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Libraries are learning that fines don’t work

From The Boston Sunday Globe:

In Carlisle, it was a decision that the library trustees began discussing with Gleason’s director, Angela Mollet, almost a year ago. When Mollet mapped out the financials, she discovered that as a revenue stream, overdue fines are actually as much a cost as a benefit….

Moreover, processing the monies collected from overdue books bears its own costs in terms of staff time, for collecting and reconciling accounts, and infrastructure such as change boxes and safes….

“At the rate we were collecting fines, the management cost was greater than the revenue.’’

Too many businesses use fines and penalties to control customer behavior, usually without success. These “sticks” are more likely to cause resentment rather than encourage the desired results. Companies who resist this temptation, like the libraries in this article, give their patrons more credit while suffering no downside:

But she says that most library users seem to have a moral compass that compels them to return items punctually, and there has been essentially no discernible difference in the amount of time that people keep materials since the library began its no-fines policy.

Does your company penalize its customers? Might be time to rethink that.

Welcome to Souther Carolina?

Think you know where South Carolina is? Think again.

Turns out it’s about 150 feet more south (why isn’t souther a word?) than was previously thought.

But for the owners of 93 properties who suddenly find themselves in another state, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. The state line determines so much in their lives — what schools they go to, what area code their phone number starts with even who provides them gas and electricity. Small utility cooperatives in South Carolina are banned from extending services across the state line. Most of the properties in question are near Charlotte, N.C.

What is more, northerners will apparently have to drive a little bit further to legally buy fireworks. And since gas is 30 cents a gallon more expensive in North Carolina, it’s kind of like insult and injury.

Not clear who benefits from changing the border 240 years after it was drawn. The simpler solution would be to ignore the lawyers and surveyors and let life go on as it has.

Tell people how you used to suck

How do you market a brand when people already know that it’s no good? The best way is to:

  1. remove the suckiness
  2. admit that it used to suck
  3. then explain how it doesn’t suck anymore.

Most companies in this situation overlook the second step, but it’s crucial. One of the central truths of marketing (and advertising) is that people won’t believe you when you tell them your stuff is good. Of course you’re going to say that: it’s your stuff, and you’re very proud of it.

But the converse is also true: people will always believe you when you tell them your stuff is no good. Or was no good. I mean, who would actually lie about that?

Microsoft, whose marketing is typically as bad as its products, has just launched a brilliant and fresh campaign for its new browser, Internet Explorer 9. Even nontechnical folks understand that IE has always been, well, not good. They say they’ve improved it, which itself isn’t remotely novel. But they also own up to the fact that it used to be very bad. And that is unusual.

Their campaign is called The Browser You Loved to Hate. The site is clean, simple, and well designed. It starts off refreshingly:

Some people are trying the new Internet Explorer and actually liking it. Not that they would say that out loud.

And rather than beating you over the head to switch browsers, Microsoft aims considerably lower:

Your current browser is probably great…

So keep using it. But there are probably a few sites that you go to everyday, like Facebook and Pandora. And for just those sites, try using Internet Explorer…. And when you do, you might find some stuff you like in Internet Explorer. Check out below for more reasons Internet Explorer is actually good now.

There is also an amusing video of a guy who used to run around uninstalling IE (and destroying his Mom’s gluten-free gingerbread-house blog), plus some funny, quirky graphs charting the coolness of different products (like unnecessary beanies and Pabst Blue Ribbon).

Most interestingly, the word “Microsoft” doesn’t appear anywhere on the landing page of the site.

Microsoft isn’t the only one using the three-step “we sucked” approach. Domino’s Pizza went this route in a well-received ad campaign where actual customers said that their crust was like cardboard.

If your company — or even your industry or field (lawyers: I’m looking right at you) — is saddled with a public perception of suckage, you could do worse than to follow Microsoft’s and Domino’s lead and own that suckle. And then explain why you’re better now.

How to make a billion dollars

From iMore:

Apple has announced that sales of their third-generation iOS tablet have reached three million since Friday, making this Apple’s best iPad launch to date.

That’s over a billion dollars in a weekend. If everyone bought the low-end $499 version, that’s a cool billion and a half. With many people paying more for 4G capability and higher storage, the real total is probably closer to $2 billion.

Wow.

Quirk + Simplicity = Gift

This blog is about simplifying business ideas, but simplicity can help in most aspects of life outside of business. I came across this article in Huffington Post. In it, author Kim John Payne (almost certainly no relation to Kim Jong Il), talks about how simplicity can help parents deal with their children’s sometimes-troubling quirks:

In my decades of working with families around the world, I have seen thousands of children’s brilliant personalities — their funny, odd, remarkable, special talents, railroaded by stress, so much so that I came up with this simple equation: Quirk + Stress = Disorder, or what I call a soul or emotion-fever. And every parent already knows how to heal their child from regular, physical fever just as every parent knows how to heal their children’s soul fever. We don’t need to learn anything, or see a specialist or download an app. We apply our parental wisdom to our children’s hearts and minds; we do what we do naturally, when fever arises. Just as cumulative stress can lead to problems, even disorders, cumulative simplicity and balance can move the quirk in the direction of a child’s gift. Quirk + Simplicity = Gift.

Payne is the author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (affiliate link).

Are social-media users less ethical?

A recent study suggests that they might be. HR Bartender’s Sharlyn Lauby explains on Mashable:

One of the most fascinating conclusions in the report is that “active social networkers show a higher tolerance for activities that could be considered unethical.” But Harned says the findings are not an indictment about the character of social networkers: “It appears that they are more willing to consider things that are ‘gray areas’ — issues that are not always clear in company policies as wrong; and that’s an area for further study.”

I have some issues with the premise of the study, and Sharlyn kindly included some of my thoughts in her piece.

Ullamcorper Nibh

Fusce mauris dapibus, tellus cursus ac commodo, tortor condimentum nibh, ut fermentum massa justo sit amet. Vivamus sagittis lacus vel augue laoreet rutrum faucibus dolor auctor. Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum. Aenean lacinia bibendum nulla sed consectetur. Curabitur blandit tempus porttitor. Vivamus sagittis lacus vel augue laoreet rutrum faucibus dolor auctor.

Fusce dapibus, tellus ac cursus commodo, tortor mauris condimentum nibh, ut fermentum massa justo sit amet. Vivamus sagittis lacus vel augue laoreet rutrum faucibus dolor auctor. Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum. Aenean lacinia bibendum nulla sed consectetur. Curabitur blandit tempus porttitor. Vivamus sagittis lacus vel augue laoreet rutrum faucibus dolor auctor.

Donec sed odio dui consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam adipiscing tincidunt elit, eu convallis felis suscipit ut. Phasellus rhoncus tincidunt auctor. Nullam eu sagittis mauris. Donec non dolor ac elit aliquam tincidunt at at sapien. Aenean tortor libero, condimentum ac laoreet vitae, varius tempor nisi. Duis non arcu vel lectus.

  • Mauris lacinia dui non metus dignissim venenatis.
  • Etiam elit tellus, condimentum tempor lobortis non.
  • Aliquam pharetra vestibulum arcu, eget iaculis.

Mauris convallis, sapien id ultricies aliquet, mi nisi congue dui, id laoreet ligula ante vitae ligula. Duis lectus magna, cursus in molestie eget, cursus eget quam. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Morbi ullamcorper laoreet metus, eu commodo diam cursus et. Nam eleifend aliquam augue, id condimentum erat vehicula vel. Donec sed odio dui. Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum. Duis mollis, est non commodo luctus, nisi erat porttitor ligula, eget lacinia odio sem nec elit. Vivamus sagittis lacus vel augue laoreet.

Airlines struggle with cuisine, common sense

Interesting piece on airlines’ attempts to improve the quality of inflight dining. The article, by Jad Mouawad in Sunday’s New York Times, showed the efforts and difficulties of making food suck less while you’re trapped in a metal cylinder six miles above the ground. And I’m happy to give the airlines credit for trying to make the food better.

But one thing jumped out at me: the airlines’ focus on cutting costs. For example, Delta carefully tracks how much money it can save by diminishing its culinary offerings:

A decision a few years ago to shave one ounce from its steaks, for example, saved the airline $250,000 a year….

Delta also calculated that by removing a single strawberry from salads served in first class on domestic routes, it would save $210,000 a year.

I appreciate that the airlines have struggled financially since 9/11. But for every nickel saved on removing a passenger’s strawberry (who puts strawberries in a salad, anyway?) or fifty cents saved on offering an ounce less steak, there is a passenger whose experience on a long and expensive flight just got a little bit worse. Delta and the other airlines would do better to focus on improving their customers’ experiences, and then add 55 cents to the price of the ticket to cover the strawberry and extra steak. I’d pay it. Wouldn’t you?

“Garden-variety marketing doucherosity”

Simon Sage of iMore uses what is now my favorite new phrase to explain how AT&T has created a little upgrade of its own. The much-maligned carrier used the cover of today’s new iPad announcement (and upgrade to iOS 5.1) to change the little “3G” icons on iPhones to “4G,” despite no actual change in speed or performance:

If you’ve updated your AT&T iPhone to iOS 5.1, you may have noticed that the signal indicator in the top-left now reads 4G instead of 3G. Now, before your mind gets blown all over the place, there’s no actual upgrade here; it’s just your garden-variety marketing doucherosity wriggling its slimy way into a software update.

Maybe it’s legally accurate, and maybe no one will really notice during the frenzy of the new iPad introduction. But in the end, it comes down to this: there are companies who play games like this, and there are companies who don’t. Who would you rather do business with? I just ordered my new iPad, and didn’t choose AT&T as my carrier.

“It’s so gentle a toddler could use it.”

Is this startup-launch video any good? No. This startup-launch video is f***ing great.

It’s just 1:34 long. Mashable sums it up:

If there’s one lesson we’d like CEOs to learn from the Dollar Shave Club, it is this: don’t take yourselves and your product so seriously. Either that, or pretend to take yourselves and your product so seriously that you go over the top and venture into the world of parody. Have fun with it, and your potential customers are much more likely to pay attention.

Humor sells.

What George Lucas can teach you about business by making Star Wars worse

Confession time: I’m a Star Wars geek. I was born in 1967, so I was nine going on ten when Star Wars hit the theaters. I went to see it with my Little League team, and it changed my life.

But the truth of the matter is, Star Wars is only one-third good. The first two movies are excellent. Return of the Jedi has its moments, but they’re lost among too many Ewok hijinks. The prequel trilogy is basically a honking mess.

But many fanboys (and fangirls) of my generation get particularly worked up when George Lucas trots out yet another “special edition” of what is supposed to be immutable canon. This all started in 1997, with the first “special edition” rerelease of the first movie — the version that created the “Han Shot First” rhubarb. Fans screeched that Lucas was making the movies worse!

This issue has returned because Lucas has just rereleased a new version of The Phantom Menace, widely regarded as his worst work since Howard the Duck. But in this hysterical piece, Chris Bucholz explains why we fanboys ought to just shut up and let George do his worst:

Really, if Lucas wants to fix something he thinks was a mistake in an earlier film, that’s his business. Our lives aren’t affected in any serious way if he changes it, nor does he have a contract with us to preserve The Phantom Menace as some kind of cultural monument to poor plotting. We’re just not talking about something that’s that important — it’s not the Constitution, or the Bible, or The Godfather.

The bottom line is, successful businesspeople create the things they want to create, not what they think the customers want. Henry Ford famously said that customers would have asked for a faster horse. (Actually, it turns out, he may not have said it.) Steve Jobs’s Apple didn’t use focus groups, and never asked us if we wanted a physical keyboard on our iPhones. Geniuses — like Ford, Jobs, and Lucas — create the things that they feel passionate about. That’s what geniuses do.

If those things fill a need with customers, then the success will follow. But success does not come from slavishly following the whims and wishes of fanboys. Don’t listen to your customers more than you listen to your passions.

Encouraging social media at work

In the March 11 Sunday New York Times column “Corner Office,” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, tells how his company’s open culture includes using an internal social-media platform (the “Memo List”) to allow employees to be heard:

Engaging people in how decisions are getting made means it can take forever to get decisions made. But once you make a decision, you get flawless execution because everybody’s engaged. They know what you’re doing and they know why you’re doing it.

Hurst says that three-quarters of his 4,000 employees spend time on the forum every day. Most companies would worry about employees’ spending too much time online. Red Hat encourages it, and then enjoys the benefits from having engaged employees.

How not to do online-chat customer service, by AT&T

Calling customer service can be very frustrating. Some companies realize that, and have begun offering online-chat services as an alternative. This makes sense. I would rather type a quick summary of my issue and read the answer realtime instead of waiting on endless hold. Plus, online chat allows you to avoid insipid remakes of Christopher Cross songs or worse, advertisements for other things sold by the company you’re currently unhappy with.

So when I had an issue come up with my AT&T, I noticed that they had a button for online chat. I had become a reluctant customer since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. I live in a major suburb of Boston, and yet in the four years I had an account with AT&T, I had an average of three to five calls drop a day. Every day.

So last November, when the iPhone 4S came out, I pulled the plug and moved my number to Verizon (actually, back to Verizon, because I had ported it to AT&T to get my first iPhone). This, of course, led to an unexpected complication.

You see, last summer, before I quit AT&T — “Ah wish Ah knew how to quit you” — I gave my 11-year-old daughter one of my previous iPhones and added her to my AT&T account. But after I moved my phone to Big Red, AT&T somehow forgot how to process my autopayments for my daughter’s account. Which led to my daughter getting pestered with texts and phone calls. “Daddy, what’s a deadbeat?” (OK, possibly not an actual transcript.) Read more

Facebook privacy, simplified

Lot of talk lately about online privacy, what with Google dramatically changing their policies recently. Facebook users have always had an uneasy feeling about the privacy of their postings, and Facebook hasn’t done a great job of educating its users.

One of the trickiest things has been commenting on other people’s posts, then being surprised to learn who can read those comments. To help with that problem, here is a very simple chart to tell you who can see your Facebook comments:

Simple Guide to Facebook Privacy
Click it to embiggen. You can also download it as a PDF. Feel free to share it.

Saatchi: Brutal Simplicity of Thought

Kind of a neat thing. The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has launched a short web book devoted to simplicity. It contains a few short entries chronicling simple solutions to age-old problems, such as barbed wire and traffic lights. From its introduction:

It’s easier to complicate than to simplify.
Simple ideas enter the brain quicker and stay there longer.
Brutal simplicity of thought is therefore a painful necessity.

I like the sentiment. I also like that they then invite readers to contribute their own short entries. And they don’t overdo the advertising for the firm, which is surprising, since that’s sort of their thing. In fact, there’s no way to navigate to Saatchi’s main website. But as a tribute to the power of simplicity, it’s a nice one.

(Thanks to HR Examiner’s Heather Bussing for the heads-up on this.)

Why HR might not want to read Firing at Will

Book authors want everyone to read their book. It’s a universal law. They spend a year or longer typing and retyping words, and when they’re done, they want as many people as possible to read what they’ve written. And I’m no different.

But it occurs to me that some people may want to avoid my book.

Firing at Will is listed (and intended) as a management book. My publisher (Apress) even included a handy little instruction on the back cover: “Shelve in Business/Management.” But so far, in every Barnes & Noble store I’ve checked, they’ve filed it under “Human Resources.” And I get that, because as much as it is a book for managers, it’s also a book for HR professionals.

But HR professionals who read it may be in for a surprise. Because the book takes on many of HR’s long-held beliefs, showing how some common practices harm employee morale and business profitability.

Many of the rules and policies that well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers put into place lead to toxic, dysfunctional workplaces. These rules are designed to protect companies from bad employees, but they instead drive away good employees.

Instead, the book promotes doing away with outdated management tools that end up becoming crutches for managers and take away their independence and discretion. For example, instead of sticking with these outdated tools, the book advises employers to:

  • Throw out your personnel handbook (the title of Chapter 16)
  • Abandon annual performance reviews (“the dumbest managerial tool”)
  • Dump progressive-discipline policies
  • Avoid performance-improvement plans (PIPs)
  • Stay away from arbitration agreements
  • Treat employees differently

That last one might be the biggest surprise. Employment lawyers are always telling companies to treat everyone the same. But when you do that, you end up treating everyone equally badly.

HR pros who have grown comfortable with these conventional notions may be put off by the shots taken at accepted wisdom.

On the other hand, there are things in the book that many HR people will appreciate. The book advocates for more responsibility and autonomy for human resources. It favors changing “human resources” to “talent” and elevating the role to the C-suite level: “Every company should have a chief talent officer reporting to the CEO.”

If you’re a human-resources professional, or any kind of manager or employer, and you’re thinking about reading Firing at Will, please proceed with caution. Some of what you read might be upsetting to you.

And some of it might just change your mind.


To order your own copy, click the following links:

To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.

The 10 most important traits for job candidates

Here’s an excerpt from Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide, Chapter 17, “Hiring to Avoid Firing”:

How do you know the right talent when you see it? Remember: past accomplishments and skill sets are merely table stakes for candidates. Without those, a candidate shouldn’t even get through the door. Instead, what you’re really looking for is a culture fit, which is the best determinant of a successful employment. You want candidates who truly want to work there, and who will want to spend time with you and your coworkers, and with whom you will want to spend time. If you’re just looking at work experience and qualifications, you’re missing the opportunity to bring in the right people.

Here are what I think are the ten most important traits to look for in a job candidate:

  1. Differentness. You don’t want an office full of cookie-cutter duplicates. Instead, your team will be stronger when you have a truly diverse workforce. And not just race and gender, but also background and life experiences.
  2. Sense of humor. You’re more likely to enjoy working with people with a good sense of humor, who know when to laugh and who can bring the funny from time to time. They don’t have to be comedians, but they do need to know how not to take life — and themselves — too seriously. A good sense of humor is also a leading indicator of intelligence.
  3. Optimism. I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ish types who are naive and unrealistic. I’m talking about people who have positive attitudes, and can help lift coworkers up instead of bringing them down. Life’s tough enough without someone telling you how tough life is all the time.
  4. Eye sparkle. This is a Tom Peters term. It’s that look you see in a person’s eyes that shows that they’re alive and thoughtful and engaged. It shows warmth and empathy and fun. It says that the lights are on and someone is indeed home.
  5. Connectivity. Look for signs that the candidate knows how to interact with other people. Ask about his or her friends and family. This is why going out for drinks or lunch is such a good idea. Someone who connects well with people will be an asset to your team.
  6. Creativity. Even if the job isn’t what you would normally consider a “creative” position, it’s better to have creative people. They tend to be more positive and engaged, looking for better ways to solve the customers’ problems.
  7. Perseverance. The workplace should be a marathon, not a sprint. You want to find people who will stick with it, even when it gets dif- ficult. Look for signs that they follow through with things that they start. Someone who jumps around a lot from job to job might be deficient in this area.
  8. Initiative. Few things are more frustrating than having an employee who sits around passively and waits to be told what to do. I’d rather have someone who oversteps his or her bounds and needs to be reined in than someone who doesn’t show any initiative.
  9. Self-confidence. This is a critically important trait. It’s difficult to teach, although it can be developed and fostered. You’re better off hiring a candidate who believes in herself. Then she’ll also be more likely to believe in your company. Self-confidence is contagious.
  10. Passion. If you know that the candidate is passionate about something — anything — then it’s easier to believe that he or she will care about the company, the customers, and their problems.

You might not agree with everything on this list, and you might list other traits that are important to you or to your company or industry. That’s fine. Just make sure that you go into the hiring process with a strong idea of what you’re looking for in a candidate. It will make your task much easier, and it will improve your chances of getting the right people for your team.

Simplicity at Reader’s Digest

Here’s Dan Lagani, the (relatively) young (he’s 48) president of Reader’s Digest North America on how he learned how to keep management simple. From the excellent Sunday New York Times column “The Boss.”

I feel as if I’ve spent the last 25 years getting ready for what I’m doing now. During that time, I’ve found that simplicity is crucial in running a business, from keeping your mind open to ideas that present themselves in everyday life to ensuring that your processes are straightforward. It’s a matter of paring complex problems to the essentials.

Noon to four is not a time. It’s a cop-out

So the Thermador dishwasher-repair guy calls to confirm that he’s coming today.

“When?” I ask.

“Between noon and four,” he says.

“You can’t tell me any more specifically than that?” I ask.

“Nope,” he says. “We’re busy.”

Nice. And I’m not.

That suggests to me that he doesn’t really know his job very well. You’ve got to figure that an experienced dishwasher guy would have an idea how long repair calls usually take. And you’ve got to think that the appliance company he works for would have some experience in how to effectively dispatch the repair guys.

For the better part of two decades as a lawyer, I scheduled appointments, calls, and meetings with clients, courts, and other lawyers. Not once did I schedule something for “noon to four.” If I thought a client meeting would run longer than the hour I was planning for, I’d make sure not to schedule something for the next hour. It’s not that hard.

Cable and phone companies, appliance-repair companies, and delivery services: it’s time to start caring about your customers and their time. Either figure out how long your calls will take, or get better at staffing and dispatching. Or both. It’s really not that hard. Giving customers four-hour windows is a cop-out. It’s also disrespectful.

Note: not only did this particular repair company say that they charge by the hour, but they made a point of saying that they also charge in six-minute increments. Nice. Looks like I’ll be watching this guy like a hawk. When he eventually arrives.

A Facebook policy for grown-ups

Our Facebook Policy

We have no Facebook policy.


FAQ on our Facebook policy

Say what?

That’s right. We don’t have one.

Don’t we have to have one?

Says who? Employment lawyers? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. No, we don’t have to have one.

Why not?

Because we only hire grown-ups to work here. And grown-ups don’t need to be told how to behave.

But isn’t Facebook different?

Why? Because it’s on a computer? Time to let go of the twentieth century, Orville. Yes, sometimes things are on computers now. Or phones or tablets. Things like books, movies, TV shows, music, mail, phone calls, funny cat pictures, snarky comments, and other social interactions. Deal with it.

I don’t know. I’m dubious.

I’ll say.

What?

Oh, nothing.

There can’t be any harm in having a little Facebook policy. Just to keep the employment lawyers happy. Please?

No. In fact, a Facebook policy can cause harm. The National Labor Relations Board, which is trying to expand its role in the nonunionized sector, is actively going after companies with dumb Facebook policies.

Oh. That seems uncool.

Totes.

Still, without a Facebook policy, how do we know what we can and can’t post?

Look: somehow you managed to figure out that it’s a bad idea to yell on a street corner that your customer is a moron. Yet we have no Street-Corner-Yelling Policy. And you accurately deduced that you probably shouldn’t shout in a crowded theater that your coworker sleeps with farm animals (or shout “Fire!”; I think I learned that in law school). Yet we are completely bereft of a Shouting-Slanderous-Statements-in-Theaters Policy. Facebook is no different.

So nothing will happen to me if I post on Facebook that my coworker sleeps with farm animals?

No, dumbass. We’ll fire you faster than the Red Sox can blow a nine-game division lead in September. The fact that you’re thinking that means we probably shouldn’t have hired you in the first place.

But there’s no policy against it.

Now you’re catching on. That’s right: there’s no policy against it. We know you’re a grown-up and we trust that you’ll be professional and respectful of others. If our trust was misplaced, we’ll fix that.

Got it. Thanks.

Have a great day.

Simplicity at Davos

Author Chris Zook, writing on the Harvard Business Review blog about discussions on the need for simplicity at the Davos economics forum:

We just completed a multi-year study of the root causes of enduring success. We found an increasing premium to simplicity in the world of today — not just simplicity of organization, but more fundamentally to an essential simplicity at the heart of strategy itself. In every industry, we discovered companies that were enjoying an inherent advantage in dealing with the increasing tension of faster moving markets and increased internal complexity due to this ability to keep things simpler and more transparent than their rivals.

Maximizing utility

Nice summary by Michael Robson of 21tiger on how simplicity makes your apps better. This is from his review of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps (affiliate link) by Josh Clark:

Yes, I know, there are a few of you out there rolling your eyes at this. I’ve obviously drank the Apple Kool-aid and I’m going to start rattling off all the ways software, technology, and apps should be oversimplified like the Japanese Dojo, with clean white interfaces and Helvetica Neue text. It’s not that there’s something great about white, but there is something incredibly fantastic about unitasking. I’m sorry if all this Zen stuff is putting a cramp in your zafu, but you have to understand just how much of a pain in the ass (for designers and users) complexity really is. Complexity is wasteful. Simplicity is about maximizing utility.

John Gruber on Apple’s Mountain Lion

On his world-class Apple-related blog Daring Fireball, John Gruber reports on his impressions of Apple’s forthcoming new operating system. As usual, he deftly sums up the key to Apple’s success — simplicity:

The changes and additions in Mountain Lion are in a consistent vein: making things simpler and more obvious, closer to how things should be rather than simply how they always have been.

A twitterable Twitter policy (updated)

This is a post I wrote nearly three years ago over at Gruntled Employees. But it keeps getting rediscovered and passed around in social-media circles. Since simplicity is at its essence, I figured it was worth republishing here. I’ve updated some of the facts. Feel free to adopt it as your own company’s policy. Just tell people where you got it when they ask about its awesomeness.

Twitter_logoYou know that something new has gone mainstream when the employment lawyers get involved. So it is now with Twitter, the microblogging service that is currently taking over the universe.

Twitter has grown rapidly and enormously. There are approximately six million users right now. (Update Feb. 2012 It’s now estimated at 462 million users. That’s a little bit of growth over three years.) This is much smaller than Facebook or MySpace, the older members of the social-media set. (Update Feb. 2012 What’s a “MySpace”?) But the pace of growth has been incredible; one source pegged it at 1,000 percent in 2008 alone. (Update Feb. 2012 Over the last three years, it’s like a jillion percent, which is one followed by a wad of zeroes, or ten to the wad.)

By most accounts, the demographics of Twitter users skew older and more professional than Facebook. For example, 83% of Twitter users are 26 or older, compared to 60% of Facebook users. (Source: this cool 2011 infographic.) That makes sense, since Facebook began as a college-oriented site. (There are also far more teens on Facebook than on Twitter.) Also, it is said that “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better.” (The widely repeated quote is from a Globe and Mail article by Ivan Tossel, but you have to pay to read it.)

Some of you may still be asking, “What is this Twitter thing, anyway?” (“And don’t say microblogging again, because that doesn’t help.”) (Update Feb. 2012 Are people still really asking this?) Twitter is a free service that allows users to send very short messages (called tweets) over the web to people who (in theory) care. How short is very short? No more than 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. In fact, they even have a name for a tweet that is exactly 140 characters long: it’s called a “twoosh.”

According to the site itself, the point of the site is to “Find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.” And of course, to tell the people who care about you what’s happening with you. To be sure, most people don’t care to learn about the humdrum of your daily life: “I’m still in line for my venti nonfat extra-hot latte.” Or “Mr. Biddles rolled over again. Silly cat. LOL.” That sort of tweet is of value to exactly no one. (Even Mr. Biddles would cough up that hairball.)

Where it does become valuable to businesspeople is where people answer the question, “What are you thinking about?” Or: “What is interesting to you?” Then you try to find other people who might share your interests, and you “follow” them to learn what they’re thinking about. Often, they will reciprocate by following you. Done right, people can use Twitter as a powerful networking service to get in front of potential clients or colleagues within their industry.

As often happens when employees start doing something new, companies soon want their lawyers or HR people to create policies to restrict it. This happened in the Nineties, when employers got nervous about email and internet usage. More recently, companies have instituted blogging policies, and guidelines for the use of MySpace or Facebook. So it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see requests for Twitter policies.

Longtime readers of Gruntled Employees know how I feel about the hyperlegislation of the workplace by zealous policymakers. Well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers tend to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to policing employee behavior, whether online or not. I generally advocate a simpler approach that involves treating employees as grown-ups who have judgment. See, for example, “A two-word corporate blogging policy” and “The world’s shortest employee handbook.”

With that said, here is my take at a corporate Twitter policy that has the extra added benefit of being itself twitterable:

Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you cannot control it once you hit “Tweet.”

(Feb. 2012 update The “Tweet” button used to say “Update.”)

And yes — that’s a twoosh: exactly 140 characters of pure employment-law goodness.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter at @jayshep — as long as you follow the policy, too.

[By the way, without realizing it, I totally boosted the cat-rolling-over bit from Guy Kawasaki’s excellent post, “Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter.”]

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