Friday Five: Summer reads edition

pile-o-booksEarlier this week, Twitter went literaryally crazy, thanks to a hashtag meme called #ScaleBackABook. The object of the game was to take a book title, revise it to become something less impressive or substantial than the original — for example, Lowered Expectations, For Whom the Timer Goes OffThe Jungle Brochure or Lady Chatterly’s Tinder Date — and posting the witty revisions to Twitter using the #ScaleBackABook hashtag.  Continue reading

Book review: There Is Life After College

Jeff Selingo's new book, There Is Life After College

Jeff Selingo’s new book, There Is Life After College

When I graduated from high school in the late 1970s, going off to college wasn’t necessarily the default next step for all of my classmates. Several of my friends from the class of ’78 went straight to work, landing decent blue-collar manufacturing jobs or going to work for our town’s biggest industry, the railroad. Continue reading

Review: ‘Works Well With Others,’ by Ross McCammon

WorksWellWithOthers-coverOne of the most helpful business books I’ve ever read (Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up) was written by a columnist for Esquire (Stanley Bing, who has since left that magazine to write for Fortune). So when I heard that another Esquire columnist (Ross McCammon) had written a business book, I was eager to give it a read. Continue reading

The year in relevant reading

pile-o-books2015 wasn’t a great reading year for me. I may have started a dozen books, and finished perhaps eight or nine of them. Not much to brag about there.

When you consider books relevant to this blog, the pickings for 2015 were pretty slim. That made it easy to narrow down to my top three books relevant to higher ed and/or marketing that were published in 2015. If you didn’t read them this year, you might want to consider reading them in 2016. Here they are: Continue reading

Book review: In Defense of a Liberal Education

FullSizeRenderYou might pick up Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, expecting a jeremiad against STEM education.

I certainly did. After all, my first exposure to the book was in the form of excerpts repackaged as op-eds accompanied by frightening headlines. (From the Washington Post: Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous. Step aside, heroin. This STEM education business is scary.) Continue reading

Friday Five: 5 things I learned from books I read in 2014

pile-o-books2014 was not a banner book year for me. I read, or partially read, no more than a dozen books all year. All but one of them were non-fiction.

That averages out to a book a month, which is nothing to brag about. Still, some reading is better than no reading at all, right? And from those books I absorbed a few ideas that I hope will help me approach 2015 with a perspective that is healthier, more informed and more understanding of human dynamics than the perspective I brought with me into 2014.

Here are five lessons from five of the books that I read in 2014.

1. Sometimes, less is better

In Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, Stanford B-school professors Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao touched briefly on the dangers of “cognitive load.” Cognitive overload would be a more apt description of the problem.

Cognitive overload happens when our brains reach capacity. It refers to our inability as humans to hold more than a certain number of ideas, names, phone numbers, etc., in our minds at one time, or to manage more than a certain number of projects.

But cognitive overload doesn’t just affect people. As Sutton and Rao point out, it also affects organizations.

As organizations grow, they tend to become less efficient, as well as more complex and more bureaucratic. When that happens, a disconnect occurs between leaders and their teams. In describing cognitive load, Sutton and Rao introduce readers to psychologist George Miller’s Magical Number of seven (plus or minus two), which refers to the capacity of human’s to effectively process information. But Miller’s magic number applies to other aspects of life, such as span of control (managers with more than seven or so direct reports may find it challenging to effectively lead, communicate and delegate), project management and layers of sign-off for projects.

So, instead of always thinking about how we need to scale up to accomplish projects or take on new initiatives, sometimes we should consider the benefits of scaling down.

Making “subtraction” a way of doing business will help ideas and projects scale. Breaking projects and teams into smaller chunks, and giving people the opportunity to focus on fewer tasks, could yield greater results. (The idea of “subtraction” is also brought up in another book I started, but didn’t finish, in 2014: Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. I plan to wrap up that book in 2015. Stay tuned.)

(Here’s my February 2014 review of Scaling Up Excellence.)

2. Sometimes, the medium is the environment

By now, all of us in the communications business are familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement that the medium is the message. But thanks to John Naughton’s book From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet, I now think much differently about the medium — especially the medium of social media.

“The conventional — journalistic — interpretation holds that a medium is a carrier of something,” writes Naughton. And that’s how I typically think of social media: as a carrier of information.

But Naughton reminds readers that the world of biology has a different way of thinking about a medium. “In biology,” he writes, “media are used to grow tissue cultures — living organisms. … It seems to me that this is a useful metaphor for thinking about human society; it portrays our social system as a living organism that depends on a media environment for the nutrients it needs to survive and develop.”

So now I no longer think of social media as simply a conduit of information. I think of it as the environment that sustains our vital human need to commune with other humans. In this sense, social media is also not isolated from other media. They interconnect and interplay, weaving a mediasphere.

I dug a bit more deeply into this concept last March.

3. Sometimes, no is better than yes

The book that caused the most cognitive dissonance in my life in 2014 was Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. Essentialism examines our culture of over-complexity and glut — and of feeling obligated to say “yes” to too much, too often — and implores readers to examine the things we say yes to and consider culling those back to a manageable, spare number. Intellectually, I have no qualms at all with McKeown’s assertion, and I a big fan of his “90 percent rule” of judging priorities. (I wrote more about this in yet another blog post. I may not have read many books, but I wrote about much of what I read.) But in practice, it’s very difficult to implement in the work place. Hence the cognitive dissonance. Still, Essentialism was a worthwhile — nay, essential — read for me in 2014. I would put it at the top of my “best-of” list for the year.

4. To be more influential, be more likable

This should be a no-brainer, right? If you’re likable, you should have more influence over others. But I need a reminder from time to time. In 2014, I finally got around to reading Bob Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The book has been around for a few years, and has been referenced in a number of more recent business and marketing books, so I have no excuse, other than procrastination, for waiting so long to read it. I would put this on my must-read list for anyone in the marketing, branding or public relations business.

In Influence, Cialdini discusses the six principles of influence. Each of which have great merit and can be used (like jujitsu, as Cialdini describes it) to get others to say yes. (Note to readers of Essentialism: You may want to be aware of these tricks, too.) But of the six principles, I like the fourth one — the principle of “liking” — best.

The principle of liking boils down to this: We are more likely to be influenced by people we like, know and respect. Pretty simple, right?

(Guess what? I actually have not written a blog post about Cialdini’s book. But back in June 2012 I wrote a review about a book called Likeonomics, which got into much more depth about liking and likability.)

If you don’t have time to read Cialdini’s book but have 12 minutes, this video (also embedded below) will give you a good overview of the six principles.

Bob Cialdini’s science of persuasion

5. Ken Follett’s novels are long and predictable, but I still enjoy reading them

I’m not quite finished with Edge of Eternity, the third and final tome in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy. So, technically, I didn’t finish this book in 2014. (Judge me if you must, either for slipping this one into a list of “finished” books or for my taste in fiction.) But I include it here for two reasons: 1.) I needed a fifth “takeaway” to round out my first Friday Five of the new year, and 2.) sometimes it’s OK to read for fun rather than to learn something. You just might learn something anyway.

Photo: Pile of Books in Prague Library, by Callum Scott on Flickr. 

Friday Five: Q&A with Liz Gross, author of ‘How to Manage Social Media in Higher Education’

ManageSocialMedia_PromoImg_1200x1200Fellow higher ed marketer Liz Gross (@lizgross144 on Twitter and blogger at Gross, Point-Blank) has put together a nifty ebook — her first ever — about managing social media. It’s called How to Manage Social Media in Higher Education: A Guide for Campus Administrators.

I downloaded it earlier this week and have managed to only skim the contents to this date. But I like what I see. Right off the bat, Liz emphasizes the need to connect your social media work with your institution’s brand identity. She’s singing my song right there. The book is well-organized and easily readable — one you can peruse and reuse as a manual. I would recommend this ebook for anyone involved in higher ed social media — whether you’re involved in the day-to-day management of university social accounts or managing those who are.

For today’s Friday Five feature, I’ve asked Liz to talk about the book and why she decided to write it.

1. Why did you decide to write this book?

Liz Gross

Liz Gross

I was actually asked to write about this topic as part of a chapter in a book about social media and higher education. The author and editor of the book decided, after a draft had been completed, that it was no longer a fit for the theme of the book, which focused more on student development and social media. I had put a lot of time and effort into the research and writing, so I modified the chapter to appeal to the audience I identified with most: higher education professionals that want to use social media as part of their communication strategy. With this sort of laser-focus, it seemed appropriate to offer it as a short eBook.

2. What is the main thing you would like readers to take away from this book?

Creating and executing a successful social media program in higher education isn’t rocket science. As long as you know where to start (and I think this book provides that foundation), social media can be integrated into an existing marketing and communication strategy without an enormous investment of money or resources. While it’s not free, it’s also not something that can’t be learned by almost any motivated individual.

3. What have you learned about social media as a result of writing this book?

Although the tools of the trade change all the time, the theoretical underpinnings of social media as part of an integrated marketing and communications strategy have not changed that much over the last few years. The majority of the text in this book was written in Fall 2013, and after reviewing it a year later not much had to be changed.

4. What would you like to see higher education do differently in the way we approach social media?

I allude to this towards the end of the book when I talk about ROI (return on investment). I’d love to see more higher education social media programs with clearly articulated goals that align with institutional/department objectives, and a defined measurement plan that allows manager to clearly report on the performance of the program. I believe this is possible for most any institution if they frame the purpose of their social media program correctly.

I hope to have a part in shaping this future by teaching practitioners in a newly-launched class I’m teaching through Higher Ed Experts – Social Media Measurement in Higher Ed.

5. How do you see the role of social media manager changing in the next few years?

With the exception of schools that have extremely large, engaged communities (hundreds of individual conversations per day), I believe that a staff member specializing in social media will cease to exist. And, I say this as someone who was most recently hired as a social media specialist. It will take a few years, but much like email, display advertising, and other electronic communication, social media will be integrated into a multi-channel marketing strategy. Smart marketers will have a baseline understanding of the medium and its associated tools, and that understanding will allow them to execute their communication strategy in social media and many other online (and offline) venues.

What I’ve written about in this book will still be important, but I hope that every department that communicates with students and other stakeholders on a regular basis will understand its importance, not just the “social media person.”

That being said, I think the social media manager that understands how his/her work fits into the bigger picture — through aligned goals, strategy, measurement, and multi-channel marketing — will prove his/her value to an organization for years to come.