Staying Relevant

Technology has me in its clutches. My smartphone, my laptop, the incessant braying of these devices for updates and the cost of doing business by investing in technology have me in a tizz.

At this moment I’m awaiting a transition from laptop to tablet, a thin sheet of amazing processing power that stands to make my work life, and my travel bag, lighter. This leap into the future was precipitated by an increasingly tired and sluggish processor in my current, beloved laptop which I’ve hung onto as long as I possibly could. I’m what they call a “late adopter.”

Hog-tied and ham-strung by the wait time between opening a program and having it actually kick into gear, I faced the brutal truth: it was time for an upgrade. The cost of the hardware and software is nothing compared to the cost of having to adapt to a whole new way of relating to my machine. No digital native, I. The re-wiring of my neural networks takes some doing. So why bother?

Because I–like you, I suspect–want to remain relevant. I don’t need to be on the cutting edge but I can’t afford to lag behind, either. Many of the books I read for my monthly program, Biz Books Review, refer to neuroplasticity, the capability of our brains to change, and I know that staying abreast of technology helps with that process of keeping mentally fit. I also can’t afford to be perceived as a dinosaur or, worse, a Luddite. That would hurt my brand.

Back Woman Computer KeysThis Baby Boomer appreciates all that technology has to offer, from reading the news on my phone to using a new app called “Marco Polo” to record short videos to share with my family across the miles. The miracle of talking to our daughter while she was in Africa this summer in real time via FaceTime still blows my mind. I feel fortunate to live in an age where there are so many ways to connect.

I do, however, object to what I call “technology snobbery,” that race to see who has the most state-of-the-art gadgets and then flaunting them with implicit disdain for the have-nots. I’m grateful for the brilliant people who have the knowledge and gifts to envision, to create, to code. But let’s never forget who is servant and who is master here. Technology is a means to an ends: let’s be civil and generous as we use it to better ourselves and the world.

Photos: Sculpture by Peter Austin, Burning Bush Gallery

Feed Me, Seymour

In the Broadway play and film “Little Shop of Horrors” there’s a plant named Audrey II that has a voracious appetite and must be fed a steady diet [of blood]. This comic rock horror musical featured Rick Moranis and Steve Martin in the movie, but the biggest star may have been the plant himself. The line most remembered is when Audrey II continues to implore his owner, “Feed me, Seymour!”

I think of the Internet as a kind of Audrey II. Like the plant, the Internet has a pressing need for content. Our job is to keep feeding it. What we feed it, and how, was the subject of a great presentation I heard last week, “The Path to Member Engagement: Consistently Delivering Highly Valued Content,” expertly presented by Doug Klegon, Principal at Klegon Strategic Communications. This presentation was hosted by the Association Forum’s Shared Interest Groups (SIGs), the Marketing SIG and the IT SIG.

Mr. Klegon’s presentation was geared to association professionals whose main audience is their members. But the principles he shared can apply to anyone who is responsible for continually providing valued content to an Internet website, a blog, or even to social media outlets like LinkedIn and Twitter. Lesson #1, he said, is that content strategy is critical to delivering member (read: client) value. He said it’s crucial to plan for useful, usable content that is, most importantly, easily retrievable. I leave it to the IT geniuses to work out the back-shop mechanics of making content easily retrievable. My focus in on developing valuable content and reinforcing the connection between content and strategy, both for my clients and for my own efforts as a business owner.

“Content strategy is change management in disguise,” said Hilary Marsh, another Association Forum member, during the presentation which was graciously hosted by the Association Management Center. Ms. Marsh is president and chief content and digital strategist at Content Company, a firm providing consultation on web, mobile, social media and e-communications. Mr. Klegon loved Ms. Marsh’s line so much that he nimbly incorporated it as his own later in his presentation, providing a good laugh for his audience. Both were saying the same thing: a content strategy begins and ends with an organization’s strategic plan.

Like that insatiable plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” the Internet demands content. What we feed it and why is up to us. Having a plan in place that aligns with our mission, our vision, our values and our audience is critical before we go lobbing stories and articles onto the web. Without that discernment, like Seymour, we risk being eaten alive.

Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Last week I responded to a tweet in which Tom Peters referred to people who are 40 as “elderly.” I asked, “If 40 is elderly, what happened to ’40 is the new 20?'” To which Tom replied directly to me, “Speaking of age and looking at your bio & book title, can one be understood in 2013 if he/she uses the word ‘Rolodex?'”

Now, I’ve been razzed before about using the term “Your Golden Rolodex,” but never by someone as renowned as Tom Peters. Mr. Peters, as you may know, is an über-guru of management consulting, a prolific author, a highly sought-after speaker and someone whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s when he blasted onto the scene with his co-author Robert Waterman with In Search of Excellence.

After the initial mortification of being called out on Twitter by one of my business idols, I recovered and tweeted back, “Excellent point.” Then I assured him that I always check in with my audience to make sure they know what a Rolodex is. We had a few more volleys via Twitter and while I know I sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, my heart nearly burst when I saw that Tom is now following me on Twitter.

RolodexesWhen it comes to using the term “Rolodex,” I am, like Tom Peters, a contrarian. Just because it isn’t “hip” to say you use a Rolodex doesn’t mean people don’t still have them. They do–and sometimes two, as you’ll note in this photo. These Rolodexes are on the desk of Dave Brewer, the office administrator at my church. Dave is the guy with the Platinum Rolodex. I learned very early in my days here in Wheaton that if I needed a resource, any resource, all I had to do was call Dave. He knows everyone, and he has the Rolodexes to prove it.

Anna Jane Grossman blogged on Gizmodo about “The Life and Death of the Rolodex” as she shared about her book Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. She tells the story of her dad’s attachment to his Rolodex, which reminded me of my own dad. And Anna Jane reported that during her research, she reached out to the daughter of the inventor of the Rolodex, Arnold Neustadter, to let her know that Anna Jane would be including the Rolodex in her book Obsolete. Jane Revasch, Mr. Neustadter’s daughter, got “huffy.” Here’s Ms. Revasch’s response, from Anna Jane’s blogpost:

“They still work! You just can’t carry them around… You know, look at it this way: computers get viruses! But the Rolodex, it’s never taken a sick day in its life.

Just for the record, I gave up using a Rolodex a while ago… I now store all my precious contacts in ACT!, a contact management software program with all the bells and whistles. But the concept of a Rolodex–a place to store key connections, to hold everyone near and dear to you, colleagues and friends, a treasure trove that represents the rich index of possibility based on relationships in which you’ve invested or plan to invest–that metaphor “Rolodex” will be with us for a long, long time.

I’m counting on it.

 

 

Staying Relevant

 

Remember these?
Remember these?

 

 

 

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday but lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of staying relevant. Watching someone riding a bike while talking on the phone; seeing Facebook photos of my three-year-old grandnephew Grady reading a book on an iPad; and hearing the news of Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post (and reading Arianna Huffington’s response, “The Future of Journalism,”) have made me dizzy from the speed of change.

Each generation has to embrace change. My dad, a professor and a prolific writer, resisted using a computer. As a fellow wordsmith, I thought he would love using a tool that made writing and editing so much easier. Instead, he stuck to writing hard copy (and lots of it) on his IBM Selectric III. He never really embraced the ease and expansiveness of computers but instead continued to bang away on his electric typewriter, cranking out books, articles and letters which I now treasure, typos and all.

My mom, however, was an early adopter. Back in the mid-1990s when e-mail became all the rage, I remember my mom asking me with a sigh, “When are you going to get e-mail?” She’d already opened her first AOL account and was impatiently waiting to send me notes from her computer to mine. Years later, when I was visiting her in Tempe, AZ, and she and I were finalizing our dinner plans, she said breezily, “Just send me a text.” Text? I hadn’t yet learned to text. My seventy-eight-year-old mother beat me to the punch, thanks to her grandchildren who had nudged her into the world of texting. (Yes, now I know how.)

So as someone who thought the Internet was a fad, I have to be wary of my resistance to change. How can we stay relevant in today’s world?

  • Stay alert. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch what’s going on around you. I’ll never forget seeing my first Walkman and later, seeing someone reading a book on a Kindle at an airport. I was taken aback, then intrigued and ultimately it caused me to…
  • Ask a lot of questions. I remember breaking down and asking someone, “So, how do you like that Kindle?” I got a full report. After interviewing several other people about that technology, I learned I needed to…
  • Be courageous. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it’s courageous to learn to read books a whole new way. I admit, I still favor “real” books, but I’m learning to enjoy reading on my Kindle. And I appreciate the advantages of being able to read multiple books on one device without schlepping multiple books with me on a plane.
  • Hang out with young people. They’re fearless. Young people have grown up with computers and other digital devices. Watch and learn and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how things work. And when it doubt…
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Jump in, experiment, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the only way to grow.

Staying relevant means staying engaged, being curious and continuing to learn–at any age. We don’t have to adopt every new gadget or be on each social media site available, but to ignore new options for communicating would rob us of some exciting opportunities. I remind myself to be open to what the next generation will bring, not just to be “hip.” Staying relevant is good business.