Archives for category: Communication

The other day I was in a hurry to check the status of a flight I was taking later that week. I needed to know if I could fit in an appointment before leaving for the airport. When I went onto the website this is what I got.

For a company of this stature, and for a company that transacts online at this kind of scale, I find this flabbergasting. Such a website shouldn’t ever be down, certainly not at peak hours. This was 17:00 on a week day.

When I worked in the cyber-security business, the standard service level agreement for a cloud-based service was what they call ‘five nines’, or 99.999% availability. In some quarters, four nines wasn’t seen as sufficient for an enterprise’s mission-critical systems. To put this in perspective, five nines availability allows for total unscheduled downtime – assuming uptime is calculated on a 24/7/365 basis – of just six minutes, for the entire year, if my calculations are correct.

Which leads me to conclude either that this is one of those moments of unforeseen torture for a company that sets itself the highest standards of transactional availability, or that the company is in fact a bit sloppy or laissez faire with its customers’ goodwill.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I checked back on the site and it was back up, so perhaps we can give Ryanair the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

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We have friends, and then we have ‘good’ friends. Clearly there are degrees of friendship, and a good friend is better than simply a friend. There must be a spectrum from contact to acquaintance, to friend, to good friend, to best friend, presumably.

We don’t have bad friends though. ‘I’d like to thank my bad friend John for his support.’ Surely a bad friend gets relegated to an acquaintance or worse. The only place where this works is in some sections of American society where bad means good, as in your bad self, that song/movie/game was bad, and so on.

In the context of my good friend, then, good really means close or dear. We use the phrase ‘my good friend’ to add emphasis and kudos to our friendship, to compliment them as a friend and by extension to express gratitude for the friendship, I think.

How many good friends do you have? And can you only have one best friend, by definition? And one last question, does it depend on the context of the conversation – a private word or public speaking – as to how many ‘my good friends’ you have?

I suppose everyone has a shortlist of favourite songs that have stayed with them over the years, to become not just their top 5 songs in a specific category, but of all time. Songs that can be relied upon to lift them, tug at the heart strings, and get them in the right frame of mind, when they feel they can accomplish just about anything.

I decided to write this post so that I could finally commit to memory its composer, since I’ve never heard the original in full, only its most famous part. Adagio for Strings was written by Samual Barber in 1936, and has featured in many other reproductions since. For instance, who could forget the scene involving Willem Dafoe’s character left on the ground by departing helicopters in the 1986 film Platoon. Some of its bars are among the most famous in classical music, achingly beautiful and haunting at the same time.

Where I’m most familiar with the piece is as a sample of a dance song of the same name by the Dutch DJ Tiësto. The video is in a club holding what looks like about 50,000 rapt attendees – oh, to have been there. I’m listening to it as I write this post. It starts with super fast beats that make you feel you’re invincible and then the adagio sample cuts in to make you stop, remember and yearn for those that are no longer with you. The song then lifts off again, reworking the handful of notes from the sample to a mesmerising close.

It’s magic stuff, giving off a huge, non-chemically induced high. I shall never tire of it I think. Probably my number 2 song of all time.

 

Google Translate is really rather good. At least it’s what I assume is Google Translate. I generally search for ‘german english dictionary’ in the Chrome browser window and it brings in the german text-input box and the English translate counterpart box within the search return page.

I used to think it was a bit ropey, but it seems to be really good these days. I’ve been using it lately in reverse to establish the German words for certain English packaging and label words and phrases, and the dynamic way it adapts its translation to context the more you type in is really impressive. I have a passing, touristic knowledge of German and I can use my dangerous knowledge to make sure I’m conveying the right sense by using the translator in both directions.

The other day I received an email in German from a company. Written German is very formal, quite stilted and stuffy and in my opinion way more formal than its English counterpart. To this writer the German was impenetrable. I pasted the German sentences one-by-one into Google Translate and the resulting English wasn’t simply sufficient, it was superb.

Unless you have a need for super technical translations, or the stakes are very high indeed, I don’t know why you’d go to a translation company for their machine learning or even their human translation services any more.

Bloody Google. It will end up disintermediating us all if we’re not careful…

There are two types of business-to-business client. I found this out in my first job after my MBA in the 1990’s when I worked for a design and marketing agency and had to get out there and sell.

The first type of client is the type that respects your work, trusts your expertise and domain knowledge, and generally takes your advice.

The other type of client is the type that wants it done his or her way, tells you what they want, because they know better, even though what they want may not be the best for them. They respond to what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

The one factor that affects this division is the amount of experience and and expertise you have with regard to your client’s industry. The less you have, or can demonstrate, the less likely they’ll be inclined to take your advice and the more command and control their approach becomes.

You know the saying: ‘you get the clients you deserve’. Clients also get the agencies, suppliers or delivery partners they deserve.

The term ‘client’ is also problematic for me. We used it in the agency and some companies still use it, depending on their sector. It puts the customer on a pedestal. I agree that everything stems from the customer, and that we all should be customer-centric, but when you elevate your customer to almost divine status it makes it hard both to have a peer-to-peer relationship that’s based on trust and to strike a fair deal. Then you have a vendor/supplier-client relationship that’s unequal and approaches that of a slave-master relationship. That’s what the term ‘client’ feels like to me.

Our French friends use the same word – faire – for both ‘to make’ and ‘to do’. Perhaps some other languages do too. You get the sense from the French of which word it translates to in English.

When it comes to combining the sense with the word ‘work’, however, it’s a really good job we have two separate words, and with every justification, as they’re fundamentally different things.

Making work is making work for yourself, to keep yourself busy, or in a job, or making work for other people to have to do, in various uncharitable and unhelpful ways. It’s the creating of a system that keeps people and organisations in a job, rather than serving the community as a whole usefully. It’s the overcomplicating of things to discourage people from applying for or claiming what is either rightfully theirs or what they’re entitled to. It’s preserving the complex, the difficult to understand, the proprietary or the difficult to join in order to justify whole departments or maintain the exclusivity of a club. Huge swathes of the public sector are guilty of this.

Then there is doing work; creating outputs, producing things, executing on plans, the act of getting something done. Productivity and performance lives at its heart. It’s about closing sales rather than preventing sales. It’s about accelerating motion, rather than retarding it. It’s about access over exclusion, encouragement over discouragement, others over oneself. It’s about knocking through barriers rather than putting them up, and it’s about telling people what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

So the question to ask yourself, obviously, is this: are you making work, or are you doing work? And the sanity question is this: what would others say about you?

I introduced the notion relatively recently that I might stop blogging on this page after 1,000 blog posts. I produce 3 blog posts a week, always on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and that cadence works for me, so 1,000 posts will take me a fraction over 333 weeks, the guts of 7 years.

And then I read Seth Godin’s post yesterday, which talks about the first 1,000 blog posts being the most difficult…Mr Godin’s blog is one of the inspirations for me starting my own back in 2013, but then again he writes a daily blog post, and we aren’t talking weekdays only. That’s over twice my input. That cadence obviously works for him.

His first para reads: “For years, I’ve been explaining to people that daily blogging is an extraordinarily useful habit. Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.” I could have written those words myself, except substitute ‘thrice weekly’ for the daily bit, because the sentiment is spot on.

Some of Mr Godin’s posts are very short indeed, and then some of them are quite involved, whereas I try and stick to a 4-to-5 para, 250-or-so words, couple-minutes-to-read kind of a thing. That said, his output is prodigious, helped no doubt by an enviable book-publishing remit that allows him to kill two birds with one stone.

Interestingly, Mr G sees a trend where people get the bit between their teeth after 200 posts or so, which is a little over 6 months. Maybe the time in the saddle is more important than the cadence, since 200 posts take me 15 months, which is a different proposition altogether. Or maybe it’s the cadence that counts…

As for the first 1000 posts thing, for me it could well be the only 1000 posts, and I think the daily discipline would become a daily drag, perhaps for you too, as the ‘customer’.

 

If you’re a good typist, a touch typist, you intuitively know which keys you’re hitting and you can focus on the screen. You can then see autocorrect suggestions as they come up, whether they’re spelling mistakes or typos, and choose to accept or reject them on the fly.

If you’re not a touch typist, you have your eyes focused on the keyboard as anything between 2 and 7 fingers flash across the keys in a blur of crossovers and other inefficiencies.

Autocorrect only works if you’re a proper typist who looks at the screen while you type. Most of our generation look at the keyboard as we type, and then it’s too late. We look up and our typed line is a mess of autocorrections we didn’t want that the system inserted by default as we typed on. So we go back and recorrect them, which is a huge time-suck.

I wonder what percentage of people touch type compared with those who are fixated on the keyboard? It’s pretty important to the usefulness of autocorrect on a laptop, where the keyboard and screen are a long way from each other.

Even with a smartphone, where the keyboard and screen are a couple of centimetres apart, I miss autocorrects because I’m looking at the keys.

Have you ever heard the glorious phrase ‘piling Pelion on Ossa’ before? I hadn’t, until this morning, and I have somewhat of an education in classical cultures. Bear with me though, because it’s right on topic.

I was chatting to an old mate – old in terms of mateyness rather than age necessarily – of mine earlier today and he said something was like piling Pelion on Ossa. ‘What on earth does that mean?’ I asked. He told me about an essay he’d written at college and next to the same point he’d made for the third time in the same paragraph his tutor had marked that he was piling Pelion on Ossa.

It turns out that the phrase means introducing further complexity or redundancy to something that is already difficult enough, like putting one of the two Greek mountains Pelion and Ossa on top of the other. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you need to reevaluate your priorities, but you’ll also know that I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and avoiding complexity in our messaging and interactions.

How cool is that!? I encourage you all to wedge this fantastic phrase into everyday conversation this week, and see what kind of a reaction you get.

Blankness and a raising of the eyebrows will be up there I would imagine…

How do you represent temperature with colour? Easy, right? Blue is cold and red is hot, with all the relative shades in between, like on a weather map.

What about the difference between cold and colder, or room temperature and colder? It’s a tough one. I always have a bit of a brain freeze when I’m at a water cooler, and especially after I’ve drunk from the very cold tap. There’s a white tap and a blue tap. The white is on the left and the blue is on the right. Which is colder? And how cold is the less cold one? Is it chilled less or is it room temperature?

I never know which is which on a water cooler. Water is transparent in colour, and so is ice, pretty much, so that doesn’t help the choice of tap colour. Blue traditionally denotes very cold I guess, like ice bergs or branding on beers. So if blue is cold, is the white tap simply cool water or room temperature water? And why is the white tap on the left? Does it mean the taps go colder from left to right, or should they go warmer from left to right? Has no-one thought about this or agonised over it i the design or assembly phases?

I know, overthinking things. I should just try a sip of both, and be done with it. But these things bother me, because they’re about simplifying the message path between the sender and recipient.