Listening and Blessings

Listening and Blessings

Two reflections from this week:

1. Listen to understand:
I heard a colleague talk about the importance of listening. There wasn’t really anything new about that, except he went on to say, “Listen to understand, not to refute or resolve.” The more, I thought about this, the more brilliant I realized this was. How often do we either not really listen to the other person? And when we do listen at all, aren’t we most of the time jumping to either refute what they are saying or resolve their issue? The key though is to listen to understand. Ask questions. Get clarifications. Only once you really listen to the other person and understand what they are saying, can you begin to address the thoughts and feeling they are expressing to you.

2. G-d Blessed You:
Usually when I see people asking for help/money on the streets, they have signs–handwritten, often on cardboard or the like–that says something about their plight. Perhaps, they are homeless, lost their job, ill or disabled, have kids to support…and they are asking for your help and mercy. At the end of the sign or if you give them some change or a few dollars, they say thanks, but also “G-d bless you” in the future tense. And this is really nice to get a blessing in return for some basic charity and kindness. However, there is one poor person begging in downtown D.C., and he says it differently. His sign asks for help and says, “G-d blessed you” in the past-present tense. First, I thought maybe this was just a grammatical mistake, but then I realized what he was saying. G-d blessed you, so please give back to others. This wasn’t a thank you wish to the other person, but rather a reason that you should give to begin with. Recognize how fortunate you are (and maybe you don’t even necessarily deserve it), but G-d blessed you, so have mercy and give to others.

Hope these reflections mean something to you the way they do to me, and have a good weekend everyone!

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Baby Frog, See You Now

Baby Frog, See You Now

So I took this picture of this baby frog while hiking.

This was the first one we saw–on the foliage it completely blended in, but on the rocks we could see it clearly.

It was so little and cute–I had to zoom in to get this shot.

After this, it actually jumped under a log and I got an action photo of its hind legs in mid-jump–going what seemed like super-frog speed.

Once, I was attuned to the frogs color and motion, I was able to detect many of them in the forest today–all pretty much like this little baby.

It was interesting to me learning from this, how before we are aware of something–it’s as if it doesn’t even exist (even with subtle ribbits in the air); and after you are sort of clued in to the surroundings, you almost can’t help but see them.

To me, it’s like life in general, when you don’t see your own issues or life challenges, you can’t even begin to work on them because your virtually oblivious to them, but once you see yourself for what you are–warts and all–you can begin to work through your problems, as if you have almost transcendental awareness.

A little camouflaged frog, like subtle personal issues may be almost imperceptible in the forest of life, but against a contrasting background, you can get amazing clarity–to self-help and self-heal.

Cute little frog, I can see you now and your not jumping away from me anymore. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Go Simple!

Go Simple!

Two interesting recent articles discuss the importance of building in simplicity to product design to make things more useful to people.

Contrary to popular belief, simple is not easy. Mat Mohan in Wired Magazine (Feb. 2013) says that “simplicity is about subtraction,” and “subtraction is the hardest math in product design.”

Two of the best recent examples of simplicity through subtraction is what Apple was able to achieve with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, and what Google did through its “sparse search page.”

Unfortunately, too many companies think that “quality is associated with more,” instead of less, and so they pack on options, menus, and buttons until their darn devices are virtually useless.

Similarly, an article in the Wall Street Journal (29 March 2013) advocates that “simplicity is the solution,” and rails against the delays, frustration, and confusion caused by complexity.

How many gadgets can’t we use, how many instructions can’t we follow, and how many forms can’t we decipher–because of complexity?

The WSJ gives examples of 800,000 apps in the Apple store, 240+ choices on the menu for the Cheesecake Factory (I’d like to try each and every one), and 135 mascaras, 437 lotions, and 1,992 fragrances at the Sephora website.

With all this complexity, it’s no wonder then that so many people suffer from migraines and other ailments these days.

I remember my father telling me that you should never give consumers too many choices, because people just won’t know what to choose. Instead, if you simply give them a few good choices, then you’ll make the sale.

Unfortunately, too many technologists and engineers develop ridiculously complex products, and too many lawyers, legislators, and regulators insist on and prepare long and complex documents that people aren’t able to read and cannot readily understand.

For example, in 2010, the tax code was almost 72,000 pages long, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is about 2,700 pages, and the typical credit card contract now runs to 20,000 words.

Even the brightest among us, and those with a lot of time on their hands, would be challenged to keep up with this.

While rewriting and tax code is a welcome topic of discussion these days, it befuddles the mind why most of the time, we simply add on new laws, rules, regulations, amendments, and exclusions, rather than just fix it–plain and simple.

But that’s sort of the point, it’s easier for organizations to just throw more stuff out there and put the onus on the end-users to figure it out–so what is it then that we pay these people for?

The plain language movement has gotten traction in recent years to try and improve communications and make things simpler and easier to understand.

Using Apple as an example again (yes, when it comes to design–they are that good), it is amazing how their products do not even come with operating instructions–unlike the big confusing manuals in minuscule print and numerous languages that used to accompany most electronic products. And that’s the point with Apple–you don’t need instructions–the products are so simple and intuitive–just the way they are supposed to be, thank you Apple!

The journal offers three ways to make products simpler:

– Empathy–have a genuine feel for other people’s needs and expectations.

– Distill–reduce products to their essence, getting rid of the unneeded bells and whistles.

– Clarify–make things easier to understand and use.

These are really the foundations for User-Centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to create useful and usable planning products and governance services–the point is to provide a simple and clear roadmap for the organization, not a Rorschach test for guessing the plan, model, and picture du-jour.

Keeping it simple is hard work–because you just can’t throw crap out there and expect people to make sense of it–but rather you have to roll up your sleeves and provide something that actually makes sense, is easy to use, and makes people’s lives better and not a living product-design hell. 😉

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Playing For The Meal

Playing For The Meal

I love this guitarist on the corner with the sign that says, “To eat for today one must play for the meal. You Pay. Thank you.”

Five communication lessons I had reinforced from this:

– Be direct–he is right to the point…he plays, you pay–that’s the deal.

– Be clear–the writing is large, the letters are distinct, and easy to read…you get it!

– Be concise–the message fits on a small cardboard…no rambling placards, just the message next to the guitar case for collecting the money.

– Be purposeful–he states the reason for his being there right up front…he’s hungry and is willing to work for it!

– Be courteous–he ends with a nice thank you that is set off to the side in script.

If his playing is half as good as his message…he’s earned his meal. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Don’t Communicate Like A Dump Truckity

Do_not_push
I don’t know a lot about huge dump trucks.

But I wondered what this meant when it says on the back of this multi-ton vehicle–“Do Not Push”.

Don’t worry, I won’t! 🙂

In life, we often communicate things that either we aren’t really clear about, don’t mean, or end up being misunderstood for.

In fact, probably one of the toughest “soft skills” to learn is communication skills.

I don’t know why they call it soft, since when you communicate poorly, you can get hit over the head–quite hard.

One of the biggest issues is people who talk too much (i.e. they dump on others), but aren’t very good at listening. Hey, they may as well be talking to themselves then, because communication is a two-way street.

Good communications skills include the three C’s: clarity, conciseness, and consistency, and I would add–last but not at all least–a T for tact.

Communication skills also overlaps with the ability to effectively influence, negotiate, and create win-win solutions, so actually communication is at the very heart of what we need to do well.

When communicating, don’t be pushy and don’t be pushed around (i.e. get dumped on)–and don’t get hit by that over-sized dump truck–communicate early, often, honestly, and with passion.

(Source photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Who’s On First

>I have a new article in Public CIO Magazine (April/May 2011) on the topic of Accountability In Project Management:

We’ve all be to “those” kinds of meeting. You know the ones I’m talking about: The cast of characters has swelled to standing-room only and you’re beginning to wonder if maybe there’s a breakfast buffet in the back of the room.

It seems to me that not only are there more people than ever at todays meetings, but meetings are also more frequent and taking up significantly more hours of the day.

I’m beginning to wonder whether all these meeting are helping us get more work done, or perhaps helping us avoid confronting the fact that in many ways we’re stymied in our efforts.

Read the rest of the article at Government Technology.


>5 Lessons For Implementing Mobility Solutions

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[Pictured from Left Kevin Brownstein, McAfee; Andy Blumenthal, ATF; John Landwehr, Adobe; Jack Holt, DoD]

Today, I participated on behalf of my agency at the Adobe Government Assembly: Engage America on a panel for mobility solutions.

I shared the lessons learned from our experience and pilot of mobile devices, including:

1) Be prepared to give the end users as many apps as possible—they want it all just like on their desktops.

2) In mobile devices, size and resolution matters. Although people like miniaturized devices, they want the display of the information and graphics to be clear and visible.

3) Users did not like using a stylus for navigation.

4) Users in the field don’t have time or patience to decipher complicated instruction guides—it’s got to be intuitive!

5) While security is critical, usability is key and it’s a balancing act.

>What Clarity of Vision Looks Like

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I saw this photo and thought this is a great image of why we need a clear vision and plan for the organization.

So often we’re going in all these different directions and we may not even realize it or can’t seem to get control over it.

That’s where strong leadership, planning, and execution come into play.

We need to move with a unified purpose if we want to really get somewhere.