4 ways to size up your client’s culture

I appreciate all the clients I work with. Each one is unique, with its own corporate culture. Often, that culture makes it easier to work with the client. But sometimes it erects obstacles that we have to overcome.

How can you measure the corporate culture of a client you’re working with, or are about to work with? If you’re a full-time employee, how can you measure the culture of a company you’ve just joined or are about to join?

The answers to these questions will probably determine whether you’ll have a successful working relationship with the client. Continue reading

Peace: Celebrating our common humanity

malalaKailash_SatyarthiAt first glance, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, Kailash Satyarthi and  Malala Yousafzai, are a study in opposites. An Indian and a Pakistani. A Hindu and a Muslim. A man and a woman. Members of two different generations.

But much more than that, here are two human beings dedicated to protecting and providing opportunities to all the children in the world.

Focusing on what we share in common, not on our differences. Looking beyond the labels. Honoring those with vision, courage, and a heart for humanity. Isn’t that what peace is all about?

Image sources:
http://www.kailashsatyarthi.net (Satyarthi)
Wikipedia Commons (Yousafzai)

Tell me why I should buy

Today’s post is about content marketing — specifically, the lowest form of content marketing: political advertising.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee, from the original edition of Through the Looking GlassOn three different days in the past two weeks the snail mail box has brought flyers from both candidates who are vying for a seat in our state legislature. Tweedledum’s ads all say that Tweedledee is unfit for election because he’s wrong about everything. Tweedledee’s ads say that Tweedledum is unfit because he once worked as (gasp) a lobbyist.

Here’s the thing: each candidate is so busy tearing down the other that he never says a word about why he himself might be the better choice. Continue reading

Seeing the silly in the serious

Last week, traveling on business, I stopped for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. As is often the case when I dine alone, I had a book under my arm: Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

At the end of the meal, I cracked open the fortune cookie and was quite taken by the message I found inside:
Fortune cookie: Your ability to find the silly in the serious will take you far.
That certainly was true for Douglas Adams. It was also true for the characters who populated his books. They literally went far:  to the ends of the galaxy, to the end of time and back.

I think it’s true for me as well. The ability to find the silly in the serious has helped make me a good technical writer. Continue reading

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