth working with. Unfortunately, each visit to the store produced a different rep with a different story about the policy changes and plan options.

Even more frustrating, requests to speak to either a manager or a more senior rep were ignored. Recently, I learned of an acquaintance with a business plan who received a $7,000+ text message bill because they had unknowingly lost their unlimited texting when they signed the new contract. Resolving the issue required a call to the corporate offices and the approval of a VP. Combined with my recent experience, I’ve lost any interest in remaining with this carrier, and other options are being considered.

Happy Ex-Customers

I haven’t mentioned the names of the two (well-known) companies for the reason I see no need to give them free, albeit bad, press. These experiences have shown me that while the end result of me switching services stays the same, there was no requirement that I also end up loathing the companies. The good customer service stories are out there. Companies know how they should behave. The only question is whether or not they choose to.

05
Jan
09

A Bookish Resolution

2235761852_124c18bec1_mI have a thing for books and most anything related to places that hold books…book stores, libraries, shelves, etc. My heart holds a special place for the library of my youth (i.e. the library before computers and Internet). Watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s reminded me of this affection as I watched Holly and Fred search for his book in the card catalog (starting at about 1:40). There was something so grown up about pulling out those little drawers, flipping cards, and searching the shelves for the neatly typed titles.

My love affair with books and all things bookish makes it difficult for me to comprehend a world that seems disinterested in books. From Adrian Hon via  Rachel Clarke I learned how grim the book reading landscape is:

40% of people in the US (and 34% in the UK) do not read books any more. They may surf the web, or the read the occasional newspaper, but they do not read more than one book (fiction or non-fiction) in a year.

The closer you look at the statistics, the more depressing it gets. In the US, only 47% of adults read a work of literature – and I don’t mean Shakespeare, I mean any novel, short story, play or poem – in 2006.

Adrian does an excellent job of explaining the larger issues related to the reading decline. I encourage you to read his full post. For my part, I’ve decided to be more public about my book reading. My interest is less in doing a book review per se, but more about demonstrating how much of my thinking is impacted by what I read.

To start, I have 1,638 books in my personal collection. Of that number, I feel comfortable saying I’ve read about 75-80%. On average, I go through 4-5 books per week, less if my reading is for research/study versus pleasure. Throughout the coming year, I’ll share as appropriate (some of my reading selections are more mind candy than mind challenging) the books and the ideas they contain that make me think. Yes, there are a great many blogs and online writers who fire the imagination, but I never would have started blogging if I hadn’t been reading great books that got me thinking in the first place.

My goal isn’t to rank the value of any creative source but rather to point out the necessity of pulling from all possible sources. Given that my posts tend to be lengthier, I suspect many of my readers will appreciate my New Year’s wish that you’ll enjoy book-filled weeks and months to come.

Image courtesy of Paxsimius.

14
May
08

Empires of the Mind

Last October, The Economist published a piece titled “The Battle for Brainpower.” Based on my experiences, tales of friends, and even what I read in major publications, business is scrambling for capable, talented people. I’ve seen firsthand how HR and department heads have rushed to fill a position, settling for any warm body out of fear someone else won’t come along

“[An] international poll of senior human-resources managers, three-quarters of them said that “attracting and retaining” talent was their number one priority. The article highlighted the words of Winston Churchill from an address he gave at Harvard in 1943:

…the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.

It takes brains to make our technology based lives work, so why do we still pick on the geek, the egghead, the dork? I for one am tired of the grief I get if I show my brain cells do more than sit around taking it easy. I’ve watched with dismay as my fellow citizens have shown preference for political candidates that don’t show their intellect but make good beer-drinking buddies. I may not personally care for Barack Obama, but are people really willing to say they won’t vote for the man because he’s “too smart?”

Elite is often substituted for smart, somehow implying that by wanting more or acting differently than the majority, you can no longer mingle with the group. The business world can work this way, too. How many people do you know that are in their positions because they played toadie to the right individual, not necessarily because they can do the job? It isn’t enough for people to be smart and talented. I’ve seen firsthand how people have to play the game if they want to get ahead. I know some will say, “That’s just the way it is,” but I say why is that the way?

Why are we threatened by people being smarter or more talented than ourselves? I’m not innocent of this trait. Depending on the person I sometimes struggle being fair to an individual who is clearly smarter than myself. What I’ve found, however, is that I usually learn so much by being open to these individuals and swallowing some pride. I don’t know everything. Do you?

Our world demands that we produce people with the brainpower to keep things running. When will we stop punishing people for having brains and wanting to use those brains?

16
Apr
08

Know Thy Opponent

Recent research indicates that more than company profits fuel the stock market.

In a new study [John Coates] reports that traders who start the workday with high testosterone levels make more money on that day than their low-testosterone colleagues do. A hot day on the market sends their levels of the natural steroid up even more, Coates says; under the influence of their own hormones, they start to take bigger risks in hopes of bigger rewards.

Classical economic theory assumes that people make financial decisions in a rational way. But Coates’s finding is part of a growing body of work explaining why, in reality, they often don’t: they’re at the mercy of their biology. This school of thought helps illustrate how economic trends can get out of control, ballooning until they burst. It also suggests one reason why central banking is so tricky: policymakers don’t often take hormones into account. “[Former Federal Reserve chairman] Alan Greenspan spent his whole career trying to control economic bubbles,” says Coates. “I don’t think he realized he was up against steroids.”

…Anecdotally, Coates says that during his Wall Street days he thought that “women traders didn’t seem to be as affected” by irrational exuberance. A 2001 paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics backs up that observation. “In areas such as finance,” it found, “men are more overconfident than women.” As a result, male stock traders tend to do more buying and selling than female traders do. Each trade costs money, and over the long term that money adds up. In the final calculus, according to the 2001 paper, it’s men, not women, who underperform. (link)

This study highlights one of the overlooked aspects in the gender debate: men and women DO respond to things differently and acknowledging these differences does not make one a gender basher. I know there are individuals who are resistant to this part of the gender equality debate because they feel it undermines their position.

The idea that recognizing the validity of an opponent’s position is a bad thing has hindered so many issues. Employees vs. companies, Israelis vs. Palestinians, citizens vs. governments, rich vs. poor. When we’re in a fight, why are we so unwilling to see the other’s side? Doing so doesn’t require that we agree 100% with our opponent. If anything, knowing and acknowledging the other side’s position puts one in a position of strength. Isn’t knowledge power? When did we decide that this wasn’t the case?




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