“The Best Thing I’ve Read Today” newsletter

Dave inspired me, as he has a way of doing. I’d been pondering my own Tinyletter a few weeks ago, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. In one tweet, he solved that problem.

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You subscribe and get a (sometimes) daily email newsletter from me, with the best thing I’ve read that day. Occasionally, there will be two. But that’s it. I read a lot of stuff, but it’s usually on the far ends of the earth that my friends don’t see. This is a way to put my curation skills to good use.

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Ruminations on Strategy

My latest post on Medium is about strategy and how difficult it is for folks in the digital space when no one really understands what we do. It’s our job to make sense of this, not their job to get where we are.

I once imagined a world like a coffee shop where someone would help you with digital needs. Want a website? There’s a storefront for that. Need a social media account for your business? Same. The fact that our services are so mysterious that they can’t be explained to the laymen, doesn’t make us seem smarter. It just means we have to work harder to be relevant to procure the investments we need to push our industry forward in the trenches.

Our professional future has yet to arrive. Institutions and companies are just beginning to truly invest in digital the way they need to. The ones who are leading the way are the ones who are winning. But we’re still living in the wild west of our generation’s Gold Rush.

Read the whole thing on Medium

Not About Love

I don’t like articles with lists, but this article from Les Mckeown showed up on my Twitter timeline and for some odd reason I clicked on it. It purports to want to help you relinquish an “unhealthy need for being loved” in the workplace and offers sort of awful advice about how to fix this affliction. What it boils down to, is simply a Fiona Apple song. It’s not about love.

For the sake of soothing the irritant that was this post, we’re just going to examine his magic advice and rebut each argument on its face.

First he says that being loved elsewhere can keep you from feeling like you need your people to love you at work. Yes friends, the key to treating your subordinates like the unimportant maggots they are is simply to have someone at home who puts up with your b.s. on a regular basis. Sorry poor single schlubs that haven’t found true love yet, this is where you realize your single ass is never going to reach the fast track.

Next, he tells us to avoid one-on-ones as much as possible. So let me get this straight, the best way to deal with people at work is to avoid interacting with them. Maybe this works as a soulless corporate hegemon, but for the rest of us idiots in real jobs, this just isn’t as possible as our Inc. blogging genius thinks.

The last one I’m going to address, because I’d rather get to the point is his argument that closing the feedback loop by simply never asking for feedback from subordinates is the best way to ensure you never have to find out how you’re really doing.

Look, all of this stuff is great if you want to live in an echo chamber of your own adulation. But if you’re actually interested in change,  you won’t embrace an ethos that says caring about others is some kind of character flaw. Yes, there is a problem with being too heavily reliant on being liked; especially in the context of leadership. However, this doesn’t mean you need to trend so far in the other direction so as to close out allies you need within your organization to survive.

Here are a few quick productive ways to ensure that forming good working relationships doesn’t turn into something more sinister and damaging:

1. Treat people fairly. You can’t always treat everyone the same. But you can be fair with people. If you say good morning to one person, it doesn’t hurt to extend that courtesy to someone else you don’t know.

2. Target personal interactions. Maybe you just enjoy talking recipes with someone and enjoy their time. If these kinds of one-on-one interactions impact morale, then stick to using these interactions for a specific purpose and spread the love. If more people feel included and appreciated, it can have a positive effect on the organization as a whole.

3. Remember what leadership is about. Look, your job isn’t always to direct. It’s to find good people who understand the job well enough that if you weren’t available, it’d be done well without you. Identifying and empowering great people is hard work. But it’s worthwhile for you to seek out quality people and train them up to someday take your job.

4. Leadership paint-by-numbers. If you have the good fortune of having paid your dudes before moving up to your role, it can be helpful for junior and mid-career employees from time to time to hear of your own trajectory up the ranks. Sometimes, you see a person who’s seemly been “in charge” for a long time and don’t always realize the journey it took to get there. Having someone demystify those secrets can boost morale and provide a pathway for someone else to someday follow.

On Selfie Fatigue

Selfie (http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3718/9549248214_4e12daf5a1_z.jpg)

Using digital tools is really about practice. Not the kind of practice where you spend hours perfecting your backhand. Or the kind of practice where you get really good at landing a particular kickflip, but the sort of practice where you adapt your usage and habits to work with your life. Valerie Heruska’s post about her own fatigue at the endless stream of friend selfies and exhaustion at people using social media as a proxy for real professionals is well taken.

Especially if you work in this field day to day, you can’t help but log countless examples of seemingly silly questions you get asked from week to week. Whether it’s friends posting about seemingly mundane things going on in their lives or an instagram full of food pictures; I don’t really think it matters what other people do online. Where the practice comes in, is understand what I’m doing online and what my purpose is for using it. Then it’s less about passive consumption and more about interacting with folks from disparate places that I’d never have met if it weren’t for amazing tools that make it so possible for me to reach out and connect with my friends and family on a daily basis.

I don’t understand why it matters what other people think. I wake up, do my hair, get dressed and function without anyone else’s opinion. I don’t need someone on the internet to tell me what looks good or what I should or should not be doing with my physical activities.

The beautiful thing about a critical mass is having different people using the same tools in different ways. For someone relatively well-connected digitally, I know a lot of people who don’t use social tools at all. Or struggle with their usage. I can’t count the numbers of times someone has told me how “stupid” Twitter is. (Full disclosure: Five years ago, I wrote about how Twitter was too much like High school”) I usually proceed to tell the people who hate Twitter how much it’s helped me. I’ve met good friends, been offered consulting and speaking opportunities and even jobs thanks to Twitter.

If you get to a point where you’re not enjoying what you’re reading, what’s wrong with unfollowing? Are the hurt feelings worth more than your sanity? I went through Facebook recently and purged people who I hadn’t talked to in years. A lot of them were people from college who I never talk to, barely talked to then but added back when it might be plausible that I’d run into them on campus. Now? Those connections seem far less useful.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that social media composed right, is a way to expand your network and influence beyond your local borders. My career in higher ed started in Wyoming, without good timing and people who appreciated my work, I’d still be in that same job I started with. We often want the good with the bad. We want the good information, links and “usefulness” without the out-of-context tweets or the gratification that comes from knowing exactly how many followers you have.

I think we have to take the good with the bad, if we want the positives that arise from participating. When you want a break, you take a break. If your needs aren’t being met, reach beyond your network and find ways to connect with people you don’t know. If you’ve been doing the social thing a while, you start to close to certain communities of people who used to be strangers but become something else. I like pushing myself out of that comfort zone every so often, because I remember what it’s like being new and having good ideas. (Or at least what I thought were good ideas…)

You can’t help but measure when it’s otherwise part of your life. I don’t think it makes us self-absorbed. It’s not our friends job to curate for us, we just have to find ways to filter. On Facebook, I employ a diverse array of filters just for my sanity’s sake. On Twitter, lists never worked for me really. Instead, I employ the use of hashtags when I’m really trying to follow a particular thing. Otherwise, I only engage when 1) I have something to say and 2) I see things that are of interest to me.

Our friends have always had things to say. Maybe our definition of what that means has been extended a bit. In a world where breakups are no longer breakups, we’ve got lots of ways that things can slip through the crack.s

The selfie has always existed, we just finally came up with a name for it.

Announcing Aggregate Conference

I’ve always thought it’d be interested to have a conference that brought together people from different sectors who are working on the web. I mean, I’ve been in startups and their ideas could really invigorate what we do in higher ed. I think there’s something about higher education that’s being lost on the way it’s being reported in today’s media, but journalists are often coming right from the cauldron they’re reporting on, have strong feelings — and insights — that we should be listening to.
Basically what I want to do is create a dialogue. I used to joke that it’d be really great if more conferences had a “big ideas” track where we could really bat around abstract things we’re thinking about or to tackle problems with a more diverse crew than we could ever hope to muster at work.
Aggregate isn’t intending to replace anything, but to create a new platform for ideas to flow. It’s about building the kinds of connections across silos that don’t just exist within our industries but across them.
I’m really excited about the speakers we’ve already confirmed and the others we’ll be confirming over the coming weeks. So if you would, visit aggregateconference.com or follow us on Twitter @aggregateconf and learn more about what we’re trying to put together for you this September 29-30th in Louisville.

Fixing the antenna

Ron Bronson

I spent four years in the U.S. Air Force after high school. The reason I joined are somewhat layered, but for simplicity’s sake, I did it to get away from home and because I wasn’t quite sure how to make college a reality.

During my first year on active duty, I was tasked to a training exercise in Ft. Polk, Louisiana. That’s an Army base and home to a very robust training facility. We were there for an joint exercise with the Army and at the time, I was one of three people from my unit participating.

The experience was trying and the food was horrible. Still, I learned to make the best of it. There wasn’t any getting out of it at that moment, so you had to learn pretty quickly to adapt. For whatever reason, the senior leaders I encountered were always nice to me and saw something in me. As a result, I was often put in situations to succeed and my wins were celebrated loudly.

However, the story I cite as the circumstance that propelled me to college happened during this exercise at 3am. I’d been up for about 30 hours or so, I was 19 years old and I’d decided to sleep outside because the tent was too hot in the Louisiana summer where even at night it didn’t get very cold. I was sleeping on a field hospital stretcher in lieu of a bed and my sleeping bag was too hot to sleep in. Just as I started to doze off, I was woken up by the Sergeant from another unit I was working with.

You see, while my “day job” was as a network administrator and help desk guy, my actual job was as a Radio Communications Systems Operator. Not only were we tasked with communicating sensitive information via radios, we had to know how to setup field antennas and break them down. It’s interesting and mind-numbing stuff all at once.

Anyway, the Sergeant wakes me up and tells me that the antenna broke and we had to fix it. So we’re sitting in the dark, with a flashlight both of us with barely any sleep at all trying to figure out whatever this problem is. Secret is, the problem wasn’t a real problem at all but one invented by the training cadre to test our patience. They knew we were working on barely any sleep and it was the middle to the end of the exercise. It was all part of the test.

We eventually fix the antenna and I go back to my little spot to get a bit more sleep. Only to be woken up a few minutes later by a real helicopter touching down to pick up “patients” as part of the exercise.

It was at this moment that I decided, “If I can do this, I can go to college.” I eventually did just that and graduated a few years after my enlistment ended. There’s a reason that story resonates over the years. It’s not just because it’s sort of a ridiculous situation — people who travel to real warzone surely have more traumatic and poignant stories of real triumph — but I relate my situation to the workplace and how there are moments when things are less than convenient or ease to manage and require us to dig deeper than we were expecting. Whether it’s a tight deadline you weren’t anticipating or trying to make sense of a difficult project without much direction. These situations are no comparison for life or death, but they’re still a chance to test where we are and how we’re going to react.

In so many life situations, I’ve found myself facing what I can see as a legitimate crossroads. I might have forgotten how I respond in those situations when I don’t deal with them as much as I once did, but all it takes is a moment’s notice to retreat back to being the person you know you have the strength and fortitude to be.

We can’t always go at 100mph. We just have to know when it comes time to overclock our internal engines that we can muster the drive to accelerate to where we need to be.