Friday, March 31, 2006

Email Rules, er... Rules For Using Email

Smoke & Meers: Digital Hell

Sam wrote this great post on Continuous Partial Attention and some of the pitfalls of email communications. It got me thinking about email communications. I think he's on to something. Here are some office communication rules I would like to see everyone use:

1. When you have something to say to someone, go find them and have a face to face conversation.

2. Only use the phone to talk with someone when you have obstacles in your way that prevent you from having the conversation in person.

3. Never use email to start a conversation.

4. Only use email to send files.

5. If someone starts a conversation with you via email and you wish to respond, first attempt to talk to them in person (see rule #1).

6. If you have something to say to a group of people and want a dialogue with them... call a meeting.

7. Smiley faces are a poor way of communicating tone. If you think emoticons can prevent misinterpretation of your words you are in trouble. 55% of understanding what someone is saying comes from non verbal cues. 38% of understanding what someone is saying comes from tone. Only 7% of understanding what someone says is absorbed by listening to their words. In an email you cannot see body language, hear real tone or inflection or actually "listen" to what is being said.

8. Turn off the email. Put the phone off the hook and open the office door. Try it and see what happens. People who really need to talk to you will come find you. Then you can have a quality conversation because you are face to face.

9. Instant Messaging should also be avoided if possible, but is not as bad as email communications because of the real time conversation ability. Still need to be aware of misinterpretation of tone.

10. If you do use email, make sure that you have spell check set on automatic. This feature will always ask you if you want to spell check your email before it is sent. If you do not do this, and you have typo's in your communication you will come across as a) a poor speller and b) too lazy to check your communication before it heads out the door.

I'd love to hear feedback on these suggested rules. If you think this is worth talking about some more, please come find me to talk. If you'd like to get feedback from a group of people please set up a meeting for all to get together and discuss!


Monday, March 27, 2006

Afraid Of The Dark

Tonight, as I was sitting at the dining room table watching The Apprentice and doing a little work on the computer, our three year old came toddling down the stairs from her bedroom. I heard her coming through the hall on her way to see me and called out to her.

"Back to bed." I said.

The pitter patter of her little footsteps came to a halt. She was still out of eyesight.

Then she called out to me in a whimper..."But daddy... I can't get to sleep because I am afraid of the dark!"

"Just close your eyes real tight. That way you won't be able to see the dark."

Then a faint "okay daddy" and little pitter patter of feet up back through the hall and up the stairs.

She's fast asleep now. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this parenting thing.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Trumps' Chumps

I love to watch The Apprentice. Not for the Donald, but for the way it makes me and my colleagues look good.

The assignments that the Donald hands out are a daily occurrence in our field. I am in advertising. Got a new product and need to get the word out? We do that. Got an old product with declining sales? We can help there too. Need to find the sweet spot for your product? Need to design packaging? Billboard? TV spot? On site event? Web site? Email? In store display? Yup... We do all that.

Where we differ from the contestants on the show is that we actually take a very clear, concise approach to solving the problem. It starts with asking a better question. Don't just tackle the assignment, ask and debate if the assignment is the right one. Then determine if it is a communication problem. If it isn't, then advertising probably cannot help. It might be operational.

After asking the better question we then gather insight. This is where we dig for information, anything at all, that will lead to that key detail or insight that provides the vehicle for developing the big idea and messaging. But the big idea and messaging do not live alone. They go hand in hand with finding the right, relevant point where the brand and product message can engage the consumer and make meaningful resonation. It's about connecting, not just reaching.

It's about approaching a communication opportunity as media neutral. It's about being opened minded and allowing us to look at a medium and find new ways to manipulate it to break through. It's about believing there are new ways to use old mediums. It's about finding the right new mediums to connect.

I know it's not a realistic situation, but I doubt the Donald ever starts by asking the contestants to spend time assessing the real issue at hand. Somehow he and Mark Burnett pair down the list of things that they think the contestants can handle within a given time frame. More likely they think of an assignment that will present a challenge.

It makes me cringe to watch these so called cream of the crop, wheeler dealer, "gunners" sit around a table and ramble on about what they should do. It's a bunch of back and forth, time wasting babbling. Can they not find a contestant who has ever, EVER conducted a real brainstorming session? These guys and gals do not know the first thing about addressing a problem - at least that is what the show portrays.

I suppose I should give them some slack. Maybe they do challenge the assignment, maybe they do 100 MPH thinking or "Be Like Mike" brainstorming to solve the problem at hand. Maybe. But then again, maybe I should leave well enough alone. After all anyone who watches the show and sees how difficult it really is to successfully complete the assignment might just get it in their head that this is something better left to the professionals.

So I like watching The Apprentice because it makes me feel good about the business I am in. It gives me validation. It almost makes up for the frustration I get watching these contestants and their extreme lack of emotional intelligence and teamwork.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Home School For Hannah

Mary got a call from Hannah's school yesterday. The director of the Montesorri program wanted to check in with us to see if Hannah was going to be attending the summer session. We had planned on her attending and had filled out the paper work already. We thought we had submitted it earlier in the week to save a spot.

When Mary told the director of our plans she said "I thought you were planning on it, but Hannah told her teacher that she wasn't going to be coming back. She said that 'Mommy is going to home school me from now on.'"

That came as a bit of a surprise to the director. It was a surprise for me too.

Apparently Hannah had it all figured out and shared her plan with her teacher. "Mommy is going to get fired from her job and I am going to get kicked out of school. That way Mommy and I will be together so she can home school me."

I think Mary and Hannah might need to find some time to talk about this.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Painting Jason Wagener

Every artist has a thing. It's a theme, color palette, material. Some artists are well known because they were groundbreaking, controversial or prolific creators of art. Some where known while they were alive. Others became famous after their death. Regardless of fame, live or dead, canvas, film, wire or clay within all artists there is something that causes the need to create.

I often wonder what it is like when other artists have there first purposeful creative experience. What is going on in their life when they make a decision to create a work of art that has deep purposeful meaning? What is the impetus? What was their first attempt like? Did they like it? Did they keep it?

What was Van Gogh's first work of art? Was it a doodle? Was it something he did at school? Maybe paper mache? A clay cup or saucer for his mom? What was it?

What about Jackson Pollack? Rembrandt? Dali? Magritte? Di Chirico? O'Keefe? Picasso? Cezanne? Matisse or Monet? What was the material they used for their first painting? These are questions I ponder, for I know what my first canvas was. It was my back yard neighbor, Jason Wagener.

One afternoon Jason came over to play. My mom had recently hurt her back and was resting either on the couch or up in bed while Jason and I played together. We were pretty good buddies and behaved fairly well for a four and five year old, so mom didn't worry when we headed out of sight to the basement to play.

I have no idea how much time passed, but sometime during the afternoon my mom woke from her nap by Jason who appeared in front of her sniffling in a sad, scared voice "Mrs. D-d-duff.... D-d-d-dannnnny, p-p-painted m-me!"

It was true. Both Jason's arms and legs were covered in paint. And not just any paint. This was the good stuff. It was an enamel based paint we used to cover our front porch, and it was a deep forest green.

My mom quickly realized that there were two issues that needed immediate attention. Not reprimanding me for painting a playmate - that would come later. No, what mom realized was that the paint that was covering Jason needed to be removed immediately AND since the paint was on Jason and he was standing on the brand new carpeting that had just been installed on the entire first floor of the house, that he needed to be removed as well. So mom, bad back and all, picked up Jason, holding him at arm's length and rushed him to the sink so she could start scrubbing him clean.

As a parent myself I now imagine the fear that my mother had about how Jason's mom would react when she saw her green stained son. Nobody could blame even the nicest, most understanding mom for being upset that another parent let their child get covered in thick enamel porch paint.

I do not recall if I was punished or not. I only know that my family brings up the story often at family gatherings. My mom focuses on how she reacted to Jason standing covered in paint on the new carpet. My siblings however choose to focus on how that event hurt mom's back to an extent that we had to cancel a planned family trip to Hawaii.

I tend to focus on the fact that no one was seriously injured or maimed and that one day when I become a famous artist that Jason Wagner will come out of seclusion and lay claim to being the first canvas that Dan Duff ever put paint on.

I wonder what Jason's favorite color is? Mine as it turns out, is green.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Grounded at Wrigley Field

Lately I've been listening to sports radio quite a bit. We are in the midst of spring training for Major League Baseball so it is the current hot topic. The gossip today was about Barry Bonds and a new book coming out that will apparently reveal details about his use of performance enhancing drugs. Sports Illustrated will have excerpts from the book, which of course will spur more speculation/accusations and result in sales of this book.

I am on the side that believes anyone who cheats is a cheater and anyone who breaks the law is a criminal. And anyone who does either in professional sports should not be invited into that sports hall of fame. Unfortunately I believe that cheating will continue to happen and athletes will continue to find new ways of avoiding detection.

With all the negative talk about going on today I'd like to take a moment to look at the real soul of baseball. What it is all about...


One of my best friends is John Stutz. We met on our first day of first grade and became friends.

During the summer between seventh and eighth grade we spent most of our time goofing off either at the beach or going to Cubs games. We were both die hard Cub fans. Still are.

I don't remember what he did, but one day I called John to make plans to go to Wrigley to see the Cubs play only to find out that he had been grounded. Though both of his parents were out he was told not to leave the house until they got home from work. They wouldn't really know if he left the house, but trusted him to do as told. So of course we went to the game.

We figured we would keep a close eye on the clock and be able to get back to his house before either his mom or dad got home. The game started at 1:05 pm. If the game went quickly we could stay and watch the whole game. If it dragged on we agreed that we would have to leave before the end in order to get John home on time.

We called Tom Graziano to see if he wanted to go with us. He was in.

We hopped on the "L" at the end of the line in Wilmette, changed trains at the Howard stop and got to the park in plenty of time to get first row seats in the right field bleachers. We were there for batting practice.

During BP Leon Durham, aka "The Bull" cranked out a few shots into the right field bleachers. A few came close by, but not close enough that we could participate in the scramble to grab the loose balls. We settled into our seats confident that should a home run be hit our way we would be close enough to maybe snag the ball.

It was a good game. At the start of the bottom of the eighth inning the cubs were down a run. With a runner on base The Bull stepped up to the plate. We were ready. Sitting from right to left, smallest to tallest in the first row of the right field bleachers was Tom, me and John. We were ready.

On the third pitch The Bull smacked a deep drive right at us. It was going to be a home run and it was coming exactly to where we were sitting. Actually it was going straight at Tom. He stood up, got his hands in the air in anticipation of catching the ball. He had a huge smile on his face. This was his ball!

But this was a home run ball. No rules apply here. It's anyone's ball! I leaned over a bit to move Tom aside. This was going to be mine!

John was not to be outdone. He leaned over on me to move me AND Tom out of the way. But just as the ball was about to land in his hands John lost his balance and ended up tripping us all up. John reached back for the ball as he fell on me and Tom. We would up in a piled up heap on the guy sitting next to Tom, just as the ball swooshed by. We missed it!

The guy right behind us got the ball! Tom gave me grief for pushing him, I passed that on to John for shoving me but John was really upset for two reasons. First because he tripped and missed the ball. Second because he realized that we had to have been on TV as Leon Durham's home run would be on the game highlight reel.

The Cubs ended up winning. As soon as the game was over we jumped on the first train back up North. We gave each other a lot of ribbing on the way home for missing the ball. It was all good. I remember John being a little nervous about the time. We had to get back to his house asap before his folks got home.

Thankfully we all lived within a few blocks of the "L". Tom headed home while John and I cruised over to his house. We got there in plenty of time. Now it was a matter of making sure his dad did not catch the highlights. And of course as soon as he got home, John's dad sat down in the TV room to catch the game highlights. This got tricky.

As planned as soon as the game highlights came on John and I stood up in front of the TV set to block the view. I have no idea what we said or what rationale we used for standing in front of the TV. I only know that as John stood there babbling something to distract his dad, I turned and caught a glimpse of the TV screen. There we were. Three bumbling fools tripping over each other to catch the ball, only to end up missing it completely. Our fifteen minutes of fame and we couldn't even share it with our parents.

Thankfully John didn't do anything to get grounded again that summer. We went to lots of games, but never caught a home run ball. Still haven't ever caught one.

But that summer and the home run fiasco was a good time. We had a ball anyway.

I don't know if Leon Durham took performing enhancing drugs to hit more home runs or if the ball was "juiced" that year either. What I do know is that baseball is more than a game. It is more than the players. It is more than the statistics.

Whether it is a game of catch in the backyard, stickball in the street, little league or big league games, baseball is and always has been about spending time with friends. I cannot wait for opening day.