Monday, November 30, 2009

When data is not your friend

A simulation using the navier-stokes different...
Image via Wikipedia
Here's a new question you need to have at the ready: So what? Use it early and often, but use it primarily any time someone throws some stats or analysis at you.

I'm a data junkie. I admit it. I understood just enough in my college statistical mathematics class to prove to me that I may not be as smart as I thought I was, and that numbers can mean a hell of a lot more than they appear at first glance.

But stats are just that -- stats. Without informing any goal or objective, without providing a clear path for tactics and execution, they are simply unactionable stats. Spending too much time -- hell, any time on unactionable stats is an utter waste of your time. And a huge stress-ball you don't need.

What am I supposed to do with this?

Require your reporting team to give you something you can work with. And don't let them shove averages and trends down your throat. I think that the average is one of the worst measurement tools we have and leads to terrible decisions. But it's easy, and so we do it. Trends are just as insidious, as they lead to causefusion.

Demand data you can work with. Data that helps you solve a problem. Data that informs your goals and objectives. Not getting it? Get it. It's there. You just have to dig a bit deeper. Start by throwing out all that worthless stuff on top.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The value of fair-weather fans

you suck, squared
Image by *0ne* via Flickr
When it comes to sports, I'm a classic fair-weather fan. I don't have a team that I stand by through thick and thin. In fact, my only "team" is the college I attended right out of high school, and then it's only the football team I care for. And I only care for them when they are winning, which they've done all too infrequently for my tastes this year.

That puts me at odds with many other "true" fans who scoff at my fickle ways. True fans, I'm told, really don't care if their team is winning or losing, but are there to constantly show their support.


At least that should be bunk for anyone trying to succeed today. Leaving sports aside for a moment, I suggest to you that you neither need nor want true fans. Not until you get really, really good at what you do. And even then, be careful. True fans are often times at best misguided and at the worst, lying. Sometimes. Because let's face it -- everything you create/write/build/paint/draw/shoot/make/bake/do isn't perfect. It can't always be OMFGTHISISTHEBESTEVER... which is about all you ever get out of your "true" fans.

Praise children. Be honest with adults.

I wrote about the fine line between false praise and encouragement about this time last year. Perhaps it's the season. And while that still holds true, I didn't go far enough to encourage creators to seek out and cultivate fair-weather fans. Hearing praise and accolades is nice, to be sure. But for how long? And is it really helping you get better at what you do?

While you're out there trying to relentlessly connect with fans -- a great idea -- demand them to be relentless in return. And when the critiques come in, don't shy away. Don't bury yourself in the mounds of praise you received from your "true" fans. Examine the critique. See where it fits. Ask around. Take it under advisement. And when necessary, get better. How else will you know you need to if they don't tell you?

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Surviving in a reputation-based economy

help wanted
Image by kandyjaxx via Flickr
When I walk into a room, I assume I'm the smartest person there. Call it a character flaw if you will, but it's really a survival trait expressed in the modern world. But my self-described smarts come at a price -- I lack the ability to actually do many things. I've managed to excel in the world of digital media and web development without knowing how to code, design, layout or architect. That's not to say I'm completely clueless in these areas. But I know enough to know what I don't know. And that's where the survival trait comes in.

To borrow a phrase, I get by with a little help from my friends.

I don't use those smarts to brow-beat the others around me. I use them to add to my ever-growing repository of would-be collaborators. Collaborators I need not only for my own flights of fancy, but for external projects and opportunities that find their way to me.

Showcase your skills for free...

I'm incredibly proud and fortunate to have found a vibrant and rich community in Phoenix. In every project I've been involved with -- and there are many -- I'm constantly amazed at the amount of effort put forth by volunteers who ask for nothing in return. If you don't have that in your community, I'm very sorry. Work on building it.

It's out of those "free jobs" that I find the majority of my collaborators. I've been turned on to talented designers, legendary coders, non-evil SEO types, gifted writers, cerebral typographers... the list goes on. And while they probably don't know it, I've been indexing and cataloging their skill sets, waiting for the right opportunities to show up. And they have. And I've been happy to either refer jobs out, sub them out or even collaborate together so we all see income from the final products. That's what I do.

... but treat the free jobs like you would a real job.

But understand that Meritocracy is the law of the land. Assume that in every pro-bono job you do or community effort your a part of, someone watching has potential work for your or is a potential client. We're watching your efforts and the efforts of others around you. Yes, we appreciate you -- and the rest of us -- are working for free. Yes, we appreciate that you -- and the rest of us -- have other paying gigs that sometimes take precedent. But you should recognize that how you work on the free project is how we assume you'll work on a paid project.

The fact is that we -- like you -- have options. All things being equal, we'll go with those who have shown themselves to be dependable when they only thing they could count on was a "nice job" from the rest of us.

We're moving to a reputation-based economy. How is yours?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Avoid monoculture blogging

monocultures two "hell"
Listen to enough "blogging experts" and you'll hear a common theme: blog about one thing and one thing only!

I think that's bad advice.

I'm willing to concede that many bloggers do in fact blog about one thing and one thing only. I'm willing to concede that they probably wouldn't have as large of an audience as they do if they didn't blog about one thing and one thing only. But as I said yesterday in many more words, your mileage may vary on "expert" advice.

There's a very simple reason why I don't give this advice to blogging novices -- they're boring. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but the odds are that your first dozen posts or so are going to be about as interesting as carpet fiber science. They are going to be so mind-numbingly unexciting that you're going to lose interest -- quickly. It won't be of any big loss to your readers... because you'll have none. With few exceptions, new blogs aren't read by any sizable audience. That's why I recommend newbies to blogging start out with a Tumblr account -- and not tell anyone about it.

Blog early and often!

Write about anything and everything to get in the habit of blogging. Write about a huge variety of things to discover the mechanics of blogging. Use pictures from Flickr for inspiration, or join Plinky to get "prompts". Make really long posts. Make quick-and-dirty posts. Hell, make dirty posts if you like, experimenting with vulgarities and cursing if that's part of your personality. It's party of mine. Fuck. [checks] Nope. The world didn't end.

Once you've figured out your voice and have your blogging routine in tip-top shape, then it's time to start worrying about how to blog better/make money/grown an audience/stop pissing people off. But if you start from square one looking for advice from the leaders in the space, you're setting yourself up for failure. Sure, Lance Armstrong is a good person to give biking advice. But last time I checked, you couldn't enter the Tour de France if your bike has training wheels.

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