Tag Archive | "writing"

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Hacking the federal workweek


This post was originally published on FedScoop on July 24, 2012.

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

- See more at: http://fedscoop.com/hacking-the-federal-workweek/#sthash.wby4B0N1.dpuf

In 1998, renowned science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson wrote an essay called “Why I am a Bad Correspondent,” in which he describes why he spends as little time as possible directly interacting with readers.

“Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the ‘recluse’ label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers…

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all…

The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent..If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.”

Creative workers like artists, writers and software developers need unbroken periods of time in order to make their products. For many, it’s mandatory. Four one-hour blocks interspersed with four one-hour conference calls is very different than a solo creative period from 8 a.m.- 12 p.m and a team brainstorming session from 12 p.m.- 4 p.m.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame called these two styles of work — unbroken slabs of time vs. numerous shorter meetings — the “maker schedule” and the “manager schedule” in a classic 2009 blog post.

Graham describes how most of the people who make a tech startup run — programmers — operate on maker time, but how their bosses and the venture capitalists can screw everything up by scheduling a meeting on manager time.

In my experience, startups, large companies, and government agencies are not so different in this respect. People who run things tend to be managers operating on a manager schedule with manager metrics of success, and some of the people who work for them are creatives who wish to operate on a maker schedule but have a hard time doing so (because of the managers).

As a maker within a bureaucracy, you may discover tricks for hacking the managers. At Microsoft, I have discovered that with planning I can block off entire mornings in my calendar for 2-3 days in a row, in order to write things like what you’re reading now or simply relax and think about a tough challenge, feeling comfortable that the nearest meeting on my calendar is hours and hours away.

Another hack I’ve learned is using Sunday for creative work and then taking Friday “off.” I feel perfectly fine about taking the occasional six-hour lunch with friends because I was smart enough to find an unbroken six-hour block of time to actually get something done.

Any creative will tell you that this stuff works. Relaxing your mind and focusing on something is often when you become free to discover insights that really matter and can set you apart as an employee.

“But wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “Mark Drapeau has some kind of special arrangement.” Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have flexibility built into my job, but I have to deal with countless meetings and conference calls just like anyone else working in a bureaucracy. The flexibility to hack your schedule lies along a spectrum.

Earlier this month, July 4th fell on a Wednesday, thus many Federal employees worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and then returned to work Thursday and Friday before another weekend. You may call this a Federal holiday; I call this a “natural experiment” involuntarily hacking Federal employees’ calendars from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.

On Twitter, my Microsoft colleague Alfred Thompson tweeted, “2 days of work followed by a single day of holiday and going back for 2 more days of work is just weird.”

In reply, his acquaintance Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who works on education reform, said, “What if it was the norm? What if we took the mid week day to do deep personal learning each week? Think of what we could [accomplish].”

If you’re an enlightened federal manager, here’s a hack for you: What if you made the first Wednesday of every month “independence day” for your team — a 100% unscheduled day on maker time?

Maybe some people would abuse such a privilege and accomplish nothing. But in the vein of Google’s famous “20% time” where employees can pursue projects they’re personally interested in, I wonder what innovations might come out of a monthly “independence day” during which people could learn a new skill like Python programming or mastering Pinterest, attend an interesting luncheon event outside the office, or just read that strategy book they bought months ago?

Working as I do for the company that actually makes Outlook, you can imagine that Microsoft employees are pretty good at using it to schedule meetings with each other. It’s deceptively easy to get caught up in a series of meetings and conference calls and feel like you had a full day. But the real question is, did you “make” anything interesting today?

Everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, or that people have noticed, has been done on a maker schedule. But working within a manager schedule, I’ve had to hack my life to find the time to make things happen.

What are some of your federal workweek hacks for getting creative things done?

- See more at: http://fedscoop.com/hacking-the-federal-workweek/#sthash.wby4B0N1.dpuf

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Why Posterous Is a Smart Tool For Informal Government Blogging


For a few weeks, I’ve been testing a tool called Posterous, and I’ve come to like it a lot. You can see my account here. If you’re not familiar with Posterous, it is essentially a very simple blogging platform. It may in fact be the most simple one; yet it is very feature-laden. And it has one relatively unique feature that could make it the most powerful tool for informal blogging by government employees.

That simple, amazing, singular feature is email as a primary interface. In other words, you can post blogs simply by emailing post@posterous.com or a similar address – you don’t even need an “account” or a “login” or a “password.” Even in the private sector, this is considered a cool feature. But for government employees, it could be a breath of life in an otherwise locked-down state of cybersecurity affairs.

You see, many government computer systems block domains like YouTube.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and so forth. There’s a current debate about the degree to which government employees can access such sites because of cybersecurity and other reasonable concerns – after all, there have been some very recent instances of bad things being passed through these social media tools and onto your computer. But when you can interact with a blogging platform through email – and in principle even through your official government email account accessed through a traditional program like Microsoft Outlook – you can get the functionality without the risk, and without needing permission from the IT shop.

As information is more decentralized and as more computing is done on mobile devices, quickly communicating information will be more commonplace – and more in demand by consumers of it. So to citizens, government content will still be king, but the speed at which it travels to them may be queen. And being able to blog on-the-go can increase that speed. Recently I’ve experimented with blogging while walking eight blocks to a date, blogging incredibly fast in reaction to breaking news, and blogging during a conference and posting my “journalism-style” article precisely at the end of a talk. There are innumerable other tactical applications of this tool.

Posterous has a lot of great features that I like. Perhaps most important among them is that links to the content you post can be instantly pushed to other social services like Twitter and Facebook – even if they’re blocked in your office. Another great feature is that if you attach photos, videos, or documents to your email, Posterous automatically embeds them in your blog – and will also push them to services like Flickr, YouTube, and Scribd (which may also be blocked in your government office). Still another great feature is that multiple people from multiple email addresses can contribute to one Posterous page (say, for an office), and conversely one email can be associated with multiple Posterous pages (say, a formal public affairs page, and an informal tech thoughts page). In brief, you can be very powerful from your BlackBerry.

Posterous has been described by a Mashable writer as “unremarkable,” but frankly, that’s what a lot of government employees are interested in. The government has a lot of outstanding content, and their primary mission in many cases is to get it out; customizing the blog theme is definitely secondary. A standardized, simple blog platform controlled through email sounds like just what the doctor ordered, and it offers numerous advantages over something more complicated like WordPress; for example, it’s easier to teach people how to use! Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

Posterous would probably love it if people in the government wanted to jump on this bandwagon in a more official manner, too. If I understand the numbers correctly, Posterous currently only has about one million unique visitors a month – total. The U.S. Government has more employees than that. I’m not picking on Posterous – it’s only been available since June 2008 and has some tough competition in the blog platform world – but my guess is that they’d be very willing to work with the General Services Administration and other appropriate people (as have companies like YouTube) to make Posterous work with official government interests and missions. And the same goes for local and state government employees too, who often deal with IT situations similar to those of their Fed counterparts.

Many agencies are working on social media policies and guidelines for employees, and education and training are no doubt part of successful use of tools like blogs by government employees. But assuming that people are trained and empowered to create online content, can you imagine if even 5% of Postal Service or FEMA or Army employees had a Posterous blog, and citizens and journalists could mine that information about what was happening in the country, or the world? It would be amazing.

So, for the 99% of government employees that can blog in their private lives and informally talk about their careers and more generally about their lives, I recommend getting a personal Posterous account. And because many of the things I said about the government also apply to large corporations, I think there’s a huge opportunity there, too. Everyone’s workplace has different rules about what you can and cannot use your computer and mobile devices for, and you shouldn’t break them. But if you can interface with Posterous via email and help to achieve workplace goals by mobile live-blogging of conferences you attend, or posting photos of critical emergency situations, or provoking discussion over the issue-of-the-day, I say: Go for it.

(If you work in government or closely with it and use Posterous, I’d especially like to listen to your feedback as I help prepare content for the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo in May 2010.)

This post originally appeared on O’Reilly Radar.

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I Unleash My Journalism Students To Critique Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons


September 17th, 2009 – a day that will live in infamy.  It is the day I officially became bored with defending Twitter to columnists that “don’t get” the popular microsharing service.  On that day, Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons (who frankly, I’d never heard of until that day, even though I knew of his Fake Steve Jobs work – great PR!) wrote a piece called “Don’t Tweet On Me: Twitter shows that stupid stuff sells,” which I immediately hated for at least three reasons.  One, most things people say seem stupid and useless to random people, so this is not novel observation.  Two, everyone who has observed general society knows that stupid sells (maybe Lyons should visit a comedy club sometime?).  And three, Lyons effectively insults 99.9% of the population with his remarks (of course, they didn’t notice because they don’t read Newsweek – whew, bullet dodged).

But honestly, I’m bored with writing posts about Twitter.  I don’t really care if anyone “gets it” at this point – frankly, the less people and businesses use it the more advantage those that do gain over the others, and that’s much more fun to watch.  There are tangible benefits quantified and qualified out there – and I feel no need to share them here.  But please don’t think how busy I am means that I don’t think Daniel Lyons should escape a good skewering.

So, taking a page out of the Web 2.0 playbook I’m fond of, I crowdsourced the task to my journalism students (each writer volunteered and no one was graded) in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I’m currently teaching a class called Sustainable Journalism in a New Media Age, and I felt this would be a perfect opportunity for some of my students to publish something on True/Slant, to work out their contrarian / critique style, and to perform a useful service to humanity – picking apart Daniel Lyons’ arguments about how stupid Twitter is.  (And maybe they will even personally experience mainstream media blowback!)

Starting on Monday, look for brief, funny, engaging, authentic and biting guest posts from four of my undergrad students in my column at True/Slant.  They’re going to be great.  Not only do they poke, poke, poke at Newsweek until its measly article looks like Swiss cheese (sorry Jon Meacham, I like you), but keep in mind that these writers are ages 18-21 – and by the time they graduate this hot young talent probably wouldn’t be caught dead working for a dinosaur like Newsweek.  But I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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Jeremiah Owyang, We Hardly Knew Thee Brand


jermiah-owyang

Numerous people have now written, and written well, about high-profile Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 analyst Jeremiah Owyang leaving Forrester Research.  Many people look forward to seeing what his next endeavor is.

Marketing expert Dave Meerman Scott blogged about the interesting, modern conflict and cooperation between personal brands working at corporations, and corporate brands that benefit from their people.  There are no current answers.

But I heard Howard Kurtz say something to the effect of “we reported it, so the public should know” on his CNN show this weekend.  No, sorry.  The way most people learn now is not by watching a television channel like CNN (just look at the ratings of your average news show), but by talking to someone who talked with someone who had an opinion derived from watching one.  News, and all information, is now commonly filtered through our social networks before it gets to us.  That’s right – we don’t find the news, the news finds us.

Owyang is influential because he provides value and generates tremendous word of mouth, and empowers his information to find us.  He doesn’t broadcast and expect you to find it so much as consider himself part of a community that he wants to help.  To some degree, this is how entrepreneurs can beat the big dogs.  He is someone to emulate.

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Don’t Aspire To Be a Writer


Today I saw the phrase “aspiring writer” in someone’s brief biography. But there’s no longer a need to aspire to be a writer. The proliferation of blogs have made it possible for anyone to publish anything at anytime and share it with the world. Sure, the popularity of your writing will vary, but not your ability to do it in the first place. Stop aspiring to be a writer, and be a writer.

Ironically, the aforementioned person’s biography was on Twitter, where they were publishing their own writing, even as they thought they were only aspiring to.

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Making Whuffie With Julia Allison


You can’t eat whuffie, but it’s getting harder to eat without it, as Tara Hunt says in The Whuffie Factor.  For the uninitiated, think of whuffie as an alternative to money – a reputation-based currency that started as a concept in a science fiction novel, now being applied to online business. Hunt’s interesting central thesis is that in order to successfully change social capital into market capital, company employees need to be authentic community members engaging in meaningful participation where their contributions often outweigh personal gains.

Typically, someone can raise whuffie by promoting something bigger than one’s own self-interests. This kind of community participation, as Solis and Breakenridge write in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations has become certral to marketing, branding, and influence: “Social media enables one to aggregate and promote your online brand while nurturing and managing important relationships.”

When I think of using online tools for public relations I often think of Julia Allison, who one year ago graced the cover of Wired ostensibly for her mastery of so-called “internet fame” and possibly translating it into real fame, and a profitable business. Since reading her relationships advice column in AM New York when I lived in Manhattan circa 2003, I’ve been familiar with Julia for a long time. More recently, with each of us shifting our interests to social technology, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her speak and meet with her. (Stealing a page from the fameball playbook, I even got the requisite photo with her and her dog during Internet Week 2008 – almost the same week of the Wired cover story.)

She is nothing if not a fascinating enigma; I believe we talked about the neuroscience of dating. So when pondering what I might write as a PR 2.0 guest column, I thought it would be interesting and instructive to look at the rise of Julia Allison as a “case study” in personal branding, and compare and contrast her career path with the tenets of raising whuffie.

Read the rest of this article at Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 blog.

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Make a Meaningful List and Take a Stand


There are so many lists.  Top 100 this, top 50 that, top 150 must-read blogs in this sector.  How can there be this many people that I “must” pay attention to?  Truth is, there aren’t.

People are so afraid to take a stand, to have a strong opinion, to leave someone “important” out, that they put anyone and everyone on their lists.  And large organizations are afraid, too.  For example, some blogs on the AdAge Power 150 are pathetic choices – they are frequently off topic, or have no real influence (of course, they are mainly designated without human interference, automatically).  I’ll consider them important when the pigs eat my brother (thanks, Brando).  Or how about the Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100?  I cannot sum this one up better than NYU professor Jay Rosen“The 100 most famous foreign policy names we could find who have [Twitter] accounts.” It’s frankly amazing that well-respected brands put their reputations behind such pathetic lists.

Here’s one good, haphazardly chosen example.  I hate to critique just one person making one list, but this one was on my radar, and this isn’t an academic study.  It is a new list of “Top 50 PR Professionals You Should Be Following on Twitter.”  Let’s break this down.  First, some of them are simply not PR professionals (interesting though they may be), or if they are, the definition has been fairly diluted.  Second, on Twitter, many of the actual PR professionals are tweeting very similar things, so it’s complete overkill if one follows all 50.  Third, many of the people on the list are obvious follows (so having them on the list adds nothing), and many have such bland descriptions of why you should follow them as to be useless (so having them on the list adds nothing). And finally, blog comments like this and this suggest that some very obvious people were far down the list, or entirely left off [a list of 50], and it’s not clear why that reasoning was, either.

Moreover, perhaps the most important point is that all the (1) obvious and (2) bland choices serve to drown out anyone on the list who may be truly undiscovered and interesting!  I know they exist to some degree, but more lists of “Top 10 People You’re Not Watching” would be very useful, in all topics of interest.

I’m really happy for everyone living in the Web 2.0 world who thinks that they can make sloppy lists and do incomplete research for blog articles and that everything will just get “sorted out” in the comments section (the author of the above Top 50 list suggested that there were so many comments after the post that she might make a Top 500 list! Thanks!).  Thoughtful comments are nice, but are they nice enough to reward sloppy writing with the hopes of getting thoughtful comments to round out their own incomplete thought process?  I don’t think so.  I write everything pretending that there will be no comments.  Then, if there are useful comments, it’s a pleasant surprise – not a recipe for completeness.

When I made a list of the 10 most “influential” people using Twitter in Washington, DC, I kept it simple.  I used somewhat unique criteria. I listed 10 people and explained in detail why I chose each of them. And largely, they were different than people on similar lists. So different, in fact, that NationalJournal.com ran a story about how my list differed from others in the LA Times and other publications, with a Twitalyzer quantification chart. Turns out my list has certain qualities, and theirs had certain other qualities – mine was unique if you were looking for this sort of thing, and theirs for a different sort of thing. Great, we can all reasonably coexist. It’s not about right or wrong – It’s about having a strong opinion, arguing for it, and sticking with it.

If you’re going to make a list, of anything, make it short and to the point. Make it stand out from other similar lists. Have some reasons for choosing what is on your list. Have some guts. Be willing to be different. And take a stand when people disagree. Otherwise your list is meaningless – to you, and to anyone that comes across it.

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Summer Reading List For Millennials


Let’s face it, Millennials – you’re completely lost right now.  Some of you are just out of college and wondering what the hell a recession is.  Some of you are pushing 30 years old but reaching some kind of quarterlife crisis, having hit a ceiling at work, or wondering if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, where you’re doing it.  Some of you, unfortunately, are working three jobs to make ends meet, or are currently out of work for one reason for another.

Times are tough for many out there.  So even though I’m a young Gen-Xer who grew up with grunge music and Ethan Hawke, I thought I’d try to help you by writing up a brief reading list of unique, inspiring books that I’ve read in the last year.  All of them relate to each other in various ways.  In total, they’re an inspiration to be entrepreneurial, to seek markets for your individual talents, and to feel good about yourself for being different from the crowd in some respects.

The first book is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Wired editor Chris Anderson.  This book is about serving microniches of customers or fans, the decreased costs of communications and transporting goods and information because of the Internet, and how you can become well known, make a living, etc. off a relatively small number of people who really love what you do and will passionately talk about your products, whether those products are songs, services, or widgets.  You can follow the author on Twitter here.

The second book is Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by business author Seth Godin.  This book is about leadership in the current era of personal branding, Web 2.0 marketing, and individuality and entrepreneurialism (even if that’s inside a large organization).  It’s about how people with leadership qualities can more easily than ever inspire people in a movement and lead their tribe, however small, to new places and opportunities.  You cannot follow the author on Twitter here, but I highly recommend his blog.

The third book is Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod.   This is a very unique, fun book about the author’s personal experiences as a young advertising copywriter and budding cartoonist living in New York.  Life lessons about being creative and being yourself are written in short, biting chapters interspersed with the author’s terrific cartoons.  You can follow the author on Twitter here.

True, these books are for people from all generations (heck, I found them useful), but I think that will all the stuff going on in the world today that Generation Y might be the most inspired by them.  Whether you’re coming back to college for your junior or senior year, or you’re nearing your third decade on earth and think you’ve got your whole life mapped out for you, I still recommend these books.  At the least, they’ll tell you that you’re doing everything right in an entertaining, smart way.

I also want to give some mad props to someone who I not only personally like and have come to admire a bit, but who I think epitomizes many of the lessons from these three books, Gary Vaynerchuk (VAY NERR CHUCK, got it?)  Gary turned a New Jersey-based family liquor store into a wine emporium into a wine critic video blog into a personal blog about marketing into a keynote lecture extravaganza into a consulting firm into a ten-book publishing deal. Now he does it all with a ton of hard work and a tiny team of helpers.  I suggest watching his videos and catching him speaking in person somewhere;  There’s nothing like it.  His first book, Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, will be out in October.  I haven’t read it yet, but I have no doubt that it will be awesome.  You can follow Gary on Twitter here.

Please comment on these books if you’ve read them, or add books you think would be useful, below.  And let me know if these books have helped you or people you know out in life!

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Strategic vs. Popular Event Attendance


People frequently ask me if I’m going to this or that event. Are you going to SXSW? Are you going to Gnomedex? And I often say no.

It’s okay to defy people’s expectations. Most people are followers and attend whatever events everyone else is attending, often without a great reason. When people ask me if I’m attending an event I don’t plan to attend, I do say “No” but then I usually ask, “Why should I go?” – and I usually don’t get a great answer.

To me that’s just more justification for not attending.

Everything starts with a strategy for you and your career. Don’t go to Gov 2.0 Summit or SXSW or Personal Democracy Forum or anything else without a great reason – and preferably more than one. You have to do what works for you. Events are just tools that help you complete your mission better. That’s all.

Personally, I mix small free events that are great for networking with some high profile events in my area where I can learn something new with academic conferences to think about things more abstractly with events outside my area to deliberately take me outside my element with conferences I speak at to get feedback about my ideas. That’s why I attend lots of events but any one person feels like they don’t see me very often.

This month I’ll speak to the Network of Entreprenurial Women in Washington, the World Tech Summit in New York, the Open Government & Innovations Conference back in Washington, then the 5th Annual National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas. All different, all broadening who I am and how I think.

Pick and choose your events according to what works for you, not peer pressure. Sometimes the event that “everyone is going to” works for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. Buck the crowd sometimes – that’s what will enhance you and set you apart.

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Web 2.0 Throwdown: Print vs. Post


There is a tremendous amount of interest in emerging media technologies in 2009. They are disrupting many areas of great interest – advertising, publishing, job searching, professional networking, military recruiting, charity fundraising, and political campaigning, to name a few. And in this economy, in this seeming moment of change, it is more important to keep up with trends in communications technology than ever before; that knowledge may be the difference between winning or losing a job, a contract, or even the leadership of a country.

Kate Michael is hosting an event called PRINT VS. POST on Wed, May 13th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in order to discuss some of these important issues with two great thought leaders: Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA, and Peter Shankman from New York, NY.  Both are best-selling authors, both frequent keynote speakers, both incredibly outspoken and interesting, they will face off and discuss and debate issues related to new media and journalism, government, and politics for an hour. They’ll also be signing books and attending a charity after-party at local nightclub Lotus Lounge.

I’m really excited to be hosting such an important and timely event.  If you’re a writer, you need to attend. If you’re in public relations, you really need to attend. And if you’re a future 2010 Congressional campaign staffer, you super really need to attend, because now that the Obama campaign put new media on the radar, everybody wants in. And your knowledge will be useful. And from a learning and networking standpoint, getting a VIP ticketis the way to go – not only will you be able to attend the event in person, you’ll have a good chance of winning both of the author’s autographed books in a raffle, and will also gain access to the Newsbabes Bash for Breast Cancer afterwards, where you will see me, Kate, Andrew, Peter, and many media personalities having a great time!

Please click here and pick up a ticket before they’re all gone!!

Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA has been called “the Antichrist of Silicon Valley” for his controversial views of Web 2.0 and its effects on society. His book The Cult of the Amateur is hated but well-read for its insight into how the democratization of data is changing everything about how we interact with one another and live our lives at their core. The demise of well-compensated experts, the influx of junk on the Web, and the accessibility of opinions over facts are just a few reasons that emerging Web 2.0 social technologies are destroying life as we know it.

Or are they? Peter Shankman from New York, NY is well known as a public relations maven from his days at AOL and his book Can We Do That? But more recently he has started the service best known as HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out. Peter makes a living by using social tools that connect people to effectively link up journalists with sources (a.k.a. “hacks and flacks”) – and keep reporters and writers in business. Leveraging old school email newsletters three times a day with new media like blogging and Twitter, HARO is a platform to keep experts around for a long time to come.

So which is it? Is Web 2.0 destroying our culture? Is it deconstructing the very nature of books, of words? What are the effects on the future of mainstream media, of newspapers, of television and radio? What should students be learning in journalism schools, and should they even bother going anymore? And how might these emerging technologies affect how the 2010 mid-term Congressional campaigns are conducted? And what’s unique about Twitter that’s making it so popular right now?

Keen and Shankman will face off in an hour long discussion moderated by Washington, DC’s very own Dr. Mark Drapeau, a prolific writer, animal behavior scientist, and strategic consultant to the government on social media issues. He knows these guys, he’s read their books, and he knows how to push their buttons. And he’ll get the most out of them for the audience in order to answer the questions above, and your unrehearsed questions too.

When: May 13, 2009, 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Where: National Press Club

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