Monday, February 23, 2015

Follow me on Twitter

As you have noticed, I have slowed down on posting new articles to my blog. I find I have less time to write, so my blogging has taken a back seat. Instead, I've picked up my Twitter account. This makes it much easier for me to talk about what's happening around me. I also post links to interesting articles.

I encourage you to follow me on Twitter. My username is @jimfhall, the same as my user ID on LinkedIn.

I am not stopping this blog. Please do check back for more. I will continue to post articles and reflections, but I won't be as frequent.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The end of voicemail?

How often do you pick up your voicemail? That flashing red light on your phone is a reminder that someone is trying to reach you. Depending on your role, this can be a positive thing or a distraction.

But our attitudes to voicemail are changing. Especially with the new generation of workers, voicemail is on the way out; they don't want to use it. A November 2014 article in Destination CRM Magazine, business voicemail goes unanswered. We desire other ways to connect than just the telephone.

The article highlights the customer service end of voicemail: callers don't want to leave voicemail anymore. Citing Forbes, 80 percent of callers who reach voicemail do not leave messages because they don't think anyone will listen to them. "Everyone is looking for instant gratification, and if you can't provide that...a lot of times they'll simply hang up," says Adam Boalt, CEO of LiveAnswer.

I, for one, have changed my opinion on voicemail. I used to check voicemail three times a day: in the morning when I arrived, after I got back from lunch, and at the end of the day before I went home. This allowed me to stay on top of messages and respond in a timely manner. But as times change, I do find fewer people leave voicemail. If the caller isn't able to reach me via phone, they may try to send email instead. My friends rarely leave voicemail; they text me.

In my personal life, I am an avid user of Google Voice. This not only manages my voicemails via a mobile or web interface, Voice also automatically transcribes my voicemails and sends me a text. So if I miss a call and the caller leaves voicemail, I'll get the message via text after a few minutes. As the article says, it's instant gratification.

Do you still use voicemail? How do you stay connected?
photo: spDuchamp

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Let me translate that

Over the last week or so, I have been demonstrating Google Translate with colleagues. Maybe you have used the Google Translate website to translate text from a website. For example, my involvement in open source software often puts me in contact with folks from around the world. Sometimes, a contributor will not have enough English to express themselves, so they will write to me using their native language. While I am conversationally fluent in Spanish, I'm not able to follow a more technical conversation in Spanish or any other language. So I often rely on Google Translate to help me. The translation is never perfect, but it's enough that I can understand the message.

There is also a Google Translate app on Android and on iPhone. The app includes several important features, including some recent impressive additions. Point your phone's camera at a sign, and the app will translate the text "on the fly" and display the translation on your screen. It really is like magic. Again, the translation may not be perfect, but it's enough that if you are lost while traveling abroad, you can get around.

To help you in conversations, your phone can act as the intermediary, listening to both sides of a conversation and translating where appropriate. You can speak an English phrase, and the phone will repeat the translation in your selected language- for example, in Italian. As the other person replies in Italian, your phone will repeat the translation in English. With enough context, the translation should be good enough to help you converse with others in a different language.

As I demonstrate these features, I don't position Google Translate as a replacement for learning another language. Rather, our students traveling abroad or studying overseas might find Google Translate useful in getting around. The app opens new doors to communicate. Especially during emergencies when you might not have someone else to translate for you, Google Translate can make the difference.

This was recently exhibited when paramedics responded to help a Congolese woman about to give birth in Ireland. From an article in, while en route to hospital, the woman suddenly went into labor. The paramedics "pulled over to the side of the road in order to deliver the baby, but the woman spoke limited English. That’s when Gerry had a lightbulb moment and opened up Google Translate on his phone in order to communicate with the woman." Through the app, the paramedics were able to help the woman deliver her baby girl.
image: Google

Friday, January 23, 2015

The secret to successful groups is diversity

We've all seen the phenomenon that a group of people is usually dumber than the IQ of any one person in the group. And we've also watched groups come together to outperform their peers, somehow collectively enhancing the group dynamic to become a truly "smart" team. And through the years, you've probably read countless business articles that claim to have the "secret" to highly performing teams.

Here's another one. Researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College recently wrote about group dynamics, that just as some individuals are smarter than others, some groups are smarter than others, across a range of tests and tasks. In other words, there is a "c factor" for collective intelligence. The big reveal:
In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This “c factor” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

In other words, The Secret to Smart Groups: It's Women, as described in a recent article in The Atlantic. The single most important element of smart groups, according to the researchers, was their "average social sensitivity." Essentially, their receptivity to nonverbal communication and cues, which The Atlantic refers to as "mind-reading." Quoting The Atlantic:
Women are better at reading the mind through the face even online, when they can't see their teammates' faces. In a follow-up study (the full paper, which again isn't linked in the Times piece, lives here), the scientists gave participants a "Reading the Mind in the Eyes," or RME, test, where they were asked to identify complex emotions (e.g., shame or curiosity, rather than sadness or joy) in pictures of other people's eyes. Then they divided participants into teams and had them perform a number of tests, like brainstorming and group Sudoku. Again, teams with more women, who scored higher on the RME test, performed the best across the tasks. From the paper:

The [RME] scores of group members were a strong predictor of how well the groups could perform a wide range of tasks together, even when participants were only collaborating online via text chat and could not see each other’s eyes or facial expressions at all.

This doesn't mean that only women are good at social sensitivity, or nonverbal communication. But rather, women tend to be better at it.

The obvious takeaway to encourage diversity. I used to advise ΑΣΚ sorority, "women in technical studies," so this is a topic that is very close to me. I believe that women are often underrepresented in technology, an unfortunate trend that we must reverse.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making the case for introverted leaders

If you remember the Myers-Briggs personality types, one of the categories is How people focus their attention or get their energy (Extrovert or Introvert). Personally, I've always tested slightly on the "E" side of this personality indicator, although somewhat toward the middle. I'm neither strongly Extrovert or Introvert, but I tend towards Extrovert.

Perhaps you have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator at some point in your career. If you are like the trend, most leaders tend towards the "E" side, and most technology folks trend to the "I" side. But that doesn't mean that all leaders are Extrovert or all technology folks are Introvert. We are just people, and as such we are all different and contribute in our own ways.

On this topic, Jessica Stillman writes at Inc about 7 Reasons Introverts Make Great Leaders. Stillman shares these aspects about Introverts that help them in leadership:

  1. They're better listeners
  2. They're better prepared
  3. They go deep
  4. They don't mind solitude
  5. They keep their cool
  6. They don't settle
  7. They write more

Jon Rennie via his LinkedIn post expands on Stillman's 7 points, and asks Is it Time for the Introverted Leader? Citing Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, Rennie argues the CEOs of successful companies are not the charismatic, outgoing types but had quiet, almost shy, personalities. In other words, these successful CEOs that made the leap from being good companies to ones that outpaced the market were demonstrably Introvert, not Extrovert.

These leaders demonstrate personal humility and professional will. Rennie concludes Introverted leaders come equipped with significant leadership advantages and, if combined with a deep relentless will to succeed, they can lead companies to remarkable transformations.

If you consider yourself an Introvert or borderline-Introvert, and wish to take the step into a leadership role, free yourself and use your personality type to your strength.
image: One Way Stock

Friday, January 16, 2015

How to interview for a job

Every year, I provide some type of coaching and mentoring to our graduating student workers, and friends and peers, to help them prepare their resumes and cover letters. In years past, I have also conducted practice interviews, simulating a variety of interviewers they may face (the yes/no questioner, the too-talkative interviewer, and so on) and how to successfully work around that.

While preparing for a friend, I came across an excellent piece by Tania Seary: "My 5 killer job interview questions." Here are Seary's moments that make or break candidates:
  1. The tipping point question: “What were the reasons for leaving your current job?”
  2. The leader question: “Tell me about something you’ve led – a group, a team, a movement, an initiative…any situation where you were in the lead?”
  3. The mentor question: “Tell me about some people you’ve mentored and what they are doing now?”
  4. The question question: “Do you have any more questions?”
  5. The one-word question: “If your friends could summarise you in one word, what would that word be?”
I recommend you start by reflecting on your leadership journey, about your career highlights. If you are a student, you might instead consider your education journey: what have you learned during your time at university. What projects or assignments worked well for you, and which projects or assignments were more challenging? I find it's most helpful to focus on the peaks and valleys on the timeline: the moments that seemed to be turning points. You may prefer to highlight other points that are similar to each other, and that's okay too. By reflecting on your journey, you will be better prepared to recall them during your interview.
photo: John Benson

Monday, January 12, 2015

Using stress to your advantage?

An interesting article at Forbes shares tips on how successful people stay calm. According to author Travis Bradberry, "The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance." But as Bradberry points out, stress is an important contributor to performance. New research from the University of California, Berkeley suggests "performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless."

Bradberry shares several tips that successful people employ to manage their stress:

  1. Appreciate what you have
  2. Avoid asking "what if?"
  3. Stay positive
  4. Disconnect
  5. Limit caffeine intake
  6. Sleep
  7. Squash negative self-talk
  8. Reframe your perspective
  9. Breathe
  10. Use a support system

How do you manage your stress?
image from the article