Monday, 12 September 2016

Why I'm glad I said yes to facilitating a workshop on saying no

On Sunday 11th September 2016 I facilitated a workshop on 'saying no' at a Girlguiding London and South East Region event called 'Use Your Voice', a democracy festival for members of the Senior Section (aged 14-24 years old). 

Across Girlguiding it is very common to find people wearing multiple hats. We like a badge in Girlguiding and some of us wear our multiple hats like a badge of honour. Taking on multiple roles and telling everyone how busy we are. I feel, on occasion, that if one or two of the multiple hat wearing people had said no to a job or two, there might be more opportunities for new/different people to get involved. I may have, on a few occasions, said this to a few people, one of whom, Helen Beecher Bryant was the lead volunteer for Use Your Voice. I also managed to do something that seems to have impressed people, in the world of Girlguiding, recently. I finished my term of office (as the Girlguiding LaSER lead volunteer for digital) and have not said yes to a new role.

So, when I was asked to facilitate a workshop on 'saying no', I started looking around to see what people much cleverer than me had to say about the subject. I came across this great quote from multi-bajillionaire Warren Buffet: 
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
That made a lot of sense to me, but it felt quite negative, so, I prefer this quote I found from Professor Adam Grant:
"Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most."
Smart chap. You can read more from him on LinkedIn: 8 Ways to Say No Without Ruining Your Reputation. When you think about saying no in that way, it becomes a positive, rather than a negative.

Do you know who this is? 

It's Marie Kondo the Japanese organizing consultant and author. Her decluttering and clothes folding ideas took the world by storm earlier this year. Watch on YouTube. She talks about when you're decluttering, you should look at your clothes and appraise each one on whether it brings you joy. As I was folding my clothes to her exact requirements, I was thinking, that applies to this 'saying no' workshop. When you're trying to decide whether to say yes, or no to something, think about whether it will bring you joy. This isn't about saying no to everything, but deliberately saying no to things that don't bring you joy.

So, here are my top tips to think about when you're asked to do something.
  1. Does it even need to be done? How many things do we do, because that's just what we've always done? Before you even consider whether to do something, think about whether it actually needs to be done.
  2. Are you the person best suited to do it? Perhaps you know someone who would do a better job? Perhaps you don't actually have the skills or experience you need to do it.
  3. Do you have the time to do it properly? Sometimes, if you don't have time to do a really good job on something, you're better saying 'no' and giving someone else the opportunity to give it 100%.
  4. Is it something you're passionate about? Will it make you feel good? Does it bring you joy? Now, I'm not suggesting here that everything you do has to bring you personally joy. As we all know from Girlguiding sometimes you do something altruistic that gives someone else joy, and that's good. If you're asked to bake a cake for a bake sale, I'm not suggesting you say no because you won't get to eat a slice. If you'll get pleasure from watching someone else enjoy it, from the money raised, then that's worth doing. 

I asked the participants at the workshop to make two lists. I asked them to write a list of things that bring them joy. And a list of what they'd like to achieve in the next year. I explained that what I was asking was quite personal and maybe private, so no one had to share their list, unless they wanted to.

Once the lists were written, I asked the young women to highlight, or put a star, by the two or three most important things. Then to get into groups and discuss whether they should just focus on those few things they highlighted. Could they use the highlighted items as a guide to whether to say 'yes' or 'no' to something. If doesn't appear on your joy list, if it doesn't help you achieve the goals you have for the year ahead, should you just automatically say no? I asked them to discuss whether that would work for them? Or whether it might limit them?

The feedback from the groups was that they liked the idea of being focused, but not to such an extent that it might prevent them saying 'yes' to random serendipitous opportunities.

I then asked the group to give me examples of things they wished they'd said 'no' to... Being a commissioner (a Girlguiding role that involves overseeing all the rainbow, brownie, guide and senior section groups in an area, for example a district, or a county), babysitting cousins and being bouncer at a friends party. In each case we looked at why they ended up saying yes and why they regretted it:
  • Being told there is no one else to do it. The old classic, making someone feel guilty, so they'll help.
  • Being mislead about the amount of time/energy required to do the role. What I like to call: being sold a dud!
  • Being told you can share the job with someone else, but that not really working in practice.
Then it was time for role play (yippy!) The group practiced saying no to each other while not lying. I think that is really important. It's tempting when you're asked to do something you don't want to do to lie to get out of it. Actually, you should just be honest. Instead of saying "I can't" and listing a bunch of made up excuses, say "I won't" and don't necessarily feel the need to justify. Will you be district commissioner? I can't because I'm too busy, washing my hair, about to emigrate to Australia - all give the person asking an opportunity to try to persuade you otherwise. Thank you for asking, but I won't be able to. End of discussion?

Some of the questions from the young women resulted in a really lively discussion:

Do you always need to say sorry? Not necessarily. If you're genuinely not sorry, then don't say it. But do say no politely, unless you want to risk losing that person as a friend.

What if you say yes to something, but then change your mind and want to get out of it at short notice? The group agreed that actually, if you've said you'll do something, you shouldn't let people down at the last minute. 

Personally, I found the opportunity to talk to and work with such a switched-on, engaged and enthusiastic bunch of young women a real treat. What I hoped the workshop helped with, is not so much the actual saying no, but rather how best to identify what to say no to and empowering them to feel okay about saying no. So what do you think? Any top tips for saying no? Have you said 'no', so you're now free to say 'yes' to things that bring you joy?

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Measuring the success of your shiny new toy

I like to think of myself as an ‘early adopter’; check me out, aren’t I clever! I love trying new things. I really enjoy jumping in and figuring out to use a new technology, a new social media channel, a new product which guarantees to change your life for the better. However, if you’re going to spend time and money trialing something new, especially lots of your company’s money, it’s worth thinking beforehand about how you’re going to measure the success of your new-fangled toy.

Recently, a company presented something shiny and new to my colleagues. This something new was exciting and potentially useful, so we agreed a trial. I watched as some of our more eager beavers (not the technical term) embraced the new tool and started creating. Then some bright spark asked how we were going to measure whether the trail had been successful. I was disappointed that it wasn’t me who’d raised this issue, as I like to pride myself on being slightly obsessed with measurement, as per previous blog posts. But, I consoled myself with the fact that maybe my banging on about measurement has rubbed off on my colleagues. Anyway, good point (whoever made it!)

It’s not too late, we can still measure the success of the product, because the folks who created it were clever enough to realise that it would be pretty hard to justify/sell without analytics. But how many people would have to embrace the new tool for us to consider it a success? Would it be a success if a handful of senior people loved it? Or if hundreds of junior people found it useful?

It got me thinking, that before we embrace a new technology or jump headfirst onto a new social media channel, we ought to make sure we’re clear on what problem it’s going to solve and how we’ll know if it’s solved it.
  • What does the product/technology do?
  • What problems that we currently experience could this fix?
  • What will it cost, both in terms of cold hard cash and time?

Okay, so we’ve decided to go ahead with the trial, how are we going to measure the success?
  • Is it enough for the trial to just be better than the current solution/work-around? 
  • How will we know if things are better?
  • Can we gather data and/or qualitative feedback from users?
It’s easy to fly magpie-like to the newest shiny thing, I do it a lot, but before we do, do you know how to recognise if it’s solid gold or fools gold?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The day the laptop died - how to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life

On Thursday 23rd July 2015, I was asked to get an Ignite Talk at a PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) event. The topic was 'digital creativity'. We could talk about any aspect of that subject, except we weren't allowed to talk about work. This left me slightly flummoxed, because any time I have ever been asked to give a presentation before , it’s been about something I’m working on, on a subject that I’m an ‘expert’ (?!) in. Luckily for me, just when I’m wondering what to talk about, and watching old Ignite Talks to try to understand the format, my laptop dies. This is lucky because my laptop dying becomes the topic of my talk. Here follows my presentation:

What I’m about to tell you will give you the power to have the most creative and productive afternoon of your life. Disclaimer, this is not guaranteed! First a couple of questions:
  1. How many people here sit in front of a computer screen for much of the day?
  2. How many people here pride themselves on their ability to multi-task?
I’m one of those people who gets into a lift and pushes the close doors button, repeatedly, even if the doors are closing. Actually, that’s an example of impatience, not multi-tasking…  Hmm… Okay, so I’m an impatient multi-tasker.
And this love of multi-tasking means that I always have a LOT going on on my laptop... I used to be a journalist; I used to have access to the wires and was constantly receiving news snaps from PA and AP and AFP.

My screen nowadays buzzes with email alerts, and Twitter alerts, and instant messenger, and GChat. Always open, always on. So, there I am, with my 30 different tabs open, multi-tasking like a good ‘ne when suddenly my computer screen flickers and what looks like the code from the matrix starts scrolling up the screen. So, I do what I always do when something goes wrong, I pick up the phone and dial our IT support team in Hyderabad in India. Except they can’t help me, because the way they work is to logon to your computer remotely to see what the problem is. And my computer by this stage has turned itself off and won’t turn back on again.

Well, says the nice lady woman on the phone in India, I’ll ask local IT to come take a look. Local IT? Local IT? Nearly three years of working for this company and now I find out we have an IT person in the building?!

So, I wait patiently (not a strong point as we’ve already established) and an IT chap turns up at my desk… diagnoses my laptop as ‘broken’ and takes it away. He says I’m to come see him in 20 minutes to see what’s what. He takes my computer away… What on earth am I supposed to do now? I do the only thing that a British person can do in this situation. I go make myself a cup of tea. And after about 10 minutes, did I mention my lack of patience? I go upstairs. It’s not good. My hard drive has failed and I can’t get a replacement laptop until Monday.

So, I am expected to work without a laptop? How? The IT chap says I shouldn’t worry because it’s the last Friday of the month so everyone will be finishing at 5pm for the company drinks. Company drinks? We have an IT team? And now it turns out we have company drinks? Now to be fair to me, I’m not a complete anti-social idiot, these company drinks are organised by a different department, so it’s not like I officially should have been invited. But now, I am being invited, by the chap in IT. And I’m agreeing to go along, because quite frankly I don’t have a laptop, so I don’t have any work to do.

Back at my desk, reeling from the fact that we have an IT team in the building and last Friday of the month company drinks. I suddenly remember I’m supposed to be on a conference call. I jump on the call, and I’m listening and I’m talking, and I’ve got some ideas to share, and then I have some more ideas to share, and I’m listening some more, and it’s brilliant. It’s the best call I’ve been on in years, maybe even ever. I’m on fire, everyone on the call is on fire, and it’s fantastic.

We solve problems; we generate actions, lots of actions. I get off the call and I’m totally pumped, I’m full of energy and I don’t need my usual three O’clock diet coke. And I’m confused… why was that such a good call? I hadn’t been looking forward to that call. We had some tough decisions to make, some awkward conversations to have, and it went really, really well. Suddenly it occurred to me… The difference between that call and all the other calls I ever have? No laptop!

Instead of putting on my headset, putting the phone on mute, and allowing the incoming emails, instant messages and Tweets to distract me. And I hadn’t realised quite how much they were distracting me. I just participated in the call. I focused totally on the call, nothing else.

Call over, I look at my to-do list… and realise I can’t do a single thing on it without my laptop. So, I go get myself some paper and some pens from the stationary cupboard, and I start scribbling: ideas from the call; other ideas not related to the call; things we’d discussed at a strategy meeting months before. Before I know it, it 5 O’clock, time for drinks. And the drinks were great? I meet a bunch of new people, we figure out some cool ways we can work together in the future.

When I arrive at my desk on Monday morning and a replacement laptop is waiting for me at my desk, I am almost a bit disappointed. Of course, after 5 minutes I had it booted up and 100 different tabs whizzing and whirring. And then I suddenly think, hold on, last Friday I had the most creative and productive afternoon of life.

So, will you humour me, and try something with me on Friday afternoon? At about two thirty, turn off your laptop. You don’t have to break your laptop, although you can if you really want to, instead, just turn it off. Make some phone calls, get some paper and some pens and start thinking about the big picture stuff. Do not do anything on your very tactical to-do list. Go find out if you’ve got an IT team? Are there any drinks? If not, organise some. Stop multi-tasking and rushing and just allow yourself time to think and focus. You might be surprised by what you can achieve without your laptop.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Twitter training

I am fairly regularly called upon to conduct Twitter trainings; whether it's friends informally asking for a demo, leaders I volunteer with a Girlguiding LaSER, or colleagues at work. To be honest, at first, when anyone would ask to 'learn' how to use Twitter, I would think to myself: really? No one taught me how to use it, why can't you just teach yourself, like I did? But that seems rather churlish and unhelpful, particularly when the person asking you to help the senior management team is the CEO!

So, for a Twitter 101 and 102, may I share two videos I created for Girlguiding LaSER. When it comes to getting started, it really doesn't matter whether you're a Brown Owl or a Senior Vice President.

Twitter training Part 1

Twitter training Part 2

I also thought it might be useful to share the notes below. Before I give a presentation, or conduct a training, or do pretty much anything that requires preparation, I like to make a list. Not a neat, numerical list, but a kind of really rubbish storyboard type list (click the image below to expand).

I honestly still believe the best way to learn how to use Twitter is to just open an account and start listening to the conversations going on. But, for those people who like to know what they're doing before they start (this has clearly never been something that bothers me!) then I hope the videos and note above help. 

I have to use Twitter as part of my job, but it's more than that, it has become the main way I find out news and it is a fantastic source of inspiration. So, why not find me on Twitter @CCMart1n and say "hello!"

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wanted: Hard Working Journalist For Sexy Tech Company

Like all good former journalists, I was interested to read that Snapchat has hired CNN reporter Peter Hamby, as their Head of News. I was interested because, as a former journalist, I like to see where other people go when they become former journalists.

Once I'd waded through the congratulatory messages on Twitter, I came across a tweet promoting this article: Another Social Platform (Snapchat) Hires a Journalist (Good Luck With That), in which Ad Age journalist, Alex Kantrowitz considers previous examples of journalists hired by tech companies. 

Now I do not consider myself to be in the same league as Peter Hamby, or any of the other journalists mentioned in the article, but I did move from journalism (Local radio and then the Press Association, I know, hardly CNN!) to tech (Google).

Why do journalists leave journalism for the bright lights of tech companies? Money? Well, journalists are notoriously badly paid, so this is part of it, but it's also about curiosity. A good journalist is curious, always asking questions, wanting to discover new things, and tech companies offer new things and questions in spades.

Why do tech companies want journalists? Well, I'd like to think that they recognise and value the skills that a journalist can bring to their company. Skills like: enthusiasm, determination, a strong work ethic and a questioning nature. 

Doesn't it just sound like a match made in heaven! Except for those occasions, as Alex highlights in his article, where it doesn't work out. I think there are a few possible reasons for why... 

Tech companies are natural homes for engineers and scientists and even sales people, but are they a good fit for journalists? A lot of journalists are cynical, (no really..?! And sarcastic!) particularly those who have been around the block a few times. It is this cynicism that helps them question when something seems to good to be true. It is this cynicism that allows them to poke their nose into things that other people just accept. But this cynicism doesn't always fit with the sunshine and positivity of Silicon Valley. 

Some Tech companies aren't yet completely convinced of the value of content, despite hiring journalists to create it. They are used to a product that is easily measured and brings a return on investment. I'm not saying content can't be measured or proven to work, but it is harder and requires a longer-term investment. I've seen tech companies 'try' content and then panic when they don't see results, or can't full understand what is and isn't working immediately. 

Many people become journalists because they want to 'make a difference'. I know it sounds cheesy, but I remember interviewing candidates for two different roles on the same day, the first was for a journalist, the second for a sales person. With each potential new journalist recruit, I asked why they had chosen journalism for their career and listened to a string of passionate, fascinating and inspiring reason. When I asked the people interviewing for the sales role the same question, I got confused looks and mumbles about just stumbling into it, or liking the commission. Perhaps, not always, but perhaps they think they can make a difference at the tech company they join, and they're left disappointed. I recently heard that Google now has 55,000 employees, difficult to stand-out and make a difference in that size of an organisation. And perhaps in a small tech company, where management is focused on the product, content ends up as a nice to have. 

I'm not saying it can't work, because there are plenty of real-life examples where it has worked. I don't regret leaving journalism and joining Google for one second. And let's face it, joining a tech company has got to be a better option than the other career choice open to people wanting to leave journalism.. becoming a PR person!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The content princess rebrand

I haven't written this blog in an age. It's not that I've been busy, although I have, or that I've run out of things to say, those of you who know me, know that is never going to happen! I've actually not written anything because I wish to hang up my tiara and stop being the content princess. I need a rebrand. 

I have outgrown the name content princess. I'm too old to be a princess and I don't like the girlie, fluffy images that the name conjures up. It doesn't work for the serious professional business woman I've become, or should I say, the serious professional business woman I aspire to be. Serious, while still being hilariously witty, obviously.

The 'content princess' blog is aimed at people working in content marketing. This encompasses people working on all types of digital content from webpages and dataviz, to white papers and tweets. The idea is to pass on useful tips and things wot I have learnt.

So, I've spent several months, too many months trying to think of a new name... and in the process discovered two important things that I'd like to share:
  1. Your best ideas have already been taken by somebody else
  2. You are not as interesting or talented as you think you are
So there we have it... 

Deflated because unlike Marathons (snickers), Ulay (Oil of Olay) or Starburst (Opal Fruits), nobody cares what I am called. And fed up because all of my original, genius ideas have already been snapped by someone faster, smarter and more genius-y. In the meantime, I think I should stop worrying about the name, carry on blogging and keep wearing the tiara!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Your data story

I recently participated in a trade mission with UKTI - think David Cameron in China, but instead it was Baroness Bohnan Carter in Mexcio. And as part of this GREAT Week, I gave a presentation on how to use data to tell stories. The presentation was to a room full of journalists, social scientists and programmers, who had been brought together, given a bunch of Government data and challenged to visualise it in 24hrs.

It was super exciting for many of the Mexicans in the room (and me!) because this was the first time certain Government departments were making their data freely available and it was good stuff! Data from the Mexico City bike scheme (their equivalent to Boris Bikes); stats from the Government helpline call centre; data from hospitals and air pollution levels.

Before they split into teams and got stuck-in to the data, my job was to provide some context for the day. I started by explaining that making the data available is only the first part. People need help to:

  • Understand why they should trust the data, what is the motivation behind making it public? Who owns the data? Where did it come from? How was it gathered?

  • Interpret what it means to them. How can they use it in their every day life? So we need to make it resonate, by making it relevant.

People don't connect to data, people connect to stories. You need to find the story in your data. Kantar, the company I work for, is the data investment management division of WPP and we have a staggering amount of data. When I first joined, one of my challenges was to get my head round the data we have and I struggled. And the more I learnt about the company, the more I realised it was a struggle that all the spreadsheets in the world weren't going to solve! What helped me was a simple story about how one of our clients used our data to develop their product and ultimately grow their business. And it's these stories that have been helping me ever since.

It comes back to journalism (doesn't it always with me!) 

  • What? (data)

  • Where? (context)

  • And why (why this is happening, so you can learn from it).

When I was a News Editor one of the important lessons I would have to drill into all new journalists was the problem of burying the lead; this can happen surprisingly often when you become embroiled in a story. 

Authors Chip and Dan Heath provide a framework for creating a story in their book 'made to stick' and I find it to be a useful checklist when working with data:

Simple - Data is complicated, but it is your job to make it simple and bring it to life.

Unexpected - get people to pay attention
Concrete - help people understand and remember
Credible - so they can believe and agree
Emotional - so they care
Story - because it spells success?! and because a good story will encourage people to act

So after stealing shamelessly from the Heath brothers, I felt I needed to present the Mexican audience with at least one idea of my own! So I talked them through my five-step process for telling a story from data:
  1. I spend time looking at and playing with data, creating hypothesis and seeing whether they are supported by the data. Is it different for men v women? Do older people respond differently to younger people? Is there a problem with X or Y? I've become a dab-hand at pivot tables!

  2. Pull out the key points, accept that at this stage there may be a dozen, or more, different little nuggets of information. Collate them all and worry about whittling them down to a more succinct story later.

  3. Bring the data to life by interviewing experts and asking their opinion on the most interesting data points you've pulled out. This is your opportunity to sense check the data.

  4. Use the data and these interviews to create a narrative, following the SUCCESs framework.

  5. Then take that story and tell it in a dozen different ways to get the maximum impact and traction: data visualisation, charts, snackable content, short articles, longer pieces, white papers, social media posts, video et al.

I talked again about the 'scrappy or epic' way of working that I learnt at Google. This is something I talked about in my blog post on measurement and it is just as applicable when talking about data stories. You can use data in a scrappy way to tell quick stories, or you can use epic data to tell vast game-changing stories, but if you find your data tells a rather mundane dull story (which you will find on occasion) then my advice would be to stop and do something else instead.

Recommended reading:

'Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck'