Monday, February 15, 2010

It's A Just a Tool

Social Media.

Those in old media are quick to mention it's limitations. Radio & TV stations that say, we have all of these listeners & viewers that your commercials will reach, we are better than Facebook, have their heads buried in the sand.

Newspapers that ignore Social Media know that they are dying, but are afraid to publicly acknowledge it.

On the other side of the coin, we have Social Media Guru's and Experts that talk about Friends, Followers, SEO techniques, and speak in a language of their own and are ready to kill off the still popular old media, if they can just more Friends and Followers to jump on their web bandwagon.

Both are wrong. Instead of combating, they should be collaborating. Harvey Mackay wrote about this recently:

Harvey Mackay's Column This Week

Use technology to enhance creative thinking

A Midwest university professor complained: "We are now focusing more on how to use the tools of communication than we are on how to effectively communicate. As a result, we are turning out computer and internet gurus who can't write and think creatively."

How frightening! If ever there was a time when creative solutions were more valuable, I can't remember it. Most companies are operating with fewer employees, less cash, more challenges and uncertain futures. Creative thinking is the difference between their next chapter and Chapter 11.

There's a certain irony in the professor's comparison too. Technology should help us use our time better. It should ease our workloads. With our records, correspondence, contracts, plans and ledgers at our fingertips with a few clicks, we should logically accomplish more in a shorter time. We actually have the means for instant, real-time, "face-to-face" communication just about anywhere on the planet.

But if that communication is meaningless and useless, the whole point of having and using great tools is lost. Mastery of texting skills often means abbreviations and "alternate" spellings. Limited space for tweets requires the writer to send the briefest of messages, eliminating details and information. Both skills are useful, even essential, but secondary to the message being sent. I appreciate brevity and succinctness, but definitely not at the mercy of effectiveness and creativity. As I like to say, knowledge does not become power until it is used.

We should have seen some of this coming. Author Marshall McLuhan stated back in 1964 that "the medium is the message," meaning that the medium used influences how the message is perceived. All media, he said, have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways. But I wonder if McLuhan could have imagined the far-reaching effects of our information age technology and the instant access available to anyone on the Internet. Is creativity lost to the medium?

Really good managers foster creativity in their employees by challenging them to use their technology to enhance their brainpower. Try some of these exercises to get the creative juices flowing in your organization. Use whatever technology works best for the situation.

  • Pass the BlackBerrys. At your next staff meeting, invite each person to write one idea or solution for the group to consider. Then have each person pass the idea to the next person, who adds his or her thoughts. Continue passing until the idea arrives at the original source. Have the group discuss and choose the best ideas. Fresh perspectives spur creative solutions and identify problems you may not have realized even existed.
  • The worst idea. After a problem is presented, each person suggests the worst possible idea to address the problem. Bad ideas enable employees to see problems in a different way and can spur very good ideas. Ask "what's the worst thing that can happen?" and determine what effect a given solution might have.
  • Try on "new shoes." Invite employees to walk in their customers/clients shoes to identify what their needs and desires are. Don't think about what you already do for them, ask what you'd really want if you had to do their jobs. You may be able to recognize needs that the customer hasn't expressed. Then communicate those creative solutions to your customers by a tweet, website update, or Facebook message.
  • Foster an attitude of respect. Employees perform better when they know their ideas will get a fair hearing. If you are tempted to automatically dismiss an employee's suggestions, or if employees aren't willing to share their ideas for fear of having them shot down, the work environment is not productive. On the other hand, if your employees are constantly producing creative ideas, they make you look like a genius.
  • Celebrate successes. Get in the habit of recognizing and celebrating creativity as it happens. Spread the word on company email. I've long thought that creativity is contagious and I want my whole staff infected! A little recognition goes a long way toward building a confident staff.

I'd take Marshall McLuhan's observation in a slightly different direction in 2010: The medium enhances the message. A spectacular website with a lousy message will never supersede a creative message in simpler form. There is no substitute for great ideas.

Mackay's Moral: Technology is a result of creative thinking, not a replacement for it.

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