The Peril of Long Engagements

Rusty Tools

Photo credit: GibbsBrand.info

Back in the day, when contracting was my full time gig, I had to carefully consider the merits of prolonging certain long-term engagements. Some projects required so much commitment and focus, there was a real danger – over the life of that project – that many of my other technical skills would go to seed. This was especially true of projects that ran between 18 months and three years in duration.

I know this must seem like a fantasy to many of you – but yes, many projects in the past did actually use to go on for a couple of years or so. Internet Time is actually a recent occurrence (relative to geologic time).

The dilemma one always faced: chasing financial stability, versus keeping marketable skills fresh and up to date.

The Great Recession changed a lot of that worry, naturally.

Even so, a like challenge faces even full time employees (and even those full time employees engaged in tech related industries) – how does one stay current and conversant as a generalist, keeping up with current education and trends, when so much time is spent in becoming expert in a focused area of expertise? How does one keep their pursuit of “deep domain” knowledge and expertise from sabotaging their ability to keep and maintain a marketable set of skills needed for the next gig, the next promotion, or the next job?

The straightforward answers are:

Never stop learning.

Never stop challenging.

Never stop changing.

Try these practices on for size:

  • Learn New Skills. Especially when you’re in a stable, long-term engagement, the inclination is to ease back a little. You should use this period of stability to increase and improve your skillsets. Ask to be trained. Lobby for hack days. Push for 20% time.
  • Keep Presentin’. If you really want to master a skill or a subject, try teaching it. Presenting before others, especially in an environment where your position or opinion may be publicly challenged, is a sure-fire way to stay sharp. Plus, you will raise your profile as a subject matter expert in the bargain.
  • Re-invent Yourself. One of my personal favorites. We all need to put ourselves at risk from time to time. It’s how we grow as people, and as professionals. Put yourself out there. Try a project with entirely new tools and knowledge domains. Create opportunities for positive change, by empowering yourself to change.

Never stop learning. Never stop challenging. Never stop changing.

And – never stop railing against complacency, the true peril.

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Raspberry Pi Bake-Off, 2014 Edition

For the past two March 14ths (Pi Day!), Hendrix College has hosted a Raspberry Pi Bake-Off, an exposition / competition where local students, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs can showcase their über cool Raspberry Pi projects.

The video below is from the most recent Bake-Off (2014) and features several Pi projects, and the super awesome people who created them.

Enjoy!

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Reliable Reach

Reliable ReachLast week in Orlando, Social Fresh held the Social Fresh EAST conference, a single-track social media event with no panels, and all speakers given 25 minutes to bring their best social mojo to the stage.

And they did.

I won’t attempt to do justice by recapping the awesome content presented over a two day period.

But I will try and relate how one concept, Reliable Reach (expounded upon by social marketer extraordinare Jay Baer) is not just a problem in Social Media, but is a more general problem in even extremely localized marketing and communications.

Imagine you are a person of influence, like Jay, who has 122,000 followers on Twitter. Just because one sends out a tweet to those followers, doesn’t mean 122,000 people will actually be reached by that message. They’re doing something else. They’re away from their desks. They’re working. Maybe only a small fraction, say a couple of thousand, actually see the message.

That small fraction of audience that saw the message represents the reliable reach of that message.

Instagram and email have high reliable reach. Facebook and Twitter do not (though, arguably, Twitter has more reliable reach than Facebook).

The idea that Jay was hammering home was, that as social media channels become more popular and monetizable, reliable reach is restricted by pay-to-play, and that “rifling” high value content to a single media channel is less effective than “shotgunning” lesser value content to many media channels, in order to improve reliable reach.

Now, think about messaging within your organization; in my case, a small liberal arts college. What are the communications channels with reliable reach?

There are emails. There are listservs. There’s the website. There’s the daily news blast announcing what’s for lunch. There are trustee and alumni newsletters. There’s the school magazine. There’s earned media. There are a myriad number of social media subgroups on a plethora of social media sites. There is the student press. And there are the crowded bulletin boards across campus, crammed with band flyers, events, and speaker announcements.

So many channels. So little reliable reach.

Now, to apply Jay’s reasoning, one would need to hit as many of these hyper-local channels as possible, in order to attain maximum reliable reach. Even if you were to craft a beautiful, high value piece of content in one channel, there would be swaths of people who “live” only in the other channels who will be outside the influence of your messaging.

This is a very tall order – and also very discouraging.

Jay Baer’s advice was to add more people, to fill these channels with content.

But you probably don’t have that option. If you’re in higher education (at least, these days) I guarantee you’re not going to go out and hire people simply to improve reliable reach.

It’s not unwillingness – it’s economics.

So – what to do?

I believe the only approach one can reasonably expect to be able to do, in at least trying to fill as many channels of content as one can to improve maximum reach, is to atomize your content, with the explicitly designed intent of repurposing all content.

Design your video content to be remixed into multiple channels. Lay out stories in digestible chunks. Shop blog posts out  to earned media channels. Create cross-functional teams (IT working with Communications working with Admissions working with Development) that are intent upon creating and sharing all content.

I claim that not only is this approach vital to maximizing reliable reach, it’s the only way that small companies and organizations stand a chance of getting attention in an evermore balkanized attention economy.

The road ahead doesn’t look to be getting any easier. Our communication channels will continue to have diminished reliable reach, even as we are more ubiquitously connected.

We have to become smarter, and more reliant on our colleagues, in order to make sure our stories are told, they way we want to tell them, to the people we wish to tell them to.

 

 

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#College_CIO – What Are the Challenges of the Higher Ed CIO?

What are the challenges facing today’s Higher Ed CIOs? Some of these you’ll immediately recognize; others will soon demand your undivided attention.

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Thank You, Purple Cow!

A very special thank you goes out to the Conway Purple Cow for hosting an Ice Cream Social for residents of Hendrix Village last evening.

They are a great addition to the Village neighborhood, and have added vitality to an already vibrant corner of the Conway business community.

Purple Cow, Conway

 

You can check out the Purple Cow online, here.

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Drop the Digital – Please.

It’s time to drop Digital from everything.

Digital Humanities. Digital Marketing. Digital Branding. Digital Agencies.

Just stop. Now.

Because Humanities are Humanities, not Digital Humanities. Marketing is Marketing, not Digital Marketing. Agencies are Agencies, not Digital Agencies.

You get my drift.

Several long-standing local agencies have recently “rebranded”, in order to emphasize digital as (somehow) something now key to their DNA (as opposed to whatever they were made of for all the years prior). I saw a similar phenomena happen fifteen years ago, when companies rushed to be identified as dot-coms, by adding “.com” to their company’s DBA, or even changing their incorporated name.

And we saw how long that lasted.

Digital is being used solely to signal that a channel, brand, or entity is somehow better plugged into the “nowness” of whatever line of thought, study, or business is being pursued, than their competition.

And that’s just so much snake oil.

You want to be seen as an effective marketer? Then deliver results for your clients and companies from your knowledge of marketing. That digital moniker won’t cover up your inability to market. Or magically make you a better marketer.

In five years time (if not now), using the term digital humanities will be embarrassing to have on your academic vitae, rather than have it signaling some sort of fuzzy and ill-defined competency to those that (perhaps) want to appear to not be uninformed (but hold your hiring decision in their hands).

And, if you were to engage an agency to help with a launch, a product line, or a new campaign – and they didn’t know how to effectively operate in digital channels – then you’re the rube. They shouldn’t have to have digital in their byline or tag for you to understand that digital is an important – but not the defining – aspect of a reputable agency.

Obsolescence is a part of the natural order of things. Technologies come and go. You want to become dated long before your time? Affix specific technology or terminology to your iconography, branding, or copy.

Like, say, prepending digital to every job title.

Digital is the new normal. Not the new hotness. Not the differentiator.

The new normal.

Which means, it deserves no commentary.

So, the next time you’re tempted to use digital as the mechanism by which you convey expertise to those you’re trying to influence, stop.

Evaluate your true value and strengths.

Communicate that.

And then do a replace all on your existing copy, stop that business card order, and work on things that matter.

 

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