Job title inflation and deflation

In the digital age, with anyone carrying a smartphone, business cards have become a thing of the past. Just like the (who still remembers?) the Rolodex card holders to store and retrieve these small pieces of cardboard.

When I’m meeting interesting persons, I simply ask for their name, and connect with them via LinkedIn. But shouldn’t we start thinking about phasing out people’s job titles too?

A surprisingly large percentage of my LinkedIn connections describe themselves as the Head of Something or the Chief Blahblah Officer. It makes me feel living in a professional world with many chiefs and almost no Indians. They remind me of some ex-colleagues who used to carry two different business cards: an Average Joe one for inside use and a Superman Joe one to share with their customers.

Other contacts identify themselves with an acronym-loaded position in their company’s organization: RSM of the CCBS BD in SEA. Ouch! My acronyphobia starts bothering me again. We all know that modern organizations change (too) frequently. But the outside world really doesn’t care about your company’s business divisions – which is often a good descriptions of how corporations are (willingly or unwillingly) creating competing profit centers with overlapping functions.

Another handful of my internet friends use a motherhood statement like Helping companies to sell more things. Duh! So what? This really doesn’t tell me anything about what they really do or what specific capabilities they have. Most probably they’re just trying to sell themselves.

And, finally, you may have come across a series of newspeak job titles that were made up to make people appear more important or to make mundane jobs look more appealing. In 2009, a British survey reported about Color Distribution Technician, Beverage Dissemination Officer and Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant as genuine positions showing up in job advertisements. In the real world, these people would most likely be called painter, bartender, and shop assistant

During my career I came across a few original and memorable titles too. The audacity of the guy who put Himself on his business card probably impressed me more than his real designation. And the product manager who presented herself as Mistress of the Unixverse couldn’t be more descriptive about her professional ambitions. Before my company moved to an open office space, I also had a name tag, Marcus the Evangelist, hung on my office door by one of my colleagues.

After having spent more than 30 years in the corporate word, I must admit that I have become comfortably numb to jargon-filled job titles in constantly changing organizations. Just be yourself, stay humble, and tell your audience what you really stand for.

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Why you should collect, save, and cherish memories

A few weeks ago, I was touched by an article in the Guardian. The story reported about a Canadian family that is travelling the world for a very specific reason. Three of the four children of Edith Lemay and Sébastien Pelletier have been diagnosed with a rare genetic and incurable medical condition, which will cause them to lose their eyesight in the coming years.

The Lemay-Pelletier family (source: CTV News Montreal)

Therefore, the parents decided to use the precious time their children have left to provide them with as many experiences as possible. Exposing them to new cultures, showing them the wonders of nature, and giving their kids as many visual memories as possible. Memories they will be able to cherish long after losing their eyesight.

“[The school doctor] said the best thing you can do is to fill their visual memory, and she was talking about seeing elephants and giraffes in books. We talked about it and we’re like, ‘Might as well go see them for real, to build real, long-lasting memories’ –  Edith Lemay, mother of Mia, Leo, Colin and Laurent

As I wrote in an older post: stories are all about memories. Certain pleasant or unpleasant events in one’s life can provide useful material for later use. Which is even more true in the case of this courageous family.

So, always look above your head, explore the world around you, collect moments, save memories, and enjoy every day as if it would be your last one. Because you never know what life has in store for you.

Some speeches don’t need comments

Watch and listen to Ukrainian president Volodyhttps://staging.delta-xray.co.uk/nokia/Enterprise/dev/myr Zelensky’s emotional speech to the Russian people in a plea for peace.

While some politicians have turned into clowns, this former comedian is presenting himself to the world as a real leader.

No comments needed. Only shivers…

Here are a few other famous political and activist speeches I wrote about in the past:

Remember die Raute

Next week’s German federal elections will mark the end of the Angela Merkel era. Regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the world, the German chancellor guided her country through many crises and has dominated European politics for the last sixteen years.

But, Mutti has also become famous for her signature hand gesture, known as the Merkel Raute (a German word that translates as rhombus or diamond).

Photo by Armin Linnartz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While communication specialists have explained the famous gesture as “a sign of stability and reliability”, “an intermediate sensation between proximity and distance”, or even as “a protective roof for defusing and avoiding emotional signals”, the German leader herself says the position of her hands simply shows “a certain love of symmetry”.

Nonverbal communication is more important than most people think. Only a small portion of our (public speaking) message is conveyed through words. It is complemented by vocal elements like volume and pitch. All the rest is communicated through your facial expressions, eye movements, hand gestures, body posture, etc. Even through your makeup or the clothes you wear.

By the way, Angela Merkel isn’t the only politician in history that became (in)famous through an iconic attribute or gesture. Think, for example, of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, Winston Churchill’s cigar, Mobutu Sese Seko’s leopard skin hat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand-in-coat, or even Donald Trump’s L-shaped finger pinch.

Other articles I’ve written about communication skills of political leaders and their spokespeople:

The sound of breaking glass

Something embarrassing happened yesterday to Elon Musk, when he introduced Tesla’s long awaited electric pick-up truck, a.k.a. the Tesla Cybertruck, and demonstrated – or at least, tried to demonstrate – the futuristic vehicle’s armored windows.

I have seen quite a few don’t try this at home videos on YouTube – some of which ended well and others which were, eh, less successful. Well, the one below fits in the second category.

No doubt that the demo was well prepared and that in earlier tests the window didn’t break. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything,” Musk said. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass.” But, beware: the Demo Devil is always luring around the corner! Each time you’re doing a live product presentation, something can go wrong (a dude called Murphy even claims that it will go wrong). And every well-intended and well-prepared product demo holds a risk of backfiring on the presenter or on his/her company. That should be no excuse, however, to not invest in live demos .

When the other guy, Tesla’s head of design, threw the steel ball a little too hard, the CEO eloquently said: “Oh my f****** God,” the audience had a good laugh, and Tesla will certainly fix the issue in post. And the Demo Devil, who’s second name is Schadenfreude, hit the road for his next guest appearance…

Postscriptum: As is often the case, any publicity is good publicity. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Tesla Cybertruck pre-orders neared 250,000 less than a week after its chaotic launch event. QED.

Related posts:

The shapes of stories

Already in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the five elements of a story. Almost all novelists and movie directors rely upon character, setting, plot, theme, and style to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage.

A few days ago, a tweet by Dutch mathematician and science communication professor Ionica Smeets brought a video under my attention with a lecture about the shape of stories.

The presentation is given by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-1977), probably best known for his controversial – the book was banned in various US libraries and schools – anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. A graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1947, Vonnegut’s master thesis about “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tasks” was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun (as he wrote in his autobiography “Palm Sunday”).

In this brilliantly funny talk, the writer draws a graph on which any story can be plotted. The vertical axis represents the good and ill fortune the characters experience, while the horizontal axis represents the timeline from the beginning to the end of a story.

Have a look at the video and enjoy the lecture…

For those interested (or provoked, surprised or intrigued), there’s also a recording or a longer version of the lecture on YouTube.

Six minutes and twenty seconds

Does it require a trained, accomplished, and experienced speaker to move an audience?

Well, this past weekend, an-18-year old student silenced the world by delivering a chilling speech to an audience of more than a half-million people in Washington D.C. Her name is Emma González, and she’s a survivor of the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Emma-Gonzalez

(image courtesy CNN)

Just watch the video recording of her 6 minutes and 20 seconds March For Our Lives address below. Six minutes and twenty seconds loaded with ethos, pathos, logos (yes, gun control is about common sense), and… bloodcurdling silence. Six minutes and twenty seconds was exactly the amount of time it took a shooter to steal the lives of 17 of Emma’s classmates.

This young adult — together with her Gen-Z peers — has taken the gun control conversation to, let’s hope for my American friends, a point-of-no-return. Emma’s speech will go down in history for her emotional words, her tears, and also for her defiant silence.

We’re still closing the first quarter of 2018, but take note that I have already nominated my candidate for Time Magazine’s person of this year…

A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.

The ethos, pathos and logos in Oprah’s #metoo speech

On Monday, I woke up with a sound bite from Oprah Winfrey on my clock radio. An excerpt of her acceptance address for the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to entertainment at the 2018 Golden Globes awards ceremony, which will most likely be known in history as her #MeToo speech. I must admit I wasn’t at full consciousness that early in the day yet, but WOW! what an amazing storyteller Oprah is, and what a memorable performance she delivered. Some commentators even called her discourse presidential. Just watch the video at the bottom of this page.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

In the past, I have published posts about Barack Obama’s second term acceptance speech (“Obama and the rule of three”) and about Donald Trump’s communication capabilities (“Trump and the rule of one”,) so why not write a few words about this presentation of a still-very-maybe next president of the USA.

As you may have observed, Oprah’s speech is loaded with ethos, pathos and logos. Using a good mix of Aristotle’s persuasive appeals, the media diva succeeded in winning the hearts and the minds of millions of women and men sitting in the auditorium or in front of their TV screens (for more background on ethos, pathos and logos, you may read my article “About rhetoric, storytelling, and persuasion”.)

Ethos

Of course, the current scandals in the entertainment industry, misogynist power relations, and sexual misbehavior are a more than ethically loaded topic. Dressed in all-black – emphasizing her support for the #metoo movement – Winfrey took on the predators and paid honor to their victims.

“Tonight, I want to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

“[Recy Taylor] lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men.”

But she also bravely expressed her support for the free press, that is currently under attack by alternative facts and fake news allegations.

“I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know the press is under siege these days. But we also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Pathos

Oprah’s presentation was loaded with stories, inspired by the entertainment industry and by the lives of fellow African-Americans.

“Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year, we became the story .”

During a no longer than 9-minute performance on stage, she brought three personal, emotional, and engaging stories. The opening about herself, the little girl on the linoleum floor who’s watching Sidney Poitier becoming the first black Oscar winner. Her testimonial about Recy Taylor, who was abducted, gang-raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. And the story of Rosa Parks, the lead investigator on the Taylor case, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.

Logos

Although you won’t find many hard facts and figures in the transcript of Winfrey’s speech, be sure that every single man or woman in the audience was linking her words to the scandals that recently unfolded in Hollywood. So, logos was all around. In stories about gender, racial, and income inequality. And, not at least in the character of the narrator: women, colored, and of poor origin.

“And I have tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”

“In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.”

“… the incredible men and women who’ve inspired me, who’ve challenged me, who’ve sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for A.M. Chicago. Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, ‘Yes, she is Sophia in The Color Purple.’ Gayle, who’s been the definition of what a friend is and Stedman, who’s been my rock.”

Finally, the epic “their time is up” theme – probably as memorable as Obama’s yes we can,” – combined with a strong ending gives a message of hope to the abuse victims, and to all magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men in the world.

“So, I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”

The mysterious Mr Fubini

Several years ago, I came across a simple and compelling vision on the adoption and evolution of new technologies, known as Fubini’s law:

1. People initially use technology to do what they do now – but faster.

2. Then they gradually begin to use technology to do new things.

3. The new things change life-styles and work-styles.

4. The new life-styles and work-styles change society …

… and eventually change technology.

Since the lines above apply to many technology domains I worked on throughout my career, I have cited Fubini’s law many times in my presentations. Just think of how technologies like broadband internet, digital TV, and mobile communications have changed the way people live, work, and play.

(Photo by Marc Mueller, CC BY 3.0 DE)

In analogy with Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws, about which I wrote in an older post on this blog, I have always assumed that Fubini’s law was invented by a person carrying the name Fubini. But, in fact, nobody seems to know who Mr (or Mrs?) Fubini actually is (or was), for which purpose he (or she) formulated this law, or when and where it was originally published. I ran a Google search to find out more, but this only yielded a handful of blog posts (the oldest ones date from around the year 2003) and books that refer to each other.

I have always been convinced that Fubini’s observations are spot on. And even if it’s not my style to quote anonymous or unverified sources, I will keep on using his wise words in my presentations. To illustrate the transformative power of technology and to celebrate human inventivity!

Note: Fubini’s law, as described above, shouldn’t be confused with Guido Fubini’s theorem that dates from 1907 and describes how to compute a double integral using iterated integrals.

Another note: after reading this post, Ron Murch from the University of Calgary  pointed me to the fact that the observations in Fubini’s law are quite nicely aligned with Marshall McLuhan’s work on the evolution of the adoption of new media technologies. McLuhan’s work was done in the 1960s and one of his propositions was that, when a ‘new’ medium for communication is introduced, it’s initial content is that of the ‘old’ media it is replacing. Then, as society uses the new medium more and more, we start to do things with it that the old media were incapable of doing. Thanks Ron, much appreciated!

Another reader, Rob Thomsett, wrote me that Barry Jones (who later became Australian Minister of Science) quoted Fubini’s Law as early as in 1974 at a Future of Work conference run by the Australian Government. Rob has written and spoken about it since then and many have referred to him as the origin.