Fridays after 5pm out on the polder

 When I worked in Holland back in the 1990’s I would often find myself talking with my friend Pieter de Wit at 5pm on Friday. Business hours generally were 9-6, but on Fridays everyone would leave at 5pm with a quick “prettig weekend.”  I remember once we talked about whether having gray hair was a prerequisite for having your ideas respected in the workplace.  Ah, youth!

Pieter and I have had plenty of conversation on some of my recent blogs about Social Media. He is an old-school geek, and does not totally agree with a world where people take notes in a meeting on a IPad rather than a piece of paper. Nor does he comprehend a world where people check their Klout scores daily. So, it probably should not be a surprise that Pieter is the kind of fellow who will always respond to an email. If you call him, he will legitimately try to answer or call you right back.  I haven’t asked, but I assume he does not agree with a world where people do not respond to voice mail or email.

I think there is a widening gap in world between people like Pieter and people who see all forms of communications as bulletin board to either be informed or to inform others, with no need for a response. At the heart of this difference is the definition of ‘conversation’.

There is more at stake here than just etiquette.  Communication is the driving factor behind workplace productivity, and that productivity is the heart, soul and purpose of technology.

In David Simon’s blog “Ignoring the Sender”  (http://justwrite15.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/ignoring-the-sender/) he bemoans the fact that we are a ‘send’ Society. Asking for feedback is all but futile, he posts, as it will be summarily ignored. I think he has it right in a sense, but in another sense I think the art of communicating is just changing to resemble an ancient model.

I think back to the days of smoke-signals. In Roman times it is estimated that a complex network of stations could route a smoke-signal from modern England to the Capitoline Hill in Rome in only a few hours.  I think our modern Twitter chats that leave everything out in the open and beg for interpretation in their nuance are similar. Fleeting messages are just passing like smoke in the sky to inform us. It is our democratic duty to join the ‘conversation’ by simply passing the message on to the next station by re-tweeting or posting and possibly including a smidgen of our own comments. Will they be read and appreciated by others? There is no way to tell because no one ever really responds in the traditional sense. The signals just keep passing overhead.

The real question here is, are these new norms in communications hindering workplace productivity? Or, are they making us more efficient in targeting our messages and thus alleviating the world of the noise being sent across the airwaves of yester-year? Does the banished need to respond in a traditional way free us to be more productive in our daily work?

I am not sure and would be interested in any of your opinions. I know I will most likely receive an email or phone call from Pieter, but, if you wouldn’t mind, please post yours on this blog-page.  I have a hard time responding to all the messages I receive each day via email and I am usually too busy to answer my phone.

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Using the Roman rostrum in the Digital Age

Many consider a good education to be the most important thing you can invest in for yourself or your family members. In my hometown Atlanta folks are tripping over each other and steadily high home prices to get into the right neighborhood for a good public school. Others hold their noses and send the kids off to private school. Just like the ancient Romans we want to best prepare our children for success in the forum (marketplaces), the milites (armed services) or senatus (government).

In Roman times one of the most important skills a person could hold is the ability to speak convincingly. Roman society was a pyramid  structure where clients relied on patrons for work, status and fortune.  Like a rich wallet of Linkedin connections everyone was vying for the right connections. And, if you could speak well for yourself, your ideas (and, therefore, your patrons) you were a valuable client to have regardless of any inheritance in land or money you possessed. Of course discourse took place in two principal ways back then, either by standing at a podium addressing the masses or through written letters on leather hides or Egyptian papyrus. Rhetoric, the manner in which ones organizes and expresses thoughts on paper and in person was king.

So what happened to Rhetoric? It was bashed to pieces in the age of science and enlightenment. Rhetoric used for ill-will and false ideas, was criticized by truth-tellers and scientific minds. Who can forget how rhetoric brought down Galileo in the face provable scientific theory! Rhetoric became the friend of the rich, powerful and status quo. Demonized by rational thinkers and humanists alike it seemed to go out of style to actually be able to express oneself in an organized manner.  Either something was true or not, so only the facts were necessary for an enlightened human being to determine the worth of any supposition. Skip the flowery arguments, just lay it out. Our preferred modes of communication began to shorten as well right up to our current digital era: 500 word blogs (gasp!) and 150 character tweets (oh, my!).

Not surprisingly to my readers, I am looking for a school that teaches Rhetoric for my kids. I actually think it needs a comeback. This is not a plea for the former restriction in this egalitarian world that is liberating so many voices in the digital age, it is more an observation on how one might find a way to rise above the noise of Social Cam, YouTube and Linkedin. I am not advocating a return to letter writing and standing on the street corner on a soapbox preaching to the masses. I am saying use of language, words and argumentation can still be very powerful in the digital media we produce today.  I cannot tell you how many weakly written blogs I have seen associated with individuals, corporations and government departments alike. Likewise, the amount of tweets as dull as Melba toast only add to malaise. On the other hand, the lacklustre examples that abound give a distinct advantage to anyone wishing to rise about the crowd.  Ladies and gentlemen wishing to make the leap, I give you Rhetoric for the digital era in 3 steps:

Follow the spirit of ancient Roman Rhetoric and:

1. Be clever and be critical, especially when reiterating information you have read, are re-tweeting/posting or wish to report on. Put your fingerprints and ideas on everything you publish even when you are responding to a wonderful post or passing along information. Don’t let the crowd forget who is bringing them these ideas. Make them part of your own.

2. Organize longer pieces with points, ideas, and a beginning, middle and end. Cut out the fluff. Write or film your piece and the edit it down to something enjoyable to read or watch with a searing point to it.  No one wants to see your bloopers.  So much of YouTube and SocialCam is impossible to watch for lack of an idea, a point, or creator discretion.

3. Remember your audience. The Romans used Rhetoric to gain powerful patrons, but they also used it argue on behalf of their nation and what they felt the right policies were. I am not telling you how to use your Rhetoric, but use it for something meaningful to you. If you don’t have passion behind it, just leave it out.

Cicero just called and he is available to tutor my kids. I will check back with you all on some more tips from him in future posts.