Corporate culture: Finding your way

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Break out the Champagne! My favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, just clinched the championship of the American League East Division for the first time in 17 years.

This team is a pleasure to watch because it reminds me of the successful Oriole teams of my childhood. For those teams, the watchword was the Oriole Way. At a time when the phrase corporate culture probably hadn’t been invented, the Orioles had a corporate culture — and it was encapsulated in the Oriole Way.

The Oriole Way can simply be defined as playing baseball the right way. The classic Oriole teams were built on stout pitching and strong defense. But mostly, they rarely beat themselves by making mistakes. Continue reading

Time to Dethrone the King

file4361250458421This week brought a thought-provoking article — The Content Marketing Myths We’ve Left Behind: Do You Still Believe? – in which industry leaders challenge some long-held beliefs about content marketing.

I especially like the contribution from Scott Abel, who many of you know as the Content Wrangler. Here it is, in its entirety:
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Dethrone the king and put him to work

Content isn’t “king.” It’s a product. And, it’s about time we started managing it the same way we do physical products we manufacture and sell.
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Amen. Content isn’t, and never was, an end in itself. If you thought it was, you were setting yourself up for failure. Content is, as Scott says, a product.

So who, or what, is king? It’s our customer, our reader — the person who consumes our content. We craft our content so that we can inform, persuade, reassure, or entertain our customer. So that our customer, at the end of the transaction, feels like they’ve received something of value.

The king (content) is dead. Long live the king (our customer).

You Have a Right to Ketchup and Salt

Did you see the news story about the Florida chef who refuses to let his patrons put ketchup and salt on their burgers?

If you’re older than 10, says chef Xavier Duclos, you have no business adding any flavoring to the dishes I’ve prepared. I’m the chef. You have to trust my judgment. And that’s that.

burgerIf I were a customer of Mr. Duclos’, I’d beg to differ. Having plunked down $12.95 for one of his burgers (that’s the going rate, according to his menu), I’d say that I’d bought the right to season my food as I liked.

Mr. Duclos has heard that argument, and he rejects it. At best he and I would agree to disagree.

At the same time, I understand where Mr. Duclos is coming from. Continue reading

Ten Years from Now: Your Professional Interests Evolve

Last week I reported the results of the Ten Years from Now survey. Today I focus on one question from that survey, and one response in particular that I find intriguing.

You might recall that questions 1 and 2 of the survey asked you to describe the work you’ll be doing 10 years from now.

Question 3 asked, Why did you choose the answers you did for Questions 1 and 2? Here are your responses:

74% – My professional interests will have evolved.
42% – I aspire to work at something different from what I’m doing today.
37% – I like what I’m doing, and I expect to keep doing it.
26% – My life circumstances will have changed.
16% – I won’t be able to earn a living, if I keep doing the same thing I’m doing today.

Handheld device showing augmented reality

Augmented reality (source: http://www.t-immersion.com)

It’s striking that nearly three-quarters of you say that your professional interests will evolve over the next 10 years. If you selected that answer, I’m curious to know what you had in mind. When I wrote it, I was thinking about things like these:

  • New technologies, like augmented reality and the Internet of things, will open up opportunities for new kinds of work.
  • You expect to be in a different (hopefully better) place in terms of things like financial security and work/life balance.
  • You see your current Tech Comm work as a stepping stone to another career (yet, on the other questions, most of you said you wanted to stay in Tech Comm).

But those are only guesses. I’d love to know what you were thinking when you chose that answer: how you envision your professional interests evolving, and how that ties in with your view of the Tech Comm profession. Use the comments area to let me know.

Career Tips from the Old Ballpark

This weekend marks the anniversary of the best baseball game I ever saw in person, at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. It taught me some lessons about handling tough situations on the job.

Baseball card of Lenn SakataAfter rallying to tie the score in the ninth inning, the Orioles had no one left to play catcher. So in the top of the tenth, they put utility infielder Lenn Sakata into the game at catcher — a position he’d never before played in the major leagues.

That’s Lesson 1: Be flexible. You never know what need might arise. When it does arise, strap on the catcher’s gear and perform with as much grace as you can muster. Who knows? It might turn out OK. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll know that gave it your best shot.

Toronto Blue Jays’ batter Barry Bonnell reached first base and, no doubt thinking it would be easy to steal second with the inexperienced Sakata behind the plate, took a big lead. Pitcher Tippy Martinez picked him off.

The next batter, Dave Collins, walked. He took a big lead off first base, and Martinez picked him off too.

Then Willie Upshaw singled. As he took his lead off first base the fans began chanting “pick him off.”

Which brings us to Lesson 2: Don’t be overconfident. Having seen two of his teammates get picked off and hearing the crowd chanting, why did Upshaw wander so far off first base? He must’ve been thinking It can’t happen to me.

Baseball card of Tippy MartinezIt did happen to him.

A successful pickoff in baseball is fairly rare. Picking off three in one inning, as Martinez did, is extraordinary. And of course it’s a record that’ll never be broken.

In the bottom of the tenth, Sakata came to bat with two outs and two men on base. You can guess what happened. Sakata, who weighed 160 pounds soaking wet and who’d hit just one home run all season, hit a three-run homer to win the game.

I was already a baseball fan for life. That night, watching from the upper deck in Memorial Stadium, I became an Orioles fan for life.

And so Lesson 3: You never know who might be watching. The Orioles gained a fan that night. Your handling of a tough situation might gain you the respect and even the admiration of a client or colleague — which will pay off later on.

Use the comments area to tell me you might’ve learned from this story. Or just tell me about a good ballgame you’ve seen.

Originally published, with slightly different content, on the SDI blog, 24 August 2010

Ten Years from Now

Ten years from now, fellow technical communicator, if your expectations come to pass, you’ll still be working in the profession — perhaps as an information architect, content strategist, or consultant.

It’s about fifty-fifty as to whether you’ll be following the career path you’re now embarked on, or doing something new. Either way, you’ll still be creating content.

Quill penRecently I asked you to take a survey about what work you’ll be doing in ten years. 14 out of 19 respondents (74%) expect to be in Tech Comm or a related profession.

The top roles you see yourselves filling, besides content developer: information designer/architect (53%), content strategist (42%), manager (37%), consultant (37%), editor (37%). Continue reading

When Your People Go their Own Way

There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.

-- Attributed to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin

"Make way for Ducklings" statue showing ducks in a rowYou’re a good leader. You can explain how to get things done. You can persuade when necessary. Above all, you excel at leading by example.

So everyone on the team is in lock-step, working in perfect harmony and at maximum efficiency, doing things exactly as you envision them being done. Right?

Wrong. It doesn’t always go that way. If you’re like me, it hardly ever goes that way.

People have the darnedest habit of doing things their way instead of your way. It’s not because they can’t take direction or because they won’t take direction. It’s because they’re people.

So what does it mean when your people go their own way? Continue reading

What’s Lurking in Your Content?

Fellow technical writers, admit it. You’ve all done it. You’re writing along, and you come to a spot where you need to insert place-holder text. Your creative juices are flowing, and a simple lorem ipsum just won’t do.

So you insert something clever. Lyrics from your favorite Stones song. Lines from the Dead Parrot sketch. Maybe even a rant about what a dopey product you’re describing.

Then you delete it forthwith. Because if you don’t, those little place-holders have a way of lurking unnoticed until one day they find their way into print.

Cover for the Hello Kitty Dictionary

Image source: mirror.co.uk

Don’t believe me? Check out this horrifying story of what a mother recently found in, of all things, the Hello Kitty Dictionary. At the entry for necklace were two definitions: a piece of jewelry, and a brutal method for killing people.

Even if the story isn’t true — and it might not be, since it came from the Daily Mirror — it’s a good object lesson for all of us who publish content.

Reportedly the publisher, Harper Collins, reacted promptly by pulling all copies from the shelves and destroying them.

But I have to wonder: how did that ever make it to print in the first place?

About the author: Larry Kunz lives in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of his block. If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up daisies.

We’ve Always Known How To Do This

Recently I found, buried on a bookshelf, my file of cartoons and memorabilia from a career in technical communication. Inside was this: a photocopy of a photocopy of a three-hole punched page, that someone gave me in my very first job.

(click the image to enlarge it)

Marv & Barney cartoon about technical writingHere’s proof that even back at the dawn of time, technical writers grasped the need to write clear prose. We understood that SMEs don’t always know what’s best for the people who read our content. And we appreciated the benefits of poking fun at ourselves.

So to all of you Barneys out there, who toil to make content understandable and relevant: I hope I’ve provided the environment for the implementation of your pleasure-sensing apparatus. Remember that you come from a proud tradition of men and women doing what’s best for our readers. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you know is right.

Postscript: I considered titling this post Some things never change. But in the end I wanted a more positive spin. While the Marvins of the world are far from extinct, I really think there are fewer of them today than back when.

Post-postscript: I have no idea where this piece originated, but I’d love to give credit to its creator. If by some chance you know who that is, please tell me.

Post-post-postscript: My favorite part of the dialog is “????..” followed by “Don’t interrupt.” What’s your favorite?

Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances

Though it’s probably the most low-key reality show on television, HGTV’s House Hunters has uncovered an overwhelming, and heretofore unknown, passion lurking deep in the American psyche.

Photo of a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliancesThe show follows a set formula. A real estate agent asks the home buyers how much money they have to spend and what features they want. Then we watch as they tour three homes, commenting pro and con on each one. After the buyers choose one of the homes, we visit with them post-move and hear them tell us how happy they are with their choice.

The overwhelming passion expresses itself in the features they want. Every buyer, to a man (or woman), wants the kitchen to have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Things that look great but are pricey and don’t make the kitchen any more functional or easier to cook in.

Anyway, I got to thinking: What are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances of technical communication? What are the things that every company, every client, wants to see in their technical and marketing communication projects — regardless of cost or actual business value?

And what should be on everyone’s wish list — but too often isn’t considered? Continue reading