Back to School

Over the holidays, after a serious discussion with my wife, I decided it was time to go back to school. After finishing high school, I went to The University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study Journalism and Electronic Media. At the time, there were so many things going on with our economy, the Internet and the evolution of citizen journalism that the media industry was headed for big change.

When I was in high school and college, I had a love for technology (which I still do today) and I focused on starting a career with a now-defunct cable television network called TechTV (originally ZDTV). The network married exactly what I loved doing: exploring new technology, sharing stories and broadcasting information.

In middle school and high school, I was quite a geek. At home I had an “office” outfitted with multiple computers, a television, a big VHS-camcorder, a “Hi 8” camcorder and containers of random cables, components and connectors. I loved every aspect of what I was doing. I loved the technical part involving switchers and sound boards and cables and VCRs. I loved the idea of creating scripts which I read through my homemade teleprompter. I even loved editing the footage to include realistic “lower third” graphics and background music.

Looking back, the whole theatre of producing was more important than the content I was creating. Sure, very few people would see the videos later uploaded to YouTube, and it was unlikely anyone would find my VHS collection of computer “how to videos,” but with each new project I completed, I was another step closer towards imitating what I was seeing on the television. This education of trial and error brought me joy and at sometimes frustration.

Through my endeavors, I found myself appearing on ZDTV/TechTV to ask questions about hard drives and CD-ROMs. During this evolution of webcams and how they were used by cable television, I even made a few appearances on MSNBC. One of the most memorable was when I was 13 and speaking about the antitrust suit against Microsoft when Jon Gibson ended my segment by saying, “I’m reminded of Art Linkletter who said, ‘kids say the darnedest things.'”

Those are memories that I will have forever and part of the reason that I became so interested in journalism, television and digital media.

So why didn’t I stick with it? It came down to one thing: money.

I watched several upperclassmen graduate and start their careers as journalists. They would publish stories above the fold in city papers and investigate some truly interesting topics and stories, but at the end of the day their paycheck just didn’t seem like enough to me.

Call me materialistic, call me focused on the wrong thing, but what I wanted out of my career wasn’t strictly to follow my passion or to find a way to keep up with the Joneses, I wanted something that I could do that would provide financial security, upward mobility and the opportunity to work in different places.

Ultimately, and serendipitously, I found this with my first “real” job: working in a hotel for one of the greatest hotel companies in the world.

Looking back on my decision to quit journalism school, I am very grateful. If I had gone down that road, I would have very likely disappointed myself. The network that I had my sights on has since closed up shop. The number of positions available at many of the other places were limited and the pay was not what I could sustain a comfortable living with.

On the other hand, my career in hotels has provided me the opportunity to meet a multitude of people (including my wife), travel around the country and work in very unique roles that I never would have considered when I was in college. The industry that I fell into provides so many unique and interesting opportunities, that I sometimes suffer from choice overload and can’t seem to figure out what to do next.

Now that I am enjoying a comfortable living, I am ready to move my career forward. However, in order to do that, I need to get a piece of paper that tells the world I committed to something, satisfied all of the requirements and proved my ability and knowledge. Luckily, I am in a time and place where I can now appreciate the process of learning, the information I’m gaining and the trajectory it will put me on when I am complete.

As someone that took classes in a traditional brick and mortar institution that carried a lot of history, I can tell you that learning online through a university like the one that I have chosen is absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I have the ability to study when I want, to read what I want, to find a multitude of resources outside of those provided (thanks to the Internet) and most importantly, the ability to set my own pace and learn whatever way I want. This freedom has made the experience not an obligation, but an opportunity.

When you look at something as an opportunity, your entire perspective changes. Instead of worrying, “what class am I going to have to take next?” I’m thinking, “wow, I could really use this if I ever want to become a ________,” or “I wonder how I can use this to help me _____.” Knowledge is power and I’m glad I’m finally wise enough to take the time to absorb as much of it as I can.

Looking back on this post, I realize it has been more of a stream of consciousness than a focused article or summary. However, this is the story (well some very small parts) of what led me away from my passion to what I’m doing now. Some of you reading this might wonder, “why did you throw away your passion and do something you weren’t passionate about?” Don’t worry, I didn’t throw my passion away. In fact, as you can see from some of the posts on this blog, it is more alive than it has ever been.

I believe in something I call the 80/20 rule. I believe 80% of your energy should be invested in your career, and that your career (unless you are extremely lucky) may not always align with your passion. 20% of your energy should be reserved for what you are passionate about, and it doesn’t have to be one thing. For example, I’m passionate about cooking, cocktails, technology, writing, photography, creating videos and sharing stories. Although my primary job doesn’t exploit most of these talents and skills, by exercising them with 20% of my energy, I can always pursue mastery and look forward to them. My job may cause stress, difficult decisions and a lot of hard work, but my passion will always remain something that I can look forward to at the end of the day as something that brings me pleasure, purpose and fulfillment.

With a full time job, which takes up 80% of my time, I had to make the decision to make my education part of my passion, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to fit it into my life. When getting better at something brings you excitement, the work that it takes to get better becomes exciting itself. Telling myself that my education is not just a “step I need to take,” but rather an opportunity to move forward and master something makes it so much more valuable than a piece of paper on the wall.

Like cooking, flying drones, wearing a silly head-mounted computer for a year and traveling, learning is just another one of those things that I can call a passion. Sure, it would have been nice to be passionate about it before. Regardless if I wasn’t then, I am now and that’s all that matters.

Vic Gundotra Visits Dallas to Talk Google+

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed a couple of direct messages through the Hangouts app on my Samsung Galaxy S III. I’ve been running Cyanogen Mod 11 for a while and absolutely love the pure Android experience, despite the few programming bugs. It’s amazing that software enables you to get so much out of hardware that already seems antiquated.

The messages were from two good friends of mine, Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson. They were both asking me if I was going to see Vic that night. I had no idea what they were talking about. Curious, I went to my computer and noticed that I had been mentioned at least a dozen times in various posts about Vic Gundotra‘s upcoming visit to Dallas. Immediately, I informed my fiance that we would have to adjust our plans for the evening.

My agenda for that day was nothing short of Herculean. In 8 hours time I would receive all of my goods that had been moved from Nashville, register my car, have my apartment re-keyed, have the car taken to the dealership to have the front plate mounted (I was missing the appropriate bracket), obtain a driver’s license and make it downtown by 5 o’clock for a meeting with someone who I very much admire.

How I was able to make it to this discussion about Google+ was almost as exciting as the discussion itself. In fact, most of the things that got me there are things that we take for granted.

First of all, without Google Hangouts, I probably wouldn’t have been made aware in sufficient time that I had the opportunity to meet with Vic and a wonderful group Google+ evangelists in the area. Then again, if it weren’t for the two separate public video Hangout calls that led me to meet Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson, I wouldn’t have received those messages to begin with.

Getting back to my agenda for the day, I’m new to the area, so where I would need to go to accomplish the day’s tasks was all new to me. Luckily, through the help of Google, I was able to find the appropriate websites for the Tarrant County Tax Assessor, the Nissan of Texas Grapevine dealership and a list of Department of Motor Vehicle locations in my area. Using Google Maps, I was able to get a rough idea of where I would be going and what timing would be necessary to successfully orchestrate everything. Brittani and I are both professional meeting planners, so we’re pretty savvy at scheduling a “full day.”

Once I left the house, I relied on navigation from Google Maps. Apart from the mess of construction on the connector, Google was able to get me everywhere I needed to go in time to make it back to the house for the apartment to be re-keyed. I knew it was the apartment complex calling me because I had them stored in my GMail contacts.

Like clockwork, the truck with all of my belongings appeared in the driveway. After unloading everything, I used the Google Drive app on my phone to quickly scan the paperwork from the driver. As I was unpacking boxes, I used the camera on my Android phone to upload pictures of damaged boxes to Google+ Photos so I could later send them to the moving company for compensation in the case that any of the contents were damaged. (Luckily, no problems so far.)

The DMV

Brittani arrived while I was unpacking and we quickly changed and got ready to leave. As we were getting ready, I used Google Maps on my phone to estimate the travel time to the DMV and then to the Magnolia hotel downtown where I would meet Vic. Brittani was very concerned that we didn’t have all the paperwork needed to obtain our licenses (and rightly so). It turns out that you need am armful of documents to get a driver’s license in the state of Texas.

Once we made it to the DMV, I assured Brittani that we had plenty of time to get through the process and that we would make it downtown with time to spare. (Was I fooling myself? Did we really have time to get both of our driver’s licenses and make it downtown in under two hours?)

Almost immediately after we were done filling out our paperwork, our numbers were called, 395 and 396. We each enthusiastically proceeded to our assigned desks to begin the process. As I handed the stack of paperwork to the clerk, she started sorting through everything and nodded with approval as she moved each document to the side. “Wait, this one is expired,” she said.

I panicked. What could it be? It turns out, of the registration papers that I keep in my car, I had handed her the old Proof of Insurance and not the new one. With a sigh of relief, I handed her the updated form that I had in the envelope of other papers. “Okay, it looks like we have everything but your social security card,” she said.

“I need my social security card and my birth certificate?” Surely my birth certificate along with my old driver’s license from Tennessee would be ample proof that I was who I claimed to be. Clearly not the case in the state of Texas.

“You’ll need to either provide your social security card or your most recent W2 in order to get your license,” she clarified.

My stomach sank. I didn’t have my social security card with me and my fiance would be devastated if I didn’t get my license taken care of that day. Immediately, a light bulb turned on in my head. My W2, it’s on Google Drive, I could e-mail it to her!

“No, it couldn’t be that simple,” I told myself. “Would I be able to e-mail it to you?” I asked.

“You may, but I’m not going to wait a half an hour.” Faster than a speeding bullet, I whipped my Android out of my pocket, tapped on the Google folder, the Drive logo and then the search window. Right as I keyed in W and the number 2, my most recent W2 appeared. I quickly opened it to ensure it was what I was looking for. I tapped my phone twice to share the document through GMail as the clerk slipped a piece of paper across the counter with her e-mail address. Confirming each letter aloud as I typed it into my phone, I tapped the send arrow and held my phone in the air as I clung on to the one bar of 3G service I had with every hope. For two seconds there was silence. I panicked. Did I not have enough signal? Was the attachment too large? Would I have to come back another day?”

“Got it!” She proclaimed as the laser printer started to roar.

Triumph! Google Drive had saved the day.

The Meeting

After we both received our temporary licenses, we got into the car and proceeded to the Magnolia hotel in downtown Dallas. Neither of us had been there before, so we relied once again on the navigation of Google Maps. Within 30 minutes, just as Google had predicted, Brittani and I arrived at the hotel and valeted my car.

As I was getting out of the car I donned my sport coat and Google Glass and proceeded to the second floor where we quickly spotted the bar. Brittani suggested I try one of the local brews, Fireman’s #4 from the Real Ale Brewing Company. As the bartender exchanged my credit card for the beer, I noticed a couple of lanky fellows sitting in a dark corner on the other side of the railing wearing Google Glass. I handed Brittani her glass of Pinot Noir (Meiomi if you must know) and we proceeded to the table in the dimly lit corner.

Around the table were eight or so chairs. Sitting in the back corner was a female wearing Google Glass Cotton (the white model) and a man in his 40’s wearing a business suit. Around the table were a few more casually dressed people. We all shook hands and made introductions. With our mutual excitement for meeting Vic, I doubt many of us remember each others’ names. The introductions almost seemed as though they were an obligation or formality.

During the time leading up to Vic’s entrance, my phone had been vibrating constantly. People that knew I was in Dallas wanted me to ask questions on their behalf and “dial them in” to the conversation. One of the updates I noticed was from Vic, on his previous night’s post, indicating that he was heading up the stairs.

As Vic walked towards the corner, everyone immediately stood up from the table, very eager to greet him. Vic made his way around the group (probably about 12-15 at this point) and shook hands with everyone there. I introduced myself simply as Peter to see if he would recognize me. He responded by saying “Nice Glasses!” I then introduced him to my fiance before we both sat down.

In meeting Vic in person, I noticed several things. He is extremely polished, well-mannered, sincere and doesn’t look like he carries an ounce of stress with him. How is it possible for someone to carry such an important position to seem so cool, calm and relaxed, I wondered.

After a few more handshakes, Vic found an empty seat at the table, four seats down and almost directly across from me. He started off by thanking everyone in the group for coming to spend time with him and thanked us all for our adoption and continued use of the Google+ platform. He seemed genuine in every word he said. Without delay, he explained that his reason to meet with us was to learn as much as he could and offer answers to any question we might have.

The Questions

Vic opened the discussion to questions. The first to ask were the well dressed man and woman sitting to his right. They introduced themselves as a newscaster and meteorologist for the local CBS radio and television affiliates. They were asking how Google was going to help newscasters and the press with the use of the platform now that they have begun to adopt it.

A few local technology professionals asked questions about API-integration, multiple-page management and the absence of true analytics for the social platform.

There was a high school student that stated that he felt like he was the only one of his peers that felt like he used the network and wondered when Google would make the push to encourage his friends to adopt the use of Google+.

I asked Vic how Google was going to use user signals to improve the home stream algorithm to make browsing Google+ a more personalized experience.

Questions and conversation arose about the future improvement of the network in terms of nearby communication, circle management and overall improvement of Hangouts.

There was a question of “recommended users” and how Google is working to provide better suggestions for people you already know.

After almost every question, Vic tactfully summarized the inquiry and responded with (in most cases) “we hear you” and we’re doing X to make Y better.

The Conversation

As the first questions started to roll, I removed Google Glass from my face and set it on the table. I removed my phone from my pocket, silenced it and put it face down on the table. I didn’t want to document everything that was said. I didn’t want to try to get a video of the entire conversation and I certainly didn’t want to “live tweet” the event. I wanted to immerse myself. I wanted to be there.

(Unfortunately, I can’t give you any sound bites. I can’t directly quote Vic on anything he said because I wasn’t writing it down with pen and paper. I was living the moment and didn’t want to miss out on the experience.)

During the talk, Vic eluded to something very important, Google+ is more than what it appears on the surface. Google+ is helping to make Google better.

Now think about that for a minute. Normally you would think that Google and its other products would make Google+ better, but when you really think about it, the social interaction that you carry out through Hangouts and Google+ is incredibly useful in improving your traditional and predicative search experience.

Google is doing some incredible things in making our lives easier and connecting us with one another. My example of how I got to the Magnolia hotel would not have been possible without the magic of Google and its incredibly diverse teams.

Our Relationships

According to Vic, Google has been doing a research in what we want to see from whom and when we want to see it. He pooled the group and asked us if we wanted to see our friends checking in at Chipotle with a selfie (he must have been following my stream that day as I stopped there for lunch and checked in on Google+). The group shook their head and said things like, “of course not!”

“That’s what we thought,” he said. “It turns out you do like seeing stuff like that.” (Keep in mind, I’m roughly paraphrasing.)

Through their research, Vic unveiled that Google was trying to discover what people really like to see in their streams and when they like to see it. He addressed the concerns of “stale” posts appearing at the top of people’s streams by explaining that they’re there because people don’t want to miss them. Consciously, we might find them out of place, but subconsciously, we really want to know what is going on with those people that Google ranks closest to us.

So how does Google determine who is closest to us? Vic explained a lot of “signals” that Google uses to determine who we really care about and who we are most inclined to interact with. That’s why you might see certain people at the top of your stream more often, or at the top of your circles when you go to manage them.

Google is using a lot more signals and gaining a lot more data as more and more people use the network and use it more often to help improve those rankings and offer a much more personalized and intimate experience.

Moving Forward

Expect a lot of change coming soon. From improved circle management, to less confusing ways to share and even more rich features that users have been asking for over the last few years.

I asked about threaded comments and Vic assured that they were on the way, but as part of a completely improved discussion system. It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, but I could hypothesize something like YouTube’s new comment system coming to Google+. Imagine a new subthread in the original post for each share much in the way that comments work on Blogger and YouTube. My guess is that–or something similar–is coming to Google+ soon.

There will be improvements in “local sharing.” Vic hinted that we might soon be able to use features in our phone that have been laying dormant to start sharing information with those around us.

Ever leave a party and wonder how you could thank everyone for coming, whether they RSVPed or not? Currently, there’s no easy way to do that, but Google+ will soon have a solution that will make it effortless.

The best thing to come? Analytics. Soon pages and profiles will be able to see who and what is driving interaction to their accounts. I imagine this data is going to be extremely rich and much more useful than anything we have seen from third party developers.

Another thing Vic promised was better spam filtration. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this one, but Vic explained some of the signals that Google uses to determine who is likely to be a “low quality account” and does its best to filter those from bothering you with notifications and unwanted communication.

On the whole, Google+ is about to offer users a much more intuitive, seamless product that is going to work hand-in-hand with other Google products than it ever did before.

Tacking & Tachometers

Throughout the conversation, there were a few questions along the lines of “Why hasn’t Google _____ or ______.” Vic responded to those in sum by explaining a sailing technique called tacking. In tacking, the sailor “tacks” the boat by steering its bow through the wind so the direction that the wind blows changes from one side of the boat to the other. The maneuver helps the sailor to take advantage of the wind and get the boat to its destination with great speed in a zig-zag fashion.

Vic explained that in order for Google+ to succeed, it needs to continuously change its course and focus to ensure that it is covering ground in the fastest way possible. Because the Google+ has limited resources, instead of spreading them thinly, they work in a concentrated effort to overcome large obstacles together. This technique of tacking enables Google to stay ahead of the curve. The only downside to the strategy, is that not everything can be developed simultaneously. It takes a great deal of time and effort to make the smallest change to the platform because of the considerations that must be taken every time. Suggestions that seem simple to us may be quite complicated in execution.

Right as the conversation was wrapping up, someone asked Vic about the watch on his wrist. Personally, I was curious to see if he had a Pebble, Sony Smartwatch or Galaxy Gear, instead, he tugged back on the sleeve of his jacket and unveiled a beautiful and unique timepiece. This watch was not smart in terms of its Wifi connection, LCD display or processor. It was smart in terms of its design, its rarity, and the incredible story behind it.

“This is a very personal story, but I want to share it with you,” he began.

It was a wonderful story, and it showed how vulnerable Vic felt during the launch of the product that we have come to love. I would share it with you, but some stories are just best left to be told in person.

What to Expect

I would imagine that this year’s Google I/O will be more about the human element than it ever has been before. Hangouts was recently the number one app in the iOS App Store, Google now offers the most immersive and intuitive platform to store unlimited photos and the way that those photos and videos can tell stories will be taken to an entirely new level.

We’re all story tellers, and I’m betting that this platform will soon help us become better at discovering, sharing and telling our unique and personal tales.

Change

Sometimes we need to change our perspective.

Sometimes we need to do things differently.

Sometimes we just need a little bit of change.

Change gives us new opportunities.

Change brings us challenges.

Change teaches us to be nimble.

Change makes us stronger.

Change makes us better.

Change makes us grow.

Change can paint a new horizon.

It’s about time for a change…

Who Gave You Permission to Do That?

Daria Musk at The Listening Room by Peter McDermottWe live in a world that is bound by rules. We all stop at red lights, we all throw away the milk by its expiration date and we all pay our taxes before the middle of April each year.

When we break these rules, we are likely to suffer consequences. Run the red light? You could get a ticket, or injure someone in an accident. Soak your cereal in the expired milk? You could have a sour breakfast, or wind up very ill. Didn’t pay your taxes on time? You could face harsh fines, or prison.

Outside of the “real world” exists the Internet world. Like the real world, it is ever-growing and ever-changing. However, unlike the real world, the Internet comes with few rules or instructions.

In the past, when companies wanted to initiate a marketing campaign, they would have to set aside large sums of money. They would focus their efforts, ensure that their message was consistent and carefully consider what vehicles to run their advertisement. They might have chosen billboards, television commercials and radio spots. Those types of advertisements used to (and still do) cost large sums of cash.

For the last ten years or so, companies have been expanding their reach into this space we call “social media.” The thing that makes social media unique to real world advertising is that it doesn’t come with quite as many rules. In the real world, an employee couldn’t buy a billboard ad to show how much he loved (or hated) working at his job. In the real world, advertisements are carefully thought out and planned, not just thrown together on a whim. In the real world, small businesses don’t always carry the funds necessary to go head to head against the big boys.

The Internet? Different story. Anyone can create a message and evangelize it. Anyone can profess to be an expert at something. Anyone can make a claim, and not have to worry about backing it up. There is no regulatory committee focused on checking social media marketing companies to see if their advertised claims are 100% accurate.

On the Internet, you don’t need permission.

Without permission, you can do some pretty crazy things. You can build a commercial empire or crumble an existing one in a short mindless burst of communication that may cost nothing to broadcast, but could cost the company its future if it sends the wrong message.

With an Internet connection, you have your own printing press, television studio and radio station. You have the opportunity to create anything you want and you don’t need permission.

When you go to create your blog, or your podcast or your YouTube channel, use your imagination. Take every post or broadcast as an opportunity to hone your craft. Get better at it every week. Share what you learn with your followers and colleagues.

Creating a digital brand isn’t going to replace your income overnight. It isn’t going to be an instant replacement for your job. It might bring you fulfillment in that you are doing something that you are passionate about, but it won’t pay your mortgage within the first few weeks.

When you create something online, be mindful of the consequences.

Because your idea isn’t likely to cover your living costs in the immediate future, you need to consider the impact that it might have on whatever does pay your bills. Writing a blog about food and wine when you work for a winery? Make sure that you’re not violating any policies regarding social media or product endorsements.

Going to do a podcast about workplace happiness? Make sure your boss doesn’t think you’re insinuating dissatisfaction with your current gig.

We all have the right to express ourselves, but we also have to be careful how it could impact our lives. Remember, the Internet is permanent, so be mindful of what you share.

You don’t need permission, but you do need discretion.

No one needs to give you permission to play the guitar, or to paint a picture on the weekend. However, if what you decide to create online interferes with your vocation, you could find yourself wishing you had been more careful.

Keep the 80/20 creative passion rule, spend 80% of your energy doing what pays the bills and 20% doing what you love. You don’t need permission to be passionate or to become an expert, but you do need to be careful.

When can you call yourself an expert?

Like anything, if you are seeking mastery, you will never consider yourself the best. Hopefully you are always trying to get better and comparing yourself to people better than you. Although you won’t achieve mastery overnight, you should be honest about who you compare yourself to. If you only know a few chords, then you’re probably just a beginner, but if you can play classical guitar from sheet music without too much trouble, you might be advanced.

You can call yourself an expert when your peers consider you an expert. Until then, you’re just learning, but we all are, so that’s okay.

It all comes down to permission. You don’t need permission from anyone to call you an expert, but if you call yourself one and you’re not, your reputation is at stake.

The beauty of all of this is that we are free to express ourselves however we want, to attempt mastery on whatever drives us and to reap the benefits once we have become really good. The best part is that through all of this, we never need permission.

Photograph: Daria Musk performing at The Living Room in New York City, NY, 2012 by Peter McDermott

How to Effectively Communicate with a Digital Team

Right now I am working on a couple of projects outside of my daily work duties. Both of these are with organizations that don’t have enough revenue to compensate their teams yet. That’s totally fine with me, because I think the investment of time and expertise is paid off with experience and networking. I’m truly grateful for these opportunities.

As the world economy moves away from a traditional 9-5 office environment and into a more digital workspace without offices or break rooms, we run into a huge problem with communication. You’re unlikely to “bump into” the project manager if you live 1,300 miles away, and there is no way that you’re all going to start and stop your work day (or week) at the same time as the rest of the team.

Between e-mail, instant messaging, video teleconferencing, social media groups, forums and listservs, we are absolutely overwhelmed by the methods of communication available.

In order to create an effective team, you need to orchestrate effective communication. I think one of the best things that people on digital teams can do is to have meetings.

In the traditional workplace, we see so many blog posts and articles telling us how meetings are unproductive time killers. However, we’re not talking about the traditional workplace, and we’re not talking about packing our calendars with them.

The great advantage of working digitally is that we have the opportunity to do things at our own pace and be rewarded for our results, not just our “time spent.” However, in order to ensure that the team is on the same page, it is important to wrangle everyone together.

How to Schedule a Meeting

Quite possibly the most important step in having a meeting is scheduling it. There are plenty of tools available online, but one of the easiest to use is a shared calendar like Google Calendar. When teammates share their calendars with each other, they can see when their counterparts are available.

It’s likely that there won’t be a time suitable for every member of the team, however steps should be taken to include as many people as possible. Another strategy to successful attendance is to rotate the meeting times to suit team members on different continents or working from different time zones.

Once you have identified a great time for the meeting, make sure to inform the participants. No, I’m not talking a tweet or a text message or a hidden paragraph in an e-mail. Create an appointment.

Those of us that work in a corporate culture live by our Outlook calendars. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of colleagues in my years say things like, “if it’s not on my calendar, how am I supposed to know about it?”

Digital calendars like those from Microsoft Exchange and Gmail are great because they allow us to collaborate and keep updated on all of our digitally connected devices.

During the Meeting

A meeting without purpose is just a waste of time.

Be sure to clearly define the goals of the meeting and ensure that you have someone taking notes. You and your team will benefit most if they walk away from the meeting with action items, goals and clear and concise expectations. Don’t use meetings to just discuss ideas or concepts, but use them as a tool to get things done.

If someone comes to a meeting with an idea, this is the opportunity to create a plan of action so when you meet the next time, you will have results to review.

Keep it concise. If the meeting is only carving 30 minutes out of its attendees calendars, don’t expect anyone to be happy if you carry one for 45 minutes to an hour. Time is precious, especially for those volunteering it to you.

After the Meeting

Follow-up is critical. If you don’t engage the attendees and your team members, you aren’t going to get the results you were pushing for. I’ve attended so many digital meetings where afterwards, attendees instant message each other asking whether or not there were any “to do” items, or any value taken from the conversation. Be sure that whomever was taking notes does an efficient job of capturing the topics covered, the takeaways and the action items and expectations for the next meeting.

Communicating Apart from Meetings

Meetings are just one small part of the way we communicate within teams. It is critical to adopt a standardized approach to how you will communicate with your team if you expect them to respond and be engaged.

If you are sharing a message on a private social media group for the team, then sending them an e-mail, but instant messaging them in between, people won’t know what medium they should be most focused on.

From the early stages of your startup, project or community, be sure to let your team know what your expectations are, how communication will be delivered, how often and what the expectation is for responses.

There are literally hundreds of tools available for communicating with teams, but it doesn’t mean that you should try to use all of them at once. Find what works best for your team. It will probably involve a combination of static communication (Google Docs), group conversation (Google Groups or Private Community) and instant/personal communication (E-mail or Instant Messaging).

Be careful, if you inundate your team with too much communication, or communication from too many methods, you might be overwhelming them. Also, if your communication covers too many topics, you might end up with a shotgun spray of results instead of a focused torpedo.

If you want to have a successful project, you need to have successful communication. Let your team help you shape the way you communicate and you will all come out winners.

Quit Knocking Down Barns and Try Building One


At the end of 2013, I wrote a blog post looking back on my year and what social media taught me over those twelve months (http://goo.gl/Egu3Ny). One of my mutual followers (I follow this person as well) responded to the post by writing his own reflection of the year (http://goo.gl/tk2gv9). It was in this post by+Eli Fennell that I was reminded of an important lesson:

“Any idiot can knock down a barn, but it took a carpenter to build one…”

Eli’s words serve as an important reminder to those of us that chose to participate in social media. Unlike casual conversation with friends, the remarks you make can leave a lasting impression and can also shape the way people perceive you. If you act like a troll, people will regard you as a troll. If you respond to everything to create the illusion that you’re paying attention, people will notice if your response isn’t genuine or intentional.

We spend so much of our time criticizing things. Just looking at my stream, there were probably over a half of a dozen posts calling out President Barack Obama for one thing or another. However, none of those posts included any sort of solution or suggestion for the problem at hand.

The Internet has allowed us all to become critics and cynics.

Cynicism is a dangerous thing. Back in 2010, Lockerz founder and CEO Kathy Savitt was interviewed by +The New York Times  (http://goo.gl/hQAqJC). In the interview Savitt talks about her switch from working for big companies like Amazon and American Eagle to join a startup. Savitt talks a lot about the culture in a large workplace which led her into a few questions about cynicism.

”Q. Give me an example of things that make people cynical.”

”A. A good example is when a team member has a great idea or has a big issue with a customer experience and no one responds, no one even acknowledges it, no one gets back to them. The idea festers, problems continue to mount, no one listens. How does that person not become cynical? That’s a recipe for cynicism. So you can’t just say, don’t be cynical.”

Savitt concludes the interview by citing that by taking steps to avoid cynicism in the workplace, the company was able to maintain its startup culture. Perhaps it was a single cell of cynicism that started to bring the company down, or just poor market conditions. Either way, the competition in the social sector of the Internet is huge.

The lesson here isn’t that Lockerz ultimately failed, but instead that their focus of avoiding the very thing that infects so many big organizations led to their initial success.

If you work a 9-5 for a large company, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe you have that spreadsheet that has hyperlinks to all of the other spreadsheets and the document that you have to fill out after you are complete with the spreadsheet. Maybe in order to get your password reset you have to phone a call center halfway around the world when your IT department is in the office just below.

In a traditional workplace it’s easy to become cynical. In fact, so many internal systems are designed in such a way that drives cynicism. However, when we leave our offices or workplaces and connect online, we have an opportunity to change our attitudes.

Free services like Google+, LinkedIn and the rest of the social Internet are incredibly powerful tools that can help you network, learn and move your life forward. However, if you get trapped in cynicism and focus on making snarky comments and jokes, you are unlikely to unlock the full value available.

The next time you go to knock someone down, or negatively criticize their work, their views, their opinions or otherwise, even if you don’t think they’re looking, think again. What value are you adding? Are you just trying to gain social acceptance by making the most snarky remark? Are you trying to prove that you can be the wittiest person in a thread of comments?

So much criticism and cynicism comes about things that others are doing. Someone might make a new policy reform, open a new business or create a new process. It is the announcement and discussion of those things that can draw so much negativity. Are we wired to be that way?

Instead of pointing out a problem, come up with a solution. Create value.

The people that are successful in their ventures aren’t the people complaining about what’s wrong, but the people finding a way to make it better.

Your worth to others is quantified in their perception of you. How are you being perceived? Are you a carpenter or just another demolisher?

Why Weirdos Rule the World

If you spend your life trying to conform, trying to fit in, trying to be just like everyone else, please keep doing what you’re doing. Every time you buy the same purse your girlfriends have or get the car you saw on the television ad or order the “trendy” beverage at the bar, you’re helping us stand out.

Who are we? We’re the weirdos. We’re the ones that marched in the band. We’re the ones that played with LEGO bricks on a whole new level. We were on the math team. Our science fair entries ran circles around yours. Some of us went on to college and studied weird things like philosophy, microbiology and computer engineering.

The weirdos in the world are the movers and shakers. They’re the people stepping outside of their comfort zone–in fact, sometimes their comfort knows no boundaries.

Anyone that risks stepping outside of the accepted norm is going to be considered “weird” by most. Either for coloring outside of the line, or using colors that no one had considered using before. From an early age we are given these parameters to work within, and sometimes I almost wonder if it was a test to see which of us were willing to break the mold.

I’m considered weird because what I do for a living isn’t analogous with what I do for fun and mastery. I’m almost a mundane Batman of sorts. I have the Bruce Wayne facade that goes to work every day, wears a suit, has impressive meetings and accomplishes nothing but helping support the bottom line. At work, I am a number, a barcode, just another cog in the machine. However, at night and on the weekends, when I am busy pursuing my passion and mastery of all the things I do online, I’m someone else. I’m helping businesses, speaking at conferences, discussing how things are changing in the way that technology affects our daily lives.

I’m careful not to let this alter-ego crossover in to my career and I am very cautious of which of my peers I tell. My passion for excellence and mastery aren’t only in my hobbies, but also in my vocation. However, some people at work (chiefly my leaders) might think that’s just a little weird.

The truth is, it’s the weirdos that make things happen. It’s the weirdos that are wiling to bring their experiments out of their basements and garages and into the real world. It’s the weirdos that are unlikely to let a weekend go by without doing something to better themselves or help them pursue their goals.

As +Seth Godin already said, and +Chris Brogan reminds us that it’s okay to repeat, it’s the weirdos that make the world such a more interesting place.

Photo Credit: Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek and +Larry Page speaking with Charlie Rose at +TED.

Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

My journey on Google’s Suggested User’s List for Google+

In July of 2013 I found myself added to Google’s Suggested Users List (or SUL). The list is displayed to new users as they create an account as well as existing Google account users when they first go to use the Google+ social platform. Up until the second week of March 2014, I was displayed to millions of new users as someone “Fun and Interesting.” During that time, over 400,000 additional users added me to their circles.

My addition to the SUL came without much warning. I simply noticed a large uptick in followers and later received an e-mail from a Googler informing me that I was being offered as a suggested person for new users to circle. They asked me for feedback after my first couple of weeks, but initially I didn’t notice much of a change.

Over time as I first crested 100,000 followers, I thought being on the SUL was going to be a great opportunity for me to grow an audience overnight, become well-known for what I do and hopefully introduced to opportunities that I would have never found before.

Eight months later, I can confidently tell you that not many of those things happened. Just after I eclipsed the 500,000 mark (507 actually), I got yanked from the list. Again, no warning, no communication, I just noticed that instead of gaining an extra thousand followers each day, I was losing 50-100. This “falloff” happens for a couple of reasons. Mostly, I assume it is from the removal of spam and phantom accounts that have been reported. But, unfortunately, I think it comes from a number of users that actively remove me from their circles.

While I enjoyed my time on the SUL, I think it negatively impacted the way I thought about producing content. I focused my efforts on Google+, at one point abandoning Twitter and then later deleting my Facebook account. Now, as I look back, I realize that I ignored some pretty simple advice from a number of smart people, “don’t make Google+ your only platform.”

Platform is a funny word, when we think of it as it relates to technology, we don’t always think of it as something you stand on, but if you could imagine Google+ as being your only soapbox, regardless of how many followers you have, you’re standing atop one of the weakest soapboxes in terms of frequency of engagement.

Even with over half of a million followers, I rarely see over 100 +1’s on a post. To put it simply, that’s two hundredths of two percent. or 0.02%. That’s not very much engagement.

I think the reason for the drop in engagement with growth of audience is due to some very simple math. When a social media platform like Google+ evaluates the “relevance” of your post, it looks to see how much engagement you are getting in a short period of time. I imagine if your content eclipses that threshold, it will be “pinned” so that more of your followers will see it when they next log in. The problem with large audiences is that the more people that follow you, the more engagement you need to ensure the preservation of your posts in others’ streams.

Basically, unless all of your followers live in your time zone and you have a large audience, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Now, if you stick to traditional tactics like posting the about the most trending subjects or just humorous (but not otherwise valuable) content, you can game the system and gain traction that way. However, if you are trying to share original content beyond bumper sticker philosophy, funny GIF’s or the most popular news story, you are going to be met with a serious reality check.

When I was on the SUL, I felt like I censored myself more, trying to keep content within some mysterious criteria that would keep me in Google’s good graces. I wanted to do whatever it took to keep myself on the list so I could guarantee maximum audience exposure (it’s what almost anyone would do). However, in doing so, I did myself–and my followers–a large disservice. I was no longer taking the time to carefully craft the content that I did when I was being discovered organically.

Now that the ride is over, I am focusing on redesigning my blog, building an e-mail list and trying to build a tribe that is actually invested and grateful for my message. All of that is going to take place here, so if you’d like to become a part of it, I invite you to come back often and join the conversation.

This is my platform now. I make the rules, I decide when to change the design and I respect the people that come to visit and be a part of it.

Google may give, and Google may take, but this is my website and these are my stories and I’m happy to start sharing them with you again.

G+ The Other Red Button

I had the great pleasure of presenting at the Type A Parent conference in Atlanta, Georgia yesterday. There was a room packed with bloggers excited to learn about Google+ and how they can use it to their advantage. Unfortunately, because of my failure to check my laptop for a VGA port before hitting the road, I wasn’t able to interface with the projector and therefore had to work with a very limited amount of my visual aides during the session. I was totally embarrassed! Luckily, Ellen Gerstein graciously saved the day and let me borrow her laptop for the presentation. Thanks, Ellen!

Because I had planned to do a mixture of the slide deck and demonstrations on Google+, I had to wing it and go without the tabs that I intended to show and explain. So, appropriately enough, a lot of you may have been confused by what I was trying to explain because of the lack of visual representation. In order to make it right, I wanted to give you a very thorough rundown of what I intended to share yesterday along with some helpful links to get you pointed in the right direction.

If you still have questions after reading this guide, please reach out to me. I promise I won’t bite! For some of those more technical questions that were asked yesterday, I am more than happy to point you in a laser-precise direction. Simply e-mail, tweet or share your question with me and I will do my best to point you in the right direction. So, without further ado, I present G+ The Other Red Button:

What is Google+?

Google+ is not just another social network. Unlike standalone networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Google+ is a fabric that is intertwined through many of Google’s popular cloud based products. Google+ allows authors to better identify their content through search, share new and interesting things, keep contact with the same people across multiple products and most importantly, build and engage with an audience of people that share similar interests. The thing that makes Google+ truly unique, is that is based upon sharing and interacting with people that have similar interests, not just people you already know.

Google+ for Beginners

If you are really new to Google+ and need help setting up an account and creating a profile, here is a video I created last year that will help you get your feet wet. Please understand that the graphical user interface (GUI) has changed quite a bit since I created the demo, so things might not look exactly the same.

Google+ Calendar Integration

One awesome thing about Google+ is that it is integrated with Google Calendar. I know this is a hot button with a lot of people, because they don’t like having unsolicited appointments on their calendar. Rest assured, there is a way to control how and which appointments appear on your calendar here, courtesy of Veronica Belmont.

With Google+ Events, you can invite individuals, specific circles or even those that don’t use Google+ by simply adding their e-mail address. Once you create the event, invitees will be able to RSVP and comment on the event. Once the event starts, attendees will have the opportunity to join “party mode” to share pictures from their mobile phone to the event while they are attending. This is a great way to collect photos from conferences, meet-ups and parties.

Google+ Events can be used to advertise special events for your business or brand page and to remind your follows of the cool things you are doing.

Google+ Authorship

Quite possibly the most important feature of Google+, authorship allows you to link your profile with all of the content that you create throughout the web. Once you connect the websites that you contribute to with your profile, you will start to see your headshot, follower count and a link to your profile appear in search results. This has been shown to dramatically increase your click through rate on search results, especially for posts that do not rank as the number one result.

googleplusauthorship

Here is the full skinny on Google Authorship straight from the mother ship. Getting setup for authorship is simple and you don’t even need to add any code to your website. If you have an e-mail address that matches the domain of the website you write for, just follow these directions and you will be on your way! If you contribute to multiple websites, follow these instructions (Option 2).

Why Not Facebook

Creating a profile, page, community and audience on Google+ is completely free. The public content that you create is continuously crawled and indexed by the biggest search engine in the world. Communicating with your business or brand becomes easier through other products like GMail, YouTube, Calendar and Blogger. You don’t have to pay a dime to have a successful presence on Google+, you just need to spend some time and effort finding the people that are interested in what you have to say.

Hangouts

My absolute favorite feature of Google+ is hands down, no questions ask, Hangouts. Hangouts allow you to connect visually face-to-face with your friends, co-workers, customers and audience members. You can see their facial expressions as you talk, share smiles, eye rolling and all of the other nonverbal communication that social media isn’t traditionally capable of translating. All of a sudden your message comes to life when people don’t have to decipher your tone.

Hangouts allow you and up to 9 other people to communicate via webcam and audio with the ability to share webpages, documents, presentations and YouTube videos. There are some big brands doing some awesome things with hangouts, and also some people that were discovered after putting themselves out there through Hangouts.

With Hangouts on Air, you are able to take your hangouts to the next level by broadcasting them LIVE for the world to see. As an added bonus, your recorded Hangouts on Air will automatically save to your linked YouTube account where you can share them with your friends, embed them on your blog or monetize through Google Adsense.

BONUS: Google+ Strategy

Gaining traction on Google+ is just like any other social frontier in a few regards: you won’t get a million followers overnight, not everyone is going to be interested in what you share and–most importantly–like anything else, you have to keep working hard to see positive results.

The way in which Google+ is different is that it isn’t about pre-existing connections. Sure, you can import your address book and find people that you are already connected with in “meat space,” but Google+ is all about discovering new and interesting people that share similar interests. The best way to find those people is through what Google does best, search.

What are you interested in? What do you write about? Search for it. Find people that are also interested in what you are talking about. Add them to your circles. Follow them closely. Interact with them.

If you come to Google+ thinking you can just drop your links and magically attract visitors to your blog, you will be severely disappointed.

The best way to encourage interaction and sharing of posts isn’t to embed a link, but to instead share a high resolution photo (that you have rights to, of course), a brief summary of what you are posting or call to action (2-3 lines), a link to your content (use a link-shortening service like goo.gl to keep it trim and track your clickthroughs) and, lastly, two or three hashtags that are relevant to your content.

My recommendation is that you comment on or re-share at least 10 other posts for every post you create. Everyone likes to be heard, so if you want to join the conversation, I always find it best to listen to what others are saying and let them know you’re listening.

As you start to grow your understanding of how Google+ works, you might want to start investing in Communities. Communities are a great feature of Google+ that allow you to connect with people around different topics. You can create public communities or private communities about whatever you would like. I have a community for my family that I use to share photo albums and information that I would like to keep private.

Creating a successful strategy on Google+ requires some work. You can’t “set it and forget it” unless you already have a sizeable following across the web. In order to grow an audience on Google+, you need to create consistent, quality content.

The greatest payoff of Google+ are all the people you will meet along the way. I have made some amazing connections through this network that have resulted in my traveling to different cities, learning about different parts of the world and making bonds that will last a lifetime.

Need More Help

If you need more help with Google+ simply fill out the form below and I will do by best to get you on the right track.