Only as good as my editor

July 13, 2011

Thank god for editors.

In our research shop, the editor helps faculty researchers package their proposals to funding agencies. That requires knowing the APA style manual inside out, whipping into shape chapter-length text narratives, checking complex budgets, gathering dozens of resumes, cleaning up lists of scholarly publications, and having official permission documents signed and stamped by people at many levels of the university hierarchy.

Everything in these proposal packages must be exactly in the right place. Funding agencies are extremely picky about such things. I suppose I would be too, if I were granting hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes multiple millions, to a research team who was competing against dozens of other research teams for the same pot of funding.

This work takes 95% of the editor’s day. When time permits, the editor processes drafts of research summaries I produce. They’re eventually distributed via our web site, an electronic newsletter, and a quarterly print piece.

If I want to be honest, I don’t refer to myself as a writer. My work amounts to re-writing material someone else has written; usually journal articles intended for an audience of researchers and other educators. For human beings (like myself) to understand what the heck they’re talking about, these articles need to be restructured and simplified.

I try to be the ‘general reader.’ My goal is to faithfully communicate the researcher’s point, without relying on the paraphernalia of tables, statistical formulae, lists of citations, literature reviews, and details about process.

I walk a communication tightrope. If I lean in one direction, I fail my readers. If I lean in the other direction, I fail the researchers whose work I supposedly represent.

My balancing pole, so to speak, is the help I get from my team. Having another set of eyes look at my work is critical;  having four sets of eyes is even better.

I would not want to see the ‘final’ drafts of my work go out into the public before getting a good workover.

Our proposal editor checks my drafts for logical flow and unnecessary use of jargon.  The research faculty make sure I’m communicating the main point of their work. The director of our unit reads from the perspective of a faculty member, researcher, and assistant dean of our School of Education.  Administrative assistants check for typos on final page proofs. The end product is so much better than the drafts I submit.

We’re going through a transition here at WCER. Our editor just retired after ten years with us, and we have all benefited from her consistently meticulous work. (A former student assistant referred to her as ‘neurotic.’ That didn’t go over too well.)

Our national search for a replacement was successful. We have brought on someone who seems equally capable and just as pleasant to work with.

We’re in good hands, again, and my job is safe, for now.


Drawing to a solution

June 3, 2011

unfolding the napkin

Book Review
Unfolding the napkin: The hands-on method for solving complex problems with simple pictures.
By Dan Roam.
Portfolio/Penguin, 2009. 280 p.

“If we work at it, we can imagine our way past anything thrown in our way. And once we’ve seen the solution in our mind’s eye, all we have to do is make it happen.”

I’ve enjoyed drawing pictures since I was little. Lying on the floor, face hovering next to a sheet of paper, I created the little masterpieces typical of any child’s repertoire. That’s probably part of the reason that I enjoy Dan Roam’s books about business communication. He illustrates each point with a clear, simple drawing. And he argues that more professional presentations should include their own little drawings, rather than stacking bullet points on PowerPoint slide or cramming data into spreadsheets.

This book builds on his work in The Back of the Napkin (2008) and mirrors the process of his four-day workshops: Each chapter, and each day, focuses on one aspect of his communication method: looking, seeing, imagining, and showing.

Roam developed his communication theory during 25 years of working with business leaders to develop ideas. To wit: There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture. There is no faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture. There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture.

He lists “the four unwritten rules of visual problem solving”:

Rule 1: Whoever is best able to describe a problem is the person most likely to solve it. In stating the problem, I’m already alluding to a solution.

Rule 2: We can’t solve a problem that overwhelms us. To understand what we’re seeing, we need to break it into bite-size pieces. And there are only six kinds of problems out there: Who and what (shown by drawing a portrait); How much (shown by sketching a chart); Where (shown by drawing a map); When (shown by sketching a time line); How (shown by drawing a flow chart); and Why (shown by drawing a multi-variable plot on an x/ y axis.

Rule 3. Problems don’t get solved by the smartest or the fastest or the strongest. They get solved by the one who sees the possibilities. The person with the best imagination wins.

Rule 4: The more human your picture, the more human the response.  Business ideas can be represented and business decisions made without software. And they must. When we need to show our  ideas to others—when what really matters is getting the idea that’s in my head into yours—nothing is more powerful than our eyes, our mind’s eye, and the cognitive magic of a little hand-eye coordination.

Roam’s “look, see, imagine, show” process takes business problems apart in a consistent and repeatable way: His process serves as a default script to run the next time something nasty looms ahead: (1) let me look at the problem; (2) aha! I see what’s missing; (3) I can imagine what it will take to fix it; and (4) here, let me show you a solution.

To sharpen our critical abilities and to unblock our creative imaginations he offers the metaphor of a Swiss Army Knife. Each blade offers an approach to solving a problem. Its corkscrew, for example, has five twists, labeled S, Q, V, I, and D. Each helps us think of a problem in terms of Simple vs. elaborate; Qualitative vs. quantative; Vision vs. execution; Individual vs. comparison; and Delta (Change) vs. status quo. He illustrates each process.

Roam says we usually expect our imagination to do the mental-image gear shifting for us automatically. Most of the time that works just fine, he says. But when it comes to actively seeing possibilities, automatic is not enough. We need a manual override: a simple way to force our mind’s eye through all the gears and see all the possibilities. That’s the purpose of the SQVID approach.

Don’t get all caught up in highly polished presentations, he says. Hand-drawn pictures are compelling precisely because they are imperfect. They work because they invite interaction; human-drawn pictures work because they’re human. The easiest way we can make our problem-solving pictures interesting to look at is simply to leave them as we drew them. Mistakes and all, they make out thinking visible to anyone who looks at them, and, in the end, that’s the whole point of this book.

Profiles of bloggers in training and development

June 3, 2011


Book Review
Edublogging: a qualitative study of training and development bloggers
Kristina Schneider
Acorda Press, 2009. 160 p.

Here Kristina Schneider takes an academic look at the process bloggers go through when deciding what to blog, when and why they blog, and their relationship with their readers.

Schneider is a performance technologist, merging instructional and systems technology skills with project and operations management abilities.

She’s particularly interested in the field of training and development. Edublogging presents detailed case studies of five people who blog on the subject of training and development. Two blogs are written by a single contributor, two are written by an organized collective, and one is an editor-based blog with invited contributors.

The bloggers she studied include Jeff, an independent consultant based in the US who blogs about informal learning; Jill, a training and development researcher based in the US who blogs about Web based learning; Kate, a learning consultant for an organization based in the UK who blogs about the learner’s perspective on learning; Mark, an independent consultant based in Southeast Asia who blogs about the links between trends in training and knowledge management; and Stuart, an education researcher based in Canada who blogs about what he learns through his research.

Each edublogger writes for his or her own reasons, Schneider says, but, as a group, they share several attributes: they share, they explore, they self-promote, they discuss, they reference, they quantify, and they support one another.

Schneider reminds us that, as a qualitative study based on only five examples, her findings should not be generalized to the larger community of bloggers. Her goal was to generate hypotheses about bloggers that can be tested on much larger samples in a quantitative or mixed-methods study.

As a result of her study she calls for more research in six related areas: Blogger evolution and self-directed learning; gender and social media; reader participation and contribution; qualitative assessment of blog content; responsibility to verify facts; and value judgments about media and copyright.

Serve niche groups through social media

March 30, 2011

social media playbook

Book review
Social media playbook for business: Reaching your online community with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
By Tom Funk.
Praeger, 2011. 263 p.

Patagonia, REI, L.L.Bean, and Orvis don’t use social media primarily to sell outdoor gear. They promote hiking, biking, paddling, fly fishing, climbing, surfing—the activities their customer enjoy. These companies also take a principled social stand on conservation, global warming, and the health of oceans and streams.

Companies that succeed in social media are those that emphasize a “bigger idea” surrounding their business, says Tom Funk, author of Social Media Playbook (2011) and Web 2.0 & Beyond (2008).

Tom Funk has been involved in e-commerce and Web publishing since 1995. His goal with this book is to help businesses succeed in social media, the “fastest-growing cultural trend of our  time.” The many social media case studies he presents result from interviews with businesses owners nationwide and from researching small mom-and-pops and big multinationals.

As do so many authors on the subject, Funk emphasizes that social media is not a marketing channel. In fact, social media is anti-marketing. It’s simply a communication platform. Smart companies use this platform for listening to, and corresponding with, followers and customers, particularly in the areas of customer outreach, focus grouping, shareholder services, PR, and R&D.

Along the way Funk offers 15 Facebook tips for business, 12 tips for successful corporate twittering, 9 steps for making the most of LinkedIn, and 5 ways you can really screw up on LinkedIn.

Funk says the 7 sweet spots for social media are lifestyle brands; social, political, and charitable causes; organizations run by a charismatic and well-connected leader; service businesses where the person IS the business; entertainment businesses; celebrities; and businesses that serve hobbyists or special interest communities.

For example, Nikon’s Digital Learning Center connects with passionate photographers on Flickr, the world’s biggest photo-sharing service. Nikon’s presence there is not primarily to sell cameras, but to build a user community and to promote image sharing. Explore Chicago connects with travelers through a Twitter feed, podcasts, YouTube videos, a Facebook presence, a Flickr photo pool, and a YouTube channel.

Social media works really well for very specific communities. For example, Middlebury College builds a Facebook page for every graduating class. Some travel and adventure companies create a new Facebook page for each tour group in advance. Prior to departure, travelers get to know their tour leaders and their fellow travelers-to-be.

Scissor-maker Fiskar creates ‘blog ambassadors’ or ‘Fiskateers’ who support the online scrapbooking community. Fiskars says this fan group reduces advertising expenses, generates a dozen product ideas a month, and has increased sales 300 percent.

Funk details social media initiatives by LEGO, Pepsi, Gardener’s Supply, Gap Adventures, Victoria’s Secret, Hips and Curves, Skechers footware, Zappos, Lipton Brisk, Wine of the Month Club,, and

Three big traps to avoid include abandoning company blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds; selling fake relationships; and outsourcing social media work and giving an agency free rein.

It’s relatively easy to quantify one’s investment in social media, Funk says:  Count the people-hours and any spent. The hard part is quantifying the return. He recommends totaling up direct sales referrals and quantifying the likely worth of email signups and catalog requests. Then try to attach a value to each new fan or follower. Although these numbers will likely be arbitrary, he says, it’s important to come up with some model, then keep it consistent, and track it. As long as you don’t change your assumptions, your model should chart a useful trend line showing the business impact, month by month, of  your social media efforts.

Justyifying social media investment

March 23, 2011

social media ROI

Book Review
Social media ROI: managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization.
By Olivier Blanchard
QUE/Pearson Education, 2011. 292 pp.

ROI (Return on investment) is a financial measurement. Social media are communications tools. You cannot measure a communication medium using financial measures.

But you can show it effectiveness.

Olivier Blanchard says social media managers must put on their detective hats. They must connect the dots between their company’s activities, the nonfinancial impact, and the eventual financial outcomes. “You can’t just piece sales and circumstantial data together and paint a convenient picture,” he says. “You have to both prove and attempt to disprove cause-and-effect and correlation.”

Olivier Blanchard manages BrandBuilder Marketing and the Red Chair group. He’s a brand strategist who blogs at the BrandBuilder blog.

Blanchard emphasizes that social media, in and of itself, will not improve your business or fix your problems. To get the most out of your social media investment, the program must be driven by specific business objectives. And his is the best book I’ve yet read that specifically connects business objectives with social media use and measurement.

Blanchard details how to tie a company’s initial  investment in its social media program to a gain that can be eventually measured in terms of ROI. As an evangelist you can show that your social media program supports business objectives and actually helps drive business growth.

But he says he cringes whenever he hears people say their company has or sells a “social media strategy.” There is no such thing as a “social media strategy,” he insists.  It’s a meaningless buzzword. What you do have, however, are business objectives and strategies to achieve these objectives. Start with those and incorporate social into them.

Define your company’s purpose first, he says. Then identify your business goals, then set specific targets. Only then can you see how social media fits in. You start developing your program from that point.

He emphasizes the following:
Every company is different. Start by thinking about what your company wants to measure.

Get buy-in from the entire organization. Simply getting the go-ahead from the CEO is not enough. You will need the cooperation of people in IT, HR, legal, web design, marketing, sales, and public relations.

When hiring for a specific social media role, a recruiting manager should evaluate candidates by looking NOT for broad social media experiences, but rather for a NARROW and relevant field of expertise as possible, for example, customer service.

Build your measurement practice on four cornerstones: monitoring, measurement, analysis, and reporting. They are four distinct disciplines, and together they connect the dots between observation, data collection, the development of insights, and the conversion of data into business intelligence.

A real strength of this book is its thoughtful discussion of what ROI is and isn’t. ROI is a business metric, not a media metric. ROI stands for “return on investment.” ROI can be calculated only after an investment has yielded a return. It cannot and must not be estimated beforehand.

The job of a social media manager is to validate a program’s effectiveness to an organization’s executive team. Reports should include data that shows how business objectives were met, or if they weren’t. For example: We shifted 20% of the customer service department’s tickets to Twitter. The net cost savings of this aspect of the program was $75,000, with no adverse effect to the quality of service.


March 20, 2011

gleick the information

Book review
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.
James Gleick.
Pantheon Books, 2011. 526 p.

The Information spoke to James Gleick. It instructed him to write a history of nearly everything that has been called information. The story would be scholarly, yet informal. It would contain 45 pages of notes and a 26-page bibliography.  Its 21-page index would include 10 entries for “information overload” and 19 entries for “information theory. The entertaining tale would incorporate substantial references to many people and many ideas, including but not limited to:

Abstraction, catalogues of information, cyberspace, evolution, mathematics, numbers, recursive procedures, telephone, writing.

Alrogithms, channels, energy, logic, machines, neurophysiology, randomness, thermodynamics, meaning, redundancy, quantum physics, time.

Alphabets, communication, error correction, measurement  of  information, networks, telegraphy, probability, symbolic logic, calculating machines, memes  and  memetics, Oxford English Dictionary.

Analytical Engines, culture, cryptography, electricity, knowledge, noise, quantum information science, self-replication, Turing machines.

Charles Babbage, bits, computation, Ada Lovelace, economics, genetics, patterns, signals and signaling,  thinking, uncertainty.

Bell Laboratories, code, English language, incompleteness theorem, memory, paradoxes,  Claude Shannon, transmission of information, entropy, language.

James Gleick ( is author of Chaos: Making a New Science; Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman and other titles including a biography of Isaac Newton, all of which served to prepare him for creating this epic tale.

Social networks trump traditional marketing efforts

March 16, 2011


Book Review

Socialnomics: how social media transforms the way we live and do business.
By Erik Qualman
Wiley Books, 2009, 2011. Revised edition. 296 p.

What’s the best Italian restaurant in Manhattan?  Fewer people care what Google thinks. They are going to social networks to see what their friends and peers think.

More than half the world’s population is under 30 years old. 96 percent of this group have joined a social network. Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S.

Erik Qualman argues that social media has become the world’s largest focus group on steroids. Qualman is a consultant, global vice president of Online Marketing for EF Education, and an MBA professor at the Hult International Business School. He blogs at

He says that a small business owner who is only now just starting to practice social media can still succeed. First, define what success will look like. Then take these steps: (1) listen (2) interact (3) react (4) soft sell. If you only do step one, you will at least have a much better understanding about your business and also your customer. That is invaluable.

In this revised and updated edition of the 2009 edition Qualman shows how social media are changing consumer behavior and how businesses will benefit from understanding the phenomenon.

Did you know that more than half of the 50 million people who viewed Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin skits on SNL didn’t see them on television? They watched the skits on YouTube or within their social media network. Where is your advertising budget?

Through social networks consumers are getting more information, faster, and at no expense to them. As one example Qualman points to Zillow allows users and realtors to investigate the estimated values of various real estate properties. It aggregates various public data (most recent sales price, up-to-date selling prices of the surrounding houses, asking prices, quality of schools, etc.) into an algorithm to obtain the estimated property value. To augment this third-party data, Zillow allows its user base to update various aspects.

Consumers pay less attention to traditional advertising while they use social media to decide purchases. A parent in the market for a lightweight, safe, child car seat is likely to enter the query “buying a baby seat” into his social network. There he may discover that 23 of his 181 friends have purchased a baby seat in the last 2 years. Fourteen purchased the same make and model; the average price for the most popular model was $124.99; and 3 friends want to sell their used baby seats. Could traditional advertising match that depth of information?

The travel company TripAdvisor was an early company to embrace social commerce. Then in June 2010 it added the ability for a visitor to their site to view hotel ratings and to also see who in their Facebook network had stayed at that hotel. That is a game changer, Qualman says. This is what Socialnomics is all about:  The ability for me to see what my friends and peers think about anything and everything. Social networks provide insight into a user’s demographic (age, geography, occupation, etc.) and psychographic information (hobbies, clubs, networks, desires). In the past, advertisers often had to guess at this type of data. With social media, the user tells marketers what they have been trying to determine for years.

Qualman says brand budgets that historically went to television, magazine ads, and outdoor boards are moving to digital channels for three reasons: (1) the audience has moved there, (2) it’s more cost effective, and (3) it’s easier to track.  Qualman predicts that broadcast television will eventually be pushed through the Internet and a majority of content will be viewed on tablets and iPads.

But many executives ask: How do I measure the ROI of social media?  Qualman says some companies and marketers paralyze themselves by attempting to determine the ROI of social media. They use inappropriate tools and measurements. Qualman offers 34 quick statistics that point to ways social media can be measured:

Lenovo reduced expenses with a  20 percent reduction in call center activity as customers go to community websites for answers.

Dell sold $3 million dollars worth of computers on Twitter.

Software company reports that 24 percent of its social media leads convert to sales opportunities.

Qualman then offers 42 statistics that social media isn’t a fad: it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate, and provides answers to some of the more common that he has received from reporters and readers over the years.