These are the days that inspire words

More thoughts are happening than words these days. I ended up reading this post by Seth Godin. Somehow reading that blog post is probably Om’s fault. It was enough to spark my interest in typing up a few words tonight. That is really all it takes to start the writing process. A small amount of fuel is enough to stoke the writing fire for hours or in this case a few minutes. The screen brightness on this Chromebook has been turned down. Star Trek discovery has been watched and all excuses are pretty much off the table at this point.

So much is happening in the world these days that we really have no excuse not to write. Each day the intersection of technology and modernity becomes clearer. That along should be enough to get things going. Civil society has broken down in ways that were both expected and at the same time apparently unavoidable. Warnings were placed. People engaged in grand thought experiments about the very fabric of our democracy. Warnings and thoughts mixed together and produced a myriad of results. All of that built the foundations of where we are right now at this point in time. A point in time that pretty much compels us to write. We are compelled to put words to the page.

A simple trip to the Denver Botanical Garden

Utterances have grown exponentially. So much remains unsaid. Shouting into the digital commons has become easier, but engaging in meaningful conversation feels harder. Social media allows for engagement without any meaningful effort toward interpersonal interactions. My goal for the rest of the year returning to my original writing style. That style produces prose that resonates with me. That style remains less detached and more focused on moments and thoughts.

We could rush through the moment.

Remembering everything that happened changes things. It is the subtle details that really set the stage for memory. Walking into the botanical garden it was not the two sets of doors or the change in temperature between the inside and outside. It was looking at a poster on the wall about upcoming events and taking that first strong smell of the botanical garden that caught my attention.

I could write about the moment in more detail.

We had decided to go to the botanical garden. The weather seemed ok for the trip. It was the weekend. A trip of some type was about to happen. Today it was going to be a trip to a garden. A short 20 minute drive was easy enough. Parking in the underground structure always makes our botanical garden visits interesting. We generally arrive early enough to park in the first main area. That makes leaving very easy. The entrance and the exit are in the same place on the same floor of the garage.

Getting to the botanical garden involves a simple elevator ride with a stoller or wagon up a level. Taking a wagon up the stairs never seems practical. It is a quick elevator and the door opens right up to facing the actual entrance of the garden. It involves a short walk and crossing the street. Traffic has to stop. The crosswalk is just in the middle of a busy street. The lights flash and traffic stops for about 30 seconds. You make your way across the street to the glass doors of the entrance.

During the summer the temperature between the ticket office entrance and the garden is striking. You walk in and get tickets. Things seem colder and then you walk out through another set of glass doors to see the actual garden. After you open the door you still have to walk a few feet to see the actual garden, but the smells and sounds of the botanical garden catch your senses and remind you what nature smells like. Walking from a parking garage in the middle of a city to a botanical garden really does introduce you to very striking smells.

Naturally, i could take that writing about the moment even deeper.

During our weekends the kids need an outing. Staying around the house all day never turns out well. This weekend our adventure would be a trip to the botanical garden. It always involves a lot of walking and you have a lot to see and experience. The twenty minute drive is ok. Nobody really minds those short drives. It is the really long ones that cause cabin fever in a car. Shorter drives don’t even involve car snacks. Today was a red rider wagon day. The wagon has seen better days and one of the canopy poles needed a slight repair before we could begin our journey. Electrical tape and a long screw were enough to make the repair. It only took about 5 minutes and we were ready to go.

Parking for the botanical garden is always on the left of the one way road. The garage is much large than it appears from the outside. It is a mountain of concrete. Early in the day parking is pretty easy. You do not really have to venture very far into the garage. The entrance and the exit are in the same spot. The first ring of parking is pretty easy to navigate it really only involves one loop. The stairs would be easy enough to take without the red rider wagon. An elevator ride up one floor takes a moment. On really crowded and busy days waiting for the elevator can be a difficult end to an adventure. Kids do not really handle waiting very well when they are tired.

As the elevator door opens you can see the glass doors of the entrance to the botanical garden. It is a short walk to the crosswalk for the one way street. A simple button push starts the light cycle. Soon enough traffic on that busy one way street will stop long enough for people to cross. This the perfect example of where an architectural feature could have allowed people to go over or under without cross the street. That design was never put in place. After a quick wait the walk to the glass doors is pretty easy.

Large glass doors open up to the ticket office and gift shop. All sorts of things are for sale to the left and the ticket folks are sitting on the right. At this point, it is a simple scan and go operation for members of the botanical garden. Every time walking through the entrance involves during the summer involves a sudden temperature change. It is striking enough to remember. Your sense of smell gets used to the the gift shop and the conditioned air just long enough for the surprise that is waiting on the other side ot the second set of doors.

Nature jumps out at you and your senses pull in all sorts of memories related to plants, flowers, and the outdoors. Going from a parking garage to the botanical garden triggers a frenzy of memories for me and it revitalizes me for the day.

The process of writing about the moment is influenced by both the passion you bring to the writing session and the time you have to write.

Here we go around again

…it started with a weblog post or so it goes this time around…

My time away from writing is now done. A few months were spent internalizing the nature of being in the moment. That moment of focus has become the now. The now at the edge of my thoughts is very much present in this moment. In this very moment my thoughts are racing toward pushing things forward. They are centered around making a lasting contribution. Sometimes a single-minded focus on crossing things off of our to-do-lists allows us to confuse taking action with having purpose. Winning short term battles each and every day does not guarantee long term success. We have to strive toward personal growth in positive and productive ways.

Getting back into the habit of daily writing is easier than it might seem. It does not really involve a question of talent. It more or less involves a question of willpower and persistence. My tenacity has not been questioned in years. My productivity with respect to turning out academic papers is very much in question.

2017 has to be a turning point with respect to my academic productivity. Perhaps my goals should shift to writing one academic paper a quarter. The Q2 paper will have to be a literature review. I do not have time to set up collection for an construct a dataset for a more exploratory inquiry into an academic question.

This year my creative interests shifted to vlogging. It is an interesting creative outlet. My efforts included working on some daily vlog videos and even a few live streams. Those efforts were not focused on a making a contribution to the academy. None of it was about an idea that metaphorically knocks on the sky and makes a dent in the universe. Those types of contributions are harder and harder to achieve. The amount of signals and noise is at an all time high. It has become harder and harder to figure out the difference between a distraction and a real contribution that drives the academy forward.

The one blank page pitch technique

I have used this technique to solve a variety of problems over the years. Sometimes figuring out how to explain complex things can be a roadblock. Sometimes we just need to refine the message to foster better communication. A lot of variations to this exercise exist. This is an example of how I go about completing the one blank page pitch technique.

Grab a blank page. Write the topic that is going to be pitched at the top of it. Start to fill the page with the high level content. Work your way down the page one bullet point at a time. Try to avoid getting into the weeds. This is a pitch. You can have some details, but one page is not enough room for all of the details. After you fill up the page deliver the pitch out loud in less than 5 minutes. Now we get to the hard part of the process. Crumple up the first draft of your pitch. Grab a blank page and start the process again. Think about how you want to refine the pitch. Think about what details really sell the idea. After you fill up the page deliver the pitch out loud in less than 4 minutes. Things might be going really well at this point. Crumbling up that second draft is always a hard thing to do. Grabbing that third piece of blank paper and working on the pitch is a key point in the process. This is the time in the process to move beyond refining ideas to demonstrate mastery through simplicity. Explaining things in simple terms that help people understand them is critical to communicating the pitch. After the page is full start to deliver the pitch in less than 3 minutes. This process can be repeated until a polished 45 second elevator pitch has been completed.

Understanding channel permanence

Even the things that live in obscurity can be reasonably permanent. The amount of storage that is used to house junk email must be shocking. The digital era has created a degree of permanence for some things. An email that was sent years ago can be retrieved in seconds. Students in college classes right now are watching advertisements and videos from around the 1970’s forward. Advertisements from iconic political campaigns seem to live on and are still being consumed. Most political advertisements from state and local elections do not enough that degree of permanence.

Thinking about contact channels

“Every contact channel comes with opportunity costs…”

Things are going to get harder. We are going to begin some deep knowledge analysis. We are about to change directions and start focusing on different contact channels in more detail. This next chapter in posts will be dedicated to reviewing the capabilities of different contact channels. Each of the channels will be reviewed as a separate use case. Different combinations of contact channels will be evaluated outside of this chapter. Multichannel contact strategies will be evaluated based on specific examples. This chapter of inquiry is about building a solid foundation to understand the pieces being put together. If each review was written well, then each contact channel described will provide the reader with the information necessary to both think about and understand the contact channel in question. Each section may also include the data on how influential this technology is based on users, costs, and accessibility.

Evidence based decision making

This might seem simple. It might seem straightforward. It is one of the things that organizations consistently get wrong. Walking down the path of building evidence based decision making is not easy. Just like campaigns are not easy. They have to be built and maintained. The entire campaign strategy process has to be based on the foundation of a strong evidence based decision making process. The facts are the facts. We gather information to inform our choices.

Strategies happen. Some of them are executed well. Some of them are not. You pretty much have to accept that organizations develop decision making in a variety of ways. People make plans. Executing those plans require people to make decisions. Making decisions happens in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Within any organization strategic decision making and risk management plan an important role.

Sometimes along the path we run into situations where an organization has not built a strong compendium of key performance indicators. Sometimes an organization has not advanced enough to be running based on a strategic plan. Maybe one was never drafted. Things work best when the two items are working in harmony. Organizations with both have a clear path to success. However, we will discuss operationalizing a strategic plan in more detail in the coming days and months.

Within any organization the logical conclusion of building out strong evidence based decision making should be a strategic plan. It should be a strategic plan that is driving by a compendium of key performance indicators. That builds the basis of operationalizing a strategic plan.

Understanding respondent tolerance

Campaigns effect people in different ways. Some of them are memorable and some of them might as well have never happened. Just like even the best television commercials most of them fade out of memory. Admittedly, I will probably always remember the Budweiser frog commercials from 1995, but that is the exception not the rule. Respondents have different levels of tolerance for communication. No respondent wants to receive 10 phone calls per day. Just like nobody wants to receive 20 emails a week from the same campaign. A well-orchestrated symphony lets you hear and appreciate the different instruments. It also lets you appreciate how they work together. Figuring out how to get your communication to stand out and work together requires careful planning and a true understanding of what actions are being taken.

Please take a few moments and think about how credit card companies communicate with you. Sometimes they send weekly letters. Occasionally, they seem to call you over and over again. Some of them send tons of emails about promotional rates and great opportunities. Some of the campaigns try to generate a very real and exciting sense of urgency. They ask you to act now for extreme savings. Now think about how pizza companies try to contact you. Just like credit card companies they blanket multiple channels with advertisements. Some of them are targeted and some of them are just mass appeals to as many people as they can possibly reach.

Every day I generate a wide variety of prose. All of it follows three basic channels of distribution. Some of it is for this functional journal that is also shared to Twitter and Google+. Some of it is just ideas jotted down in my notebook for later analysis. Most of those ideas will never be anything more than a scribble. Some of them could be the start of seriously contemplation. The kind of contemplation that involves knocking on the sky and listening to the sound. With some luck, one day, one of them could be truly powerful. Steve Jobs described wanting to make a dent in the universe. That happened. Steve had an incredible and lasting impact on the way we experience the world.

All of those ideas in my notebook could be a message that respondents might tolerate. However, to be honest… most of the ideas that draw my attention and are ultimately scribbled in my notebook are probably not going to appeal to a wider audience. They might be overly technical. They might be extremely targeted at somewhat arcane topics. They might not be interesting. The hard part of the process is figuring out how to deliver communications in a way that is tolerable to a target audience.

Building up a truly rock solid multichannel contact strategy is about figuring out how to communicate within people in ways that will be acceptable. That means figuring out what is powerful about the message and working from that base. It means figuring out why the respondent will want to interact with or experience the content being provided. Consider for a moment that some of the campaigns from both credit card and pizza commercials attempt to be targeted. Some of them even use highly advanced multistage targeting models for online advertisements. Some part of the strategy is probably effective. Most of the strategies are ripe with inefficiencies that test respondent tolerance. Oddly enough, both of those business areas seem to continue down the path of blanket coverage. That probably continue as long as respondents tolerate intentional over-communication.

Understanding programmatic strategy

Project management has become an increasingly well-defined field of study. It popped up and was everywhere within the business world. People have made careers out of it. Entire organizations engage in rampant credentials surrounding it. The entire project management process ends up being described as portfolios, programs, and projects. It is really all about the simple question of getting things done. If you think of campaign modules as a series of projects, then it is to understand the need for a program level strategy. Each of the project timelines has to be evaluated against the overall program. At some levels programmatic effectiveness defines the success or failure of multichannel contact strategies in the long-run. As short cited as this plan might be, the best possible fundraising day might be achieved by building a ten channel contact strategy that focused on contacting everyone on the list several times in a day. That plan might yield a single day record, but it would have disastrous consequences for the longevity of the campaign.

Sustaining engagement takes more than you think

Great campaigns keep people engaged. Interacting with respondents is about more than just keeping in constant contact. Engagement and more to the point sustained engagement is about keeping a campaign population active and providing them with different opportunities to be involved. Consider for a moment a misguided campaign that simply asks for money once a week for a year. Assume that the campaign strategy involved sending out a weekly message via a few different channels asking for a contribution. Campaign effectiveness would spike in the first few weeks and flat line by week 52. The campaign would be better off focusing on a series of planned events that had an ebb and a flow vs. trying sustain the same level engagement via the same message for an entire year.