Where has all the Content gone?

PEN

We live in a sharing economy. Social platforms, and their related performance tools, are increasingly efficient to share information around the globe. The focus in the communication profession has shifted away from creating original content, to efficient ways of sharing whatever comes along.  Content lost its king’s crown.

Yet, social media offers the possibility to display an enterprise’s thought leadership and unique point of views. Each sales cycle starts with research on the web. The call for original content – compelling and meaningful – has become louder again. Still, the majority of the content providers will tell you that they don’t have the time to put their thoughts on paper. As a consequence, the content sharing hubs, created to be wells of information for sales, marketing or any person within a company, often dry up after the initial enthusiasm.

Content creation takes time. But there are a number of techniques to accelerate the process and help you to mine that valuable content from those people who have the insights to make a business difference.

This is the first in a series of 3 articles, each taking a closer look at a particular technique to create content in an economic and fast way.

  1. Interviews: bring this forgotten lore back to life.
  2. Agile writing: start a new élan and be cool
  3. Serendipity: let the unexpected inspire you

 

Interviews – bring this forgotten lore back to life.

Interviewing is probably the surest and easiest way to gather and distribute content from within your enterprise. In essence, it is quite a fun process that yields immediate results. It is based on the observation that people are not keen to write (long process, heavy investment in time, not in a native language) but are keen to talk about their area of expertise. Even in a technical environment, we see that only few techies are active writers. When looking at other departments, very few people are active writers.

The exciting thing is that, as an interviewer, you are actively co-creating content and not simply sharing content.

The most effective interviews follow 3 basic steps. Once you have identified your topic and have selected one or more subject matter experts, you will take these next steps:

  1. Preparing
  2. Conducting
  3. Editing, approving and publishing

Actually there is a 4th step, the follow-up of any reactions or comments on the interview and feeding those back to the interviewee.

The most important part of the preparation is to brief the right person about the goal and the context of the interview. Your interviewee will feel more confident when he or she knows where the interview will be published, who the target audience is and what the goal is. Next to that, send your suggested questions in advance to your interviewee. Don’t send more than 5 questions. Needless to say that these should be open questions, or the interview will be very short. Schedule 30 to 45 minutes on your interviewee’s calendar. And you’re ready to go.

No, you are not.

As the interviewer, you will have to conduct proper research on the subject. This will help you to think outside your own enterprise and have some basic insight to actually understand the answers of your interviewee. Your newly acquired knowledge will help you to steer the conversation and increase your chances to capture some nice sound-bites that you can use as your title or click-bait…

Conducting the interview can be done in several ways, from a simple conversation over the phone to dragging in a portable studio with multiple cameras, lighting gear, shotgun microphones and green screens to film the whole interaction in 4K. Since we are in the business of providing quick but rich content, let’s stick to the KISS principle, shall we?

Over the phone it will be.

Technically, you only need a phone and a recording device. Manoeuvre yourself into a quiet environment. I would not recommend your favourite pub at 6pm. A landline has better quality, while you might want to use your smartphone as a recorder. For a bit more professionalism, a recorder such as a Zoom will come in handy. But it is not a must. Check – each time – the batteries and the memory space left on the memory card. Take some notes as this will help to structure your thoughts and will remind you to ask a related question. Using Skype can be a good alternative to reduce costs, and the sound quality is more than reasonable these days. Recording and publishing Skype (video) interviews as podcasts, has a lot of potential. It merits a separate blog. Just be conscious that in your company, the use of Skype might not allowed.

Depending on the individual you are interviewing, he or she will be more talkative. Some will talk for 30 minutes on the first question, others will have gone through your 5 questions in the first 10 minutes. This is where the proper preparation yields results. You’ll be able to keep the conversation going by injecting other point of views into the arena. You don’t need to stick slavishly to your 5 questions. You can ask for more details or examples if the interviewee touches upon an interesting topic.

There is a ‘but’ … you’ re not an investigative reporter. You are interviewing one of your colleagues. There is no need to fry or confront. And keep in mind it is all about the interviewee’s insights, not about your sharp wit.

The editing phase is for you the most time consuming. Even a 30-minute interview will take one to two hours to be transformed into a solid, easy to read, piece.  Nevertheless, try to send the text to your interviewee within 24 hours. That is challenging. Allow the interviewee a couple of days, but be clear by when you want to receive the corrected and approved version. Even internally, don’t publish anything without the written approval of the interviewee. If all is set, publish the interview on your company’s intranet, blog space or specific community. Pay special attention when publishing externally. Enterprises will have their own set of conduct guidelines – better be compliant with them.

Depending on how people in your organisation are actively using social platforms, you might want to revert to the good ol’ mass mail to drive traffic to this interview.

Hopefully, readers will react to the interview. Depending on how the interview was published, questions and comments might come to you. In that case, try to arrange upfront with the interviewee that he or she checks regularly the questions and replies to them in a social manner – also if you get the questions by e-mail.

Posted in Uncategorized

How to Kill Change with One Sentence

For many years, I lived happily under the illusion that people and their enterprises fought against change through arguments, objections and practical barriers. Yesterday that dream was scattered. In a meeting, I realized that the most effective way to kill change is to claim that you are already changing. In that meeting, a number of new initiatives and changes were proposed. Of course we were prepared to deal with the usual push back and critical questions. But nothing of that happened. Instead, one person simply stated: “but… we are already doing this”. The others promptly agreed, relieved.

That’s when I realized that the most killing words for change are: “but… we are already doing this”.

It’s so smart. At once, blocked are the heated discussions on the why of the change, gone are the visionary long term goals, melted is your objection handling. When saying “but… we are already doing this”, the very essence of the change is acknowledged, supported and even more, it’s already being implemented. What more can you ask? The sentence is often accompanied by a look that says: “why are you still in this meeting? What you are proposing is for us BAU (Business As Usual, the killing sentence poured into an acronym). Go away”.

It puts the blame on you because apparently your idea is so obvious that everyone is doing it spontaneously.

But are they, really? 80% chances that this is not at all happening. At best, there may be some resemblance with another project.

There are a couple of things that you can do to ensure that your change project does not get derailed or delayed:

Drill for details on what exactly they are already doing.

Nod as if you were understanding.

Let them explain meticulously what activities they are deploying, on a day to day basis. Bet, this will be very difficult. Because it is not happening, or it is not structured, or it is not well thought through.

Ask for the results.

Probe for proof. Ask how they track their outcomes. This is the difference between activity based and result based tracking. Of course, we need to have activities first in order to obtain results. Often, change is stuck in the activity phase and is not tracked towards the results or KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).

Book checkpoints in the agenda.

Regardless of what the above two questions yield as answers, say that you are so interested in their progress, that you want regular checkpoints. This will allow you to navigate back to your own change project and take control. Don’t let anyone else but you plan those checkpoints in the agenda.

 

Change, ideation, innovation,… it must be done to ensure that enterprises remain competitive and successful. The trickiest opposition is when someone replies with a “but… we are already doing this”. If you have more tips, just leave a comment in the section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Innovation

Le Nouveau Entrepreneur Est Arrivé

And no, he/she does not arrive in a flashy Porsche with shrieking tires.

The days of the flamboyant 20-something-Armani-suit are over. The banks or the VC’s that eagerly believed the 50%+ return story over a lobster lunch are the exact reason why the financial crisis continues to shadow the real economy.

Time for a new breed of entrepreneurs to raise. People who carry the scar tissue of real life experience. Business plans that reflect a sustainable margin, reflect longer term commitment, support the economy and not just some investors. A breed of people who know what frugality means in a start up. What it means to set up sales, R&D, Finance, logistics, marketing and so on.
People who have access to businesses. Arriving back to my point that businesses, certainly large enterprises, should be motivated to invest more in start-ups. I have investigated briefly some of the recent earning calls of the top 100 companies. Few of these are not sitting on huge bank accounts. I hope that the CFO’s of these enterprises start to see that their risky investments in banks or other bonds are not paying off. And that there are alternatives.

We all have to work longer because governments are not able to pay the pensions for a graying population. We all live longer, so there is nothing wrong to actually start a second career as an entrepreneur when you are over 50. In the end you have at least another 30 year to go on this planet according to the statistics. As governments are struggling with what to do with the 50plussers on the market, another option is to deploy these valuable people in education. As a pre-requisite, a job in education has to be revalued. Most of the issues today with youngsters lingering on the streets is because of a faltering education system. Faltering because policy makers are not the best pupils when it comes to longer term thinking. The attention span is up till the next elections. But after years of gradual disinvestment in our school system, we are presented with the bill. That is the real time bomb under our society.

50 plussers are not a bunch of tired employees who just want to leave for Marbella and sit in the sun. They are an untapped source of ideas, insights, connections and trustworthiness. With life expectation changing, so is our mental institution. Decades ago someone of 60 was an old grandfather sitting next to the coal fire. Today it is a person who jogs, Skypes, travels, enjoys life.

I would say, working and non-working 50plussers, unite. Send in your business plans to VC’s and banks. Call your old contacts at the enterprises you work or used to work at. Ask your local governments to support your start-up in any way they can. Set up business clubs where you can discuss and cross fertilize each other ideas over lunch. Make sure it is a chicken roll brown bag lunch. Keep the lobster for the family.

(This blog appeared for the first time in 2011… after almost 3 years, I thought it was still relevant. Or even more relevant).

Posted in Uncategorized

About Tar Pits and Death Valleys

What is wrong with the logical steps Research – Innovation – Entrepreneurs – Investment – (sustainable) Economy?

Nothing, but there is something wrong with the spaces between those steps.

Some time ago, I received from Lars Jernbäcker from the Saab Group a chart that illustrates the issue. If the chances that a poor research project ends up as a bleached skeleton in the scientific desert are that high, one cannot even imagine what will happen during the rest of the voyage?

 

Courtesy Lars Jernbäcker

 

The question is of course: why?

Running the obvious risk of not being scientifically complete, here are some of the why’s:

 

  1. Welcome to the lottery. A maze of institutes, funds, loans, centers, initiatives and supportive activities make it practically impossible for a researcher to find an easy way to finance his or her efforts. Many projects never make it, simply because the administration and the required effort of needless paperwork make the chances for success like a lottery. There is a tremendous opportunity for the public administration to simplify and clarify the path for funding and subsidizing.
  2. We are happily floating in suspension with no top down drive, nor bottoms-up push. Joe the business man has lost his understanding of and even empathy with research. It is considered as a luxury that is no longer affordable, except perhaps for large enterprises. And partially this has been inflicted by the researchers themselves, not able to express how a breakthrough will drive new business. That business link needs to be clearly expressed, certainly during an economic downturn.
  3. He who has the full picture, please stand up. The scattered landscape of universities, research centers, incubation centers, venture capitalists and private companies is mirrored in the way public funding is distributed … without any cohesion. Whatever public private partnership (PPP) or investment (PPI), it has to take the full value chain into account. And it has to focus on the links between research, innovation, entrepreneurs, investment and economy. The underlying issue that needs to be solved is that all of these institutes are competing for the same amount of available funding, so there is no incentive at all to think big. And the ones who do, find them selves stuck in the tar pits between those steps. They don’t move an inch.

With these three points as guiding principles to reform the current policies we will go a long way to provide water to the death valleys.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

High51

Highway 51 is the old US highway going from South to North. With a bit of imagination, it’s kind of metaphorical for reaching the age of 51 and contemplating over your career.  Highway 51 goes North, but at the same time it goes South. The glass is half-full or half-empty, right? Starting from Laplace (a small town near New Orleans) it takes a seemingly straight line to the North. In reality it is zigzagging its way through the US, interrupted by horizontal stretches from East to West.  The highway crosses one of the most hurricane hit zones, it climbs mountains, spans rivers and lakes, disappears in cities, merges with other highways to reappear hundreds of miles further, taking again a different direction. In many ways it embodies our lives and our careers.

So, you find yourself in Laplace. The Place. You are 51 or older. You’re building a career. You shiver when you see a book titled “iPad for Seniors. A guide specially written for those above 50”. You get a bit wound-up: “don’t those editors realise that most of the current technology has actually been invented by the 50+ club?”  Now you start to wonder about the future. Maybe you joined redundancies through a right-sizing, maybe you’re bored after spending 25 years at the same company.  A new challenge or a new job. Out of necessity because bills need to be paid. Or out of curiosity whether or not you can start your own business from that wonderful idea you’ve been breeding on for years.
Especially in Europe, governments are struggling to balance the graying population with the greener population. Up till now, the easy solution has been to increase consequently the official retirement age. In the hope that people will drop dead before they can enjoy their last decades in this world. But people are adapting very quickly. It’s in our human nature to survive. As humans we are in the offense against this injustice … we decided collectively to live longer.

The true challenge is to make work attractive and fun for the 51plus. The tax system has to be redesigned in support of allowing and encouraging 51 plussers to share their experience, invest their knowledge (and some money), activate their network and actively mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Now here is a bold statement: that next generation of entrepreneurs are the 51 plus.

Actually, the 51 plus should unite to bundle their strengths in support of their coming 15 years (or so) of service.

Maybe it is time to start www.high51.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

From Social-Economic to Economic-Social

Maybe, just maybe, governments start to realise that you need a thriving economy to maintain a level of social welfare. Over the past decades, the illusion of free money – fed by the redistribution of wealth (taxes from individuals and enterprises) – created a disconnect between the ones who pay and the ones who receive. Politically correct discussions are held about the increasing gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, or the rich and the poor. But it is felt as a discussion between the “paying” and the “receiving” groups.

This is a fundamentally wrong discussion. Leading to a set of fundamentally wrong actions.

The discussion has to shift towards actions to support the economy. Especially in Europe this is something difficult to grasp by our elected representatives whose imagination stops at the word “tax”.  Despite the increased rhetoric about supporting the economy, the reality is that the only measures that make it in real life are tax related. Nobody has to tell me that working for the government is boring. It takes a unique creativity to come up with “taxes on sugar drinks because we are so concerned about the health of our people”, “taxes on rain water”, “taxes on solar power”, etc.

So let’s help the governments to make this transition from tax to supporting the economy.

Action to all governments … shift from Social-Economic to Economic-Social.

This reads as a silly switch in words, but it contains the core of the change that we need to implement to rebuild the economy. Changing the word order is a small thing. But when executed consistently, it emphasizes that the economic growth fuels the social welfare and not the opposite. From now on, each debate should use the “economic-social” terminology. It’s a fundamental shift in 21st century politics.

I wonder if the liberal parties of Europe will ever adapt this idea ?

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

What Governments can do to support Entrepreneurs

On December 19, 2012 the article below appeared in “De Tijd”, the Belgian financial newspaper. It was triggered by the question what governments could and should do to support businesses.
Globally it is tough to raise money. The days that business angels or venture capital companies, even banks, invested happily in start-ups are gone. Sure, there is still money to collect from these institutions, but the price of that money is high. The demanded return on invested capital sky-rockets in terms of % interests and % shares. Why would you want to chase your entrepreneurial dream if someone else has the power to control every move you make?

My suggestion was to allow and encourage established enterprises to directly invest their enterprise income tax into start-ups. There are a lot of advantages with this idea. First of all, it will give a boost to the relaunch of the economy in a significant way. When I look at today’s actions taken by the Belgian and Flemish governments, I see very limited funding (a couple of million €, a drop on a hot plate) and the creativity does not go beyond “giving advice to starters”. Advice is a nice to have, adequate capitalization is a must have. In Belgium, the yearly tax income from enterprises is around 9 billion €.  Assume that 10% of the enterprises take this opportunity to invest in a start-up of choice, that will give a boost of approximately 1 billion €.  Part of that money will be recovered by the government through social and personal taxes from the new enterprises. The rest has to be compensated by establishing a more efficient government. Secondly, the commitment of other enterprises to actively participate and help these start-ups will be high. After all, it is their money and they want to ensure that it does not disappear. Here lies a great opportunity to give “older” employees the chance to transfer expertise. The government can help to set up a crowd sourcing website where companies can directly invest in featured start-ups. And lastly, this is a very socially inspired idea. The creation of jobs, the injection of enthusiasm and companies helping each other directly are all in support of the economic-social society.

 

De Tijd004

 

 

 

Posted in Innovation

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