Thursday, 26 March 2015

On the use of visual cues in emails

Much said and misunderstood
I am used to writing emails in the narrative; long, detailed, thought through missives to get across a point without having to attach explanatory notes; though anecdotes and analogies can be helpful.
However, I have found that due to short attention spans, people might not read the whole email and thereby miss out on what I have to say.
Especially, now when I can receive a deluge of emails that represents a lot of noise, very little communication, but excitable enough for unnecessary power plays, politics and escalations.
Pointedly concise
Whilst I have not sacrificed my propensity for the narrative, I have found that visuals cues help a lot.
My emails now start with a greeting, a short introduction, numbered or bullet points depending on whether I am offering steps to follow or points to note and then more notes if the person wants to understand my reasoning.
The first part is contextually concise and the latter part is generously detailed.
Effective feedback
Beyond this, I can capitalise a negative, embolden or italicise some text and even colour a phrase so that the particular point is never lost in the multitude of words.
Suffice it to say that I have been pleased with the effectiveness of my communication, in that I am not only properly understood, the message is clear and I receive reports to that effect.
Emails may not be the best tool to get a point across, but in a multidisciplinary international team, it is the best means available and one had better find ways to make the best use of communicating with it.

Thought Picnic: Of feet on seats, a challenge to my objectivity

An annoyance
The bugbear of feet on seats, today had me questioning my impartiality and objectivity as the man sat opposite me chose to put his feet on the seat next to mine.
I have in times past asked people to put their feet down because I consider it rude and disrespectful to have your feet on public transport seats next to another passenger.
This is beside the fact that it is against the rules and just bad manners. I have before today tolerated this particular passenger's bad habit knowing he will have to make way for other passengers at the next station.
Prompted to act
However, today, I was presented with an opportunity I did well not to miss. When he saw the ticket conductor walking down the aisle to check our tickets, he took his feet off the seat, signifying he knew it was wrong to soil the seats with footwear and also preventing the situation of being told off by an authority figure.
The moment the conductor left us, his feet were back on the seat. At which point, I motioned to him and asked why he took his feet off the seat when the conductor came by and then put them back on as the conductor left us.
Not too shocked
Then I upbraided him for behaving badly before I returned to reading my newspaper, not too pleased with myself for waiting to act with civic responsibility.
We then got off at the same station and then I realised we worked at the same place. I was appalled, but not surprised. Alas! Gentlemanliness and the test of such a virtue is not a prerequisite for working at a bank.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Thought Picnic: On disinterested persuasive justifications

Sometimes, I am not nearly as convinced to persuade anyone of any view, even if I feel quite strongly about a situation.
One such situation was at work where the motivation for my being at a place would have best been made by those who by all means knew and saw that need. Yet, they decided to foist the need for that justification on me.
For months, I had argued that if they could not see the need, then they did not have the need, even if every conversation and conference we have had reinforced the need to do something proactive and get to a decision to have me over.
It came to a head when I pressed the necessity whilst expressing a disinterest which to one manager sounded like I was contradicting myself, and I was not. There was work to be done and I was ready to go anywhere to get the job done, however, that I was ready to go should not be read as the enthusiasm to travel – to me, there was no confusion in that differentiation.
In the end, I wrote a justification split into two parts, the first part comprised of single-line persuasive points, 7 of them with the last point being, and ‘It is best practice.’
The second part was more like a discourse fleshing out the first part, with analogies, examples and stressing the fact that we have had missed opportunities.
I left the email to cool for a few days and asked some colleagues to give it a once over. I got a response from one and promises from another without result.
A few more ideas floated into my mind and this morning I decided to put together the full justification and I copied in all the people I report to.
On review, I learnt that my points were a lot better than anything else they had thought of putting together. It would appear it is no more a question of if, but when.
Meanwhile, I am not holding my breath. When they are ready, they will let me know. A reasoned out justification is usually enough persuasion for anything, whether it features in the consideration to ensure what is required and desired is done, is another thing. At least, do the bit you’ve been asked to do, plant the seed and watch it germinate and grow.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Opinion: Beyond certificates to talent spotting

We’re looking for talent
It was interesting to juxtapose two separate, but somewhat related issues in my mind.
This was a tweet that I retweeted earlier today, “Applications for @spectator summer internships now open. Don't send a CV: we're looking for talent, not certificates:”
Reading through the article announcing the internships you get the drift that certificates do not necessarily confirm the presence of talent, ideas, or useful opinion that will make mentors suggest the intern is going places.
We don’t mind where or whether you went to university; Frank Johnson was a superb editor of this magazine and he had no formal education to speak of. What matters is flair, imagination and enthusiasm. Skills that you can’t really learn in any classroom.”
A different resourcing scheme
Frank Johnson was one time the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Telegraph before he became the Editor of The Spectator for 4 years, he died in 2006.
Consequently, a definition of talent taken in the context of the tweet and the narrative is that flair, imagination and enthusiasm show amazing and recognisable talent, and talent cannot be taught.
The Spectator, which has been published since 1828 and has had the likes of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London as Editor appears to have cultivated the habit of seeking talent in unusual places making for a diverse and eclectic workforce.
The article makes bold statements about how they recruit, people who have come through a work experience programme and finally suggests how you can make them interested in you, by showing, doing and demonstrating in writing, analysis, suggestions and ideas.
This is quite refreshing and it means the path to access within establishment domains does not have to follow the course of landed gentry, public school and Oxbridge. There are many ways to skin a cat.
Climbing and clambering to cheat
Now, contrast this with the picture of parents standing precariously on window ledges in the attempt to help their wards cheat their way through to passing examinations glowingly so they can gain access to superior education and probably better the lives of themselves and their communities. [BBC News]
This embarrassing episode in the Indian state of Bihar which has a history of being one of the great learning centres of ancient India, has one of the largest service-oriented economies as one of the fastest economically growing states in India.
It is therefore no surprise that parents will want their wards to tap into this growth economy and bring the rewards home, first by hard work and then guaranteed by cheating the system to the point where their wards like doping cyclists can win the awards and access to greater opportunity.
Driven by corrupt purpose
The drive here is not in the search for talent, but in the acquisition of certificates, the more acquired the more it is probable that the person will find their way into some cushy job. Having earned it through concerted community corruption, it should be expected that the community will expect returns in corrupting acquisitions and malfeasance.
This malady of certificate presentation for opportunity creates the market for certificate forgeries and the purchase of certificates from diploma mills. There are too many examples of senior politicians and business people in Nigeria, who have been found not to have the certificates, the standard of education, positions or responsibilities they purport to have attained.
Much as the system appears to drive this illicit activity for long-term gain, it presents an embarrassing problem for India. What India cannot afford with its talent pool going to the ends of the earth is the impression that their qualification are not what they are worth on paper.
Dishonesty is not a virtue
Then another unqualifiable issue comes to the fore, if a person is found to be dishonest, is it possible to overlook that for the innate talent the person might possess?
We obviously have to have better ways of measuring ability beyond academic achievement, the ability to think differently and uniquely in such original ways that could change the world in ways we never thought possible.
I like that The Spectator model, we are not interested in what school did or did not go to, what letters you have after your name or how well your CV is put together, show us what you can do and demonstrate to us the way you think. Precious stones can be found in the most unusual places.
Now, look at the picture below and consider whether it demonstrates talent or something else.

Thought Picnic: It Can Wait

Frenetically consumed
I sometimes wish certain things did not so occupy my mind that I begin to pull all stops to want to do or achieve that goal.
Now, I know that travel serves a crude sort of therapy for me, taking me away from the routine and the mundane into an adventurously renewing situation.
However, most of the time, I travel on impulse, and I have done this over and over again, more times than I have deliberately planned for travel. I once embarked on a European tour of 8 countries with just 10 hours to plan it and go. When you are not travelling alone, you do need to align schedules with your companion.
Pathetically excused
Yet, to break away and get away has always been one of the freedoms of being single and unattached that I have exploited whenever I have had the means to do so.
This attitude sometimes drives me to distraction, flights not when you want them, hotels on the outskirts of town except of you want to break the bank and other kinds of inflexible options that are not options but restrictions, you begin to tire of all the permutations and finally come to the conclusion – it is probably not worth it – leave it until some other time in the future.
This is where planning comes handy, because having seen the restrictions of immediacy, you probably can mitigate for those by getting better options than shelling out at high cost for minimum satisfaction and fun.
Yes, I do want to get away as soon as possible, I have decided, it can wait. Peace!