Friday, November 09, 2007

It's the Message, Not Messaging

We're all inundated with emails, messages, and other forms of communication. To be fair, we probably do that with our own communications to others.
In working with many organizations, I have found email and messaging taking over from face to face and voice communications. The quality of communication has declined and many organizations are facing "death by Blackberry."
I've been curious to read about the emerging backlash---"email free Friday's" (we know what happened with casual Fridays.).
I just ran across a great post by Leo Babauta in WebWorker Daily.
“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. … As if the main object were to talk fast, not sensibly.” - Henry David Thoreau

This comment from Thoreau’s Walden was made more than a century and a half ago, talking about telegraph communication … and yet 160 years later, with the rise of a million means of instant communication, it’s just as appropriate.

Just because we have instant communication doesn’t mean we should do it. Sometimes it makes more sense to talk less, to deliberate, and to communicate more important ideas.

Sure, being a part of a network of constant flowing information can be a thrill, and can be useful. But we are a part of dozens of such networks, and with information and communication flying all around our heads, like a thousand buzzing insects, it can be hard to catch your breath and realize that most of it means nothing.

Let’s remember the words of Macbeth, hundreds of years ago:

“it is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing”

Step back, and think about the importance of what we are doing. Is it so urgent to send off and respond to dozens of emails? Is it worth our time to participate in instant messaging, when we don’t have much to say? Will the world end if we don’t stay up-to-date on what’s going on in the blogging world, or on Digg, or on Twitter? And do we really want to know what people are doing, all the time?
What does it all mean? And is it worth saying, and listening to?

These are the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves, on a daily basis. I’m not saying that I’m perfect: I participate in these networks as much as anyone else. But I am saying that the focus these days seems to be too much on finding new ways to communicate … and not enough on finding important things to say … and making sure that what we’re saying is worth saying.

To that end, I’d like to make five suggestions:

1. Step back. It’s vital that we take a step back from what we’re doing, and what we’re communicating and participating in, every now and then. And more now than then. Without pulling our heads out of the information stream, we can’t get any kind of perspective. How far do we step back and for how long? That’s an individual question I can’t answer, but I think we should step back far enough that we can see the entirety of the network (whether that’s email, blogs, IM or whatever) … and can actually see how the networks relate to each other … and can actually see the relation between these networks of networks and the rest of the world. Only then can we see what’s important.

2. Cut back. It truly isn’t critical that we communicate so much, and participate so much. Find ways to cut back so that you’re not in such a rush anymore. Do email and the other communications in your life less, send less, and read less.

3. Communicate only the essential. What is it that we really want to communicate? What’s truly important? What should we be saying and doing, as opposed to what we have been saying and doing? When you step back and figure these things out, you can learn to communicate just the essential stuff.

4. Learn to let go of the noise. There is a lot of noise in our world. More than we’re willing to admit to ourselves. Let it drop away. Sometimes it’s difficult, because we’re so used to doing it, and when we hear noise enough it no longer sounds like noise. But noise it is, if we learn to focus on the essential. Life will go on without it!

5. Find new ways to communicate the essential, not the noise. As we find new ways to communicate (and new ways seem to pop up every day), let’s not focus on ways to communicate faster, or more, or more frenetically … let’s not find ways to connect with more people, or increase our network … instead, let’s find ways to communicate only what’s essential, to cut down on the noise, to figure out what we should be communicating and not what we can communicate, to reach only those we need to reach and no more. Let that be the focus of our new technology, and let it serve us, and not the other way around.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grameen Bank and Dr. Mohammed Yunus

I have to give credit to Guy Kawasaki and his blog for giving this reference. He pointed out an interview with Dr. Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Yunus is one of the early initiators of the Microcredit and Microloan concepts.

The interview is interesting and should be read: Interview on CNN Asia.

Even more interesting is a visit to the Grameen Bank's website.

I was particularly struck by the 16 decisions, which appear to be guiding principles to people accepting microloans. I have copied and presented them below.

  1. We shall follow and advance the four principles of Grameen Bank --- Discipline, Unity, Courage and Hard work – in all walks of our lives.
  2. Prosperity we shall bring to our families.
  3. We shall not live in dilapidated houses. We shall repair our houses and work towards constructing new houses at the earliest.
  4. We shall grow vegetables all the year round. We shall eat plenty of them and sell the surplus.
  5. During the plantation seasons, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.
  6. We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
  7. We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.
  8. We shall always keep our children and the environment clean.
  9. We shall build and use pit-latrines.
  10. We shall drink water from tubewells. If it is not available, we shall boil water or use alum.
  11. We shall not take any dowry at our sons' weddings, neither shall we give any dowry at our daughters wedding. We shall keep our centre free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
  12. We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone, neither shall we allow anyone to do so.
  13. We shall collectively undertake bigger investments for higher incomes.
  14. We shall always be ready to help each other. If anyone is in difficulty, we shall all help him or her.
  15. If we come to know of any breach of discipline in any centre, we shall all go there and help restore discipline.
  16. We shall take part in all social activities collectively.

Nothing new, but well stated. Guidelines to help improve the lives and communities of everyone invovled. Guidelines that should be adoptes more broadly.

Really something to watch, learn from, and find ways to apply.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Kindness Of Friends---And Strangers

Two weeks ago today, I was getting ready to go to the East Coast for business. Just as I was about to leave to catch a red-eye, my wife called me, "There's really a weird cloud outside." It was smoke, from a large fire. I went to the back yard and looked North---about 4 miles away, all I could see was the entire ridge-line on fire. Flames looked to be leaping 20-30 feet in the air.

We were in no danger, I made the trip, though I checked on conditions every couple of hours for the whole week. It that time, another interesting thing started happening-----emails and text messages were sent from friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor. "Are you OK? Can we help?" We started receiving these messages and sending them. Many friends were evacuated. Fortunately, none that we know suffered any damage, though many have had close calls.

Another interesting thing happened to me. I started getting the same messages from friends and clients around the world, "Dave, the fires seem bad, are you OK, can we help?"

The fires are gone, but the spirit of helping continues. Yesterday, my wife was at the grocery store. Outside, volunteers were giving people bags and lists----"Please buy a bag of groceries for a family that was burned out." There was an endless row of carts filled with bags of groceries people were buying for perfect strangers.

It is always amazing and heartening to see how people and communities come together on major disasters. The numerous acts of kindness and charity are fantastic.

Wouldn't it be great if we didn't limit that behavior to disasters, but did it as a normal part of life, helping people in little ways, when we can?