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the smartest guy gets the dumbest phone June 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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Companies want their employees to be available 100 percent of the time. Good companies realize that they have to issue cell phones to their employees or else the employees won’t answer their personal phones; who wants to spend their own cell phone minutes talking to work?

Well, I do, for one, and here’s why:

For years, my boss (now departed) told me that we were going to get company-issued cell phones, and that they would be good ones. But negotiations with the cell phone company were difficult, and we were continually put off.

Then, last Friday, the Two-Year-Old came in and announced, loudly, that the new phones were in and everyone should go downstairs, two at a time, to get them.

HTC Touch Pro (by Ray Dehler)

HTC Touch Pro (by Ray Dehler)

I wasn’t doing anything; why shouldn’t I go down? LR and I went to the room. LR gave his name and the phone rep handed him a brand-new HTC Touch Pro. Now, I had an earlier edition of the Touch Pro and I really liked it (until the system got so buggy that I couldn’t use it anymore), so I was actually looking forward to getting one of these. I do already have an iPhone, but it’s a 3G and I really would like something with video recording and a better camera. If that means I have to carry around two phones, then fine, I’ll carry around two phones.

LR signed for his phone and my turn came up. I said to the nice lady, “my name is That Guy.” She looked over the collection of Touch Pro phones and couldn’t find my name.

One of our finance guys did find it — in a stack of Samsung Sagas.

Urgh.

Samsung Saga

Samsung Saga

Now, nothing against Samsung or the Saga (my sister’s old Samsung was actually really, really cool), but let’s be realistic here: I’m a techy kind of guy. I have an iPhone 3G. My phone already does everything that the Saga does except record video, and if you’ve never seen Saga video (or Blackjack II, which is basically the same)… well, let’s just say you’re not missing out. The Touch Pro at least has a 3.2-megapixel camera, which is better than the 3G, and I certainly wouldn’t mind being able to record video again.

So I left the Saga on the table, told the Two-Year-Old that my iPhone is already a much better device, and asked if I could get a Touch Pro if there are enough left. Because, you know, everyone in here knows I’m technical and everyone in here is going to be asking me how to use their phones*. I certainly can’t help out if I don’t have a phone to compare it to, and I certainly can’t teach people to use things on their phones if I haven’t figured out how to do it myself. That’s probably the most compelling argument, to be honest.

Not that it’ll matter. There weren’t any spare Touch Pros on the table (at least, none that I could see).

Oh, and even better, no one will be able to help with the Touch Pros because the IT guys aren’t getting them either — they’re also getting Sagas.

iPhone 3G (by Adrian Korte)

iPhone 3G (by Adrian Korte)

Everyone in upper management — including the Two-Year-Old — is getting an iPhone 3G (the old one, not the new one). The 3G phones actually cost less than one-third as much as the Touch Pros, and are light-years-easier to use — I tried to help LR set up his Windows Mobile e-mail (because I actually like him) and it turned out that the phone wasn’t even fully set up to work on the data network. LR, fortunately, is a smart guy, and went upstairs to get the problem fixed, but for all the other people who work in here, I just know there’ll be strife as they receive their awesome new devices that don’t quite work as promised.

Meanwhile, I was talking to Amy, who just signed a two-year contract with her provider and picked up a new Instinct. She’s going to roll back to just a phone plan and carry around her husband’s ancient flip phone, but she was pretty disappointed; she finally got the Instinct to do exactly what she wanted, and now she’s going to have to get used to a Touch Pro.

But LR and Amy are exceptions. The vast majority of people I work with will use their $350 Touch Pros as telephones and cameras, and even after the training that has been promised, I guarantee they won’t know how to properly configure the cameras, check their e-mail, go to our mobile website, or take usable video. Pretty standard, when you think about it.

Side note: I know the title of this post claims I’m the smartest guy here. I know that’s not true. However, people in the building think I’m the smartest guy, at least when it comes to technological stuff like cell phones. It only makes sense that I got the dumbest phone, right?

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* As I’ve said countless times, most of the people at CorporateSpeak, despite how they look or behave, are not very bright when it comes to anything more technical than a pencil and paper. Seriously, there are people here who we’ve had to demonstrate — more than once — how to copy and paste in a Word document.

“exciting concept” June 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Definition, Economic Downturn, Meeting Minutes.
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exciting concept
ex-SY-ting CON-sept

Layoffs are everywhere. Companies are cutting budgets and cutting services. Employees are doing more with less, and for less money as it becomes clear pay cuts are going to be necessary to even approach the black. And yet you’re still being asked, time and time again, to do new things at work, to add new tasks that you know in your heart will be the business equivalent of vaporware.

And the worst kind of vaporware is something that starts out as an exciting concept.

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Warning! Exciting concept creation zone!

Exciting concepts tend to begin in conference rooms at the corporate office, where several suited employees gather together and try to come up with something that will cost no money but somehow bring in revenue while also virally infecting the internet. These suited employees have been on the corporate payroll so long that they’ve forgotten actual non-suited employees have to somehow make these concepts come to life.

So they sit around, often for days at a time, until a great idea (likely suggested by a non-suited employee three or more months ago) suddenly strikes. They come up with dozens of ways it can go viral and be huge on Facebook or Twitter, and then they lay it all out and order it to occur.

And y’know what? Some of them aren’t half-bad ideas. The problem is that there’s never support for an exciting concept. There’s no extra money in the budget; there’s no extra people to work on it; there’s no possible way that the job can be done by current employees without being slammed shoddily together at the last minute, as so many things are. Then management puts a polish on it and goes back to corporate and says “hey, look how great we did with your exciting concept!”

That only leads to one thing: more exciting concepts coming right down on your head.

Exciting.

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oregano June 26, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Seen Elsewhere, Staff.
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Oregano. I saw this comic on my daily trip through the internet and I immediately recognized an employee I knew very well.

oregano

Even though we’ll never freely admit it, we’re just as bad as adults as we were in high school. We all join cliques, even at work, and cliques can be dangerous. Sometimes. Especially if the company is undergoing turmoil.

But cliques can be simpler than that. Off the top of my head, for example, I can name several cliques at CorporateSpeak:

  • Athletes — the ones who form teams and join leagues.
  • Golfers — the ones who play golf, or watch it whenever it’s on TV.
  • Eaters — the ones who get together every day to go out and have lunch.
  • Churchers — the ones who fervently believe in their religion of choice and incorporate it into all of their discussions*.
  • Technicians — the IT crowd.

And then there’s people like Oregano. Oregano is a ubiquitous seasoning that goes on a lot of food, but the food would likely be just as good without it. It’s larger than salt crystals or ground pepper, and it often comes in a rounder container**. And a lot of people either don’t notice it’s in there or actively try to avoid it.

Cliques avoid Oregano, no matter how hard Oregano tries to be part of the group. Really, that’s all Oregano wants: to make friends at the office. To join the softball team, or play some golf, or find someone to have lunch with, or even talk religion with. But no one invites Oregano to join, and when Oregano manages to tag along, it usually feels like a third (or fourth, or fifth, or eleventh) wheel.

Cliques made up of adults have an unfortunate tendency to make people feel like they don’t belong and never will. At least in high school teenagers have the knowledge that they’ll be going off to college and, if they’re not popular, they can start over with new people in a new place. But once you’re in the work world, there’s nowhere to go, especially in this economy.

Oregano these days is a very depressed seasoning. You’ll find it at its desk during lunch breaks, eating leftovers and surfing the net because no one wants to invite Oregano to be part of anything, and like I said, when Oregano tries, the try is always unsuccessful. And one more thing that makes Oregano feel even less accepted: when Oregano tries to start a clique, no one joins.

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* You may have seen them on Facebook, saying how unhappy they are with work but confident that their deity of choice (usually God) will somehow show them the way. You will probably be annoyed every time you read one of their status messages.

** Remember I said that when I introduce “Fat Guy Week”, coming July 6.

feedback: the creativity killer June 25, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Management, The Two-Year-Old.
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I've heard this was originally printed in the Utne Reader, but I'm not sure.

I've heard this was originally printed in the Utne Reader, but I'm not sure.

I took a lot of flack last month for a post about a manager turning one of my projects into crap. I freely admit that I got too attached to that project, and that management’s prerogative — as I well know, after writing this blog for this long — is to ruin everything and then blame you for it.

On that topic, Six Revisions has an excellent post up about how feedback can ruin your creativity.

I would hesitate to tell a surgeon how she should initiate the first cut, or tell the airplane pilot that I think he should move to another altitude for faster travel. But heck if I haven’t had someone walk past my desk and offer unsolicited tips on how I could improve a design I am working on.

That’s amazing. Because it’s true. Hell, I’ve done it! But more often I’m the victim; more often I’m the one who someone says “hey, that’s great, but why not do this instead because I like it better.”

What I love about the article is SR’s three types of creativity-killing feedback:

Egocentric: This person believes that their opinion has more weight because their experience or rank means more than your experience and/or rank. They will take credit for ideas until something goes wrong, then it’s all you.

Uninformed: This person feels they know enough to make important decisions based on something like reading an article or working with a designer in the past. They know enough to be dangerous. Some might offer an opinion just because they were asked or only speak up to justify their value as a team member.

Influenced: This person has motivations that relate only to the world they live in. It might be a marketer who only is concerned with a brand guide being followed to the “t”. The user experience might be secondary or quickly drop completely off the list, as they get distracted with unimportant details.

Funny how all of these fall into the category of “types of ‘feedback’ a manager will give you”.

Egocentric: Wow. Perfect. Here’s an example: one of our internal sites was doing a lot of promotion and not a lot of internal company news, so I did a minor redesign to facilitate promotion. The Two-Year-Old decided she didn’t like it, and even though she asked me to solicit opinions, in the end we changed it to the way she wanted it because she’s the manager and I’m not.

Uninformed: Managers generally got to be managers by, at some point in their lives, doing the kind of work they hired you to do. Then they gradually gain more and more power until they supervise a vast number of people similar to the team they used to work with — a marketing manager, for example, who is in charge of marketing, web, PR, and graphics. Maybe she was a marketing person who ordered graphics, wrote some PR, and ran a blog; now she’s got just enough knowledge to say “at my old job, we did it this way, so let’s change parts 1, 3, and 7 to look like my old company’s website.”

Influenced: At the same time, managers are responsible for conforming to brand/corporate identity. They want things to look new, cool, and different, but only within the confines of what we are permitted to do by our corporate one-sheet. So once designers (like me) put together something exactly the way the manager wants, it’s the manager’s job to pull out everything that doesn’t fit the accepted model and leave the project looking like the same thing you always do.

SR also has twelve great tips about how to manage critical feedback and make use of it, and the commenters on the article have useful tips as well. Definitely worth reading. While you do that, I’m going to go change something that a manager told me doesn’t meet our brand identity even though she’s seen it done at two of our other offices that she worked at so it must be good enough to happen here.

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but I’m not offended! June 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Observations, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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I read the following on one of the many blogs I follow:

So my boss just came over again and he was all like “what are you doing now?” and I was like “I’m having my lunch, what does it look like?” and he said “I can see that but are you looking at pornographic websites?” so I sighed and put down my kipperdine* sandwich, pulled out the employee standards of practice from my vest and showed him the section that said “Employees are allowed to use the internet for personal reasons during designated break time.” He started turning red and grabbed the S of P and flicked to the page that had a list of stuff we can’t look at on the web and was all like, “That doesn’t include offensive material” and I was like “But I’m not offended”.

Would she be offended? (Photo by myDearDelilah)

Would she be offended? (Photo by myDearDelilah)

Dealing with offensive stuff at work is always tricky. It’s completely subjective, too.

One of the companies I worked at explained their internet policy thusly: “if it’s not something you’d show your grandmother, don’t view it on a work computer”. Well, (a) they’ve never met my grandmother and (b) sometimes you have to view offensive things. At one of my old jobs, we did some work with Disney, and when the Vanessa Hudgens nude photo* scandal happened, viewing the photo was part of my job**. I personally wasn’t offended, but I’m pretty sure someone walking past my cubicle who saw Vanessa Hudgens naked*** would have been.

No, I'm not going to show the picture of her naked. I'm crass, but not that crass.

No, I'm not going to show the picture of her naked. I'm crass, but not that crass.

Not everyone. Not the pervs I worked with, certainly.

So who do you side with? The manager, who’s worried about getting in trouble for having offensive stuff on a work computer, or the employee, who’s just looking at stuff he wants to look at on time that the company says he can use however he wants? I wish I had the answer.

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* Now watch my Google hits shoot up as a result of that. No pun intended.

** Yes, it was for PR purposes.

*** Holistic SEM, party of one!

what managers do at conferences June 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Dilbert.com

It’s exactly like that.

you need to take ownership June 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Dilbert.com

The phrase “take ownership” is a scary one for employees. It means you have to actually be responsible for a project’s failure, as in the Dilbert strip above. No one but a manager is responsible for a project’s success, because no matter how much your manager lauds you, s/he will claim all the credit when that happens. A good manager knows how to claim credit and deflect blame. A good employee knows that it’s important to recognize when it’s happening and start searching for a new job.

hoist by my own petard June 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Experiences, The Two-Year-Old.
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2 comments

Most offices do things in strange, roundabout, or complicated ways not because those are the best ways but because those are the ways that have always been used. As a web guy, I’m much more up on technology than most office drones, and as such, I’m looking for new ways to do things that actually improve the process. To that end, I’ve printed out the following Grace Hopper quote and put it on my desk.

The most dangerous phrase in our language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’.

Well, that came back and bit me in the ass on Friday.

One of the things instituted by the Two-Year-Old is that everyone in her department is in charge of putting their own web content online. Some do it well, some do it average, some do it because they have to, and some (the highest-paid ones, rather predictably) don’t even bother, counting on everyone else to do it for them. I’ve been in charge of plenty of web training, because (a) I’m an expert in all our web apps and (b) I’ve actually been a teacher. Oh, and I also write all the manuals for the web apps, using pictures, big arrows, and as many small words as possible.

On Friday, I went to see the Two-Year-Old about a better way to do web content that basically boils down to this:

Remember when you halved my department and absorbed the person who oversaw all web contend during the day, then made it so he doesn’t do that anymore, and then didn’t replace him but instead just told all your people to put their own stuff online? Basically, we need your people to each take a day and oversee all web content to the exclusion of all else.

For a company that believes the web is the future, I still find it appalling that:

  • I am the entire web department.
  • If I didn’t take it upon myself to police our web content, no one would do it, and no one would care.
  • The rest of the staff either doesn’t care about the web or puts it last instead of first.

However, the conversation was rather deftly turned to “how can we make things easier?” I put forth that more people need to be able to move layouts from the art computer to the production computer. In the old days, we had to use an internal FTP program, but in the past year we’ve implemented a really good piece of software that I’ll call MoveItThere. Dump the layout in MoveItThere, tag it, then go to the production computer and type your tag into MoveItThere. Voila!

Yes, I know, it would be better if they were on the same system, but like I said, “we’ve always done it this way”.

Anyway, the Two-Year-Old said “we need to find a better way” and I said, rather stupidly, “because of the firewalls, we’ve always had to have a process like this.”

“But don’t you have a sign on your desk…”

My stomach dropped down into my socks.

Hoist by my own petard!

I managed to recover and turn the conversation back to my point, which was: “look, we need to make some changes around here. I can plan them out, but as the boss you have to actually make them.” She agreed, looking rather haggard — her job is pretty stressful and she spreads herself very thinly — but we didn’t come to any actual conclusions about changes being made.

Score one for the Two-Year-Old.

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This is post #250 of CorporateSpeak. Thanks for supporting me this long. Tell your friends!

does your office have balls? June 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Seen Elsewhere.
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2 comments

Most of us are in one of two groups: questing for the perfect office chair, or fighting to keep the perfect office chair from being stolen.

When we bought a local competitor and merged with them, I obtained what, to me, was the perfect office chair. It was the best one I’d ever owned. It probably cost $400. All I had to do was stick my name on it, wait for the chair giveaway to end, and then go get it. I used it in good health and happiness for almost two years, until we moved to our new building, and then I brought it home*

The new chairs over here aren’t so great. I mean, they start out that way, but the cushions are relatively thin and some of our employees are super-sized. You can always tell when you’re sitting in a chair used by one of them because there’s little-to-no cushion left between your ass and the metal part of the chair.

Oh, and we’re not allowed to bring in our old chairs. Everything has to match.

Too bad, because that means my office will never have balls.

From KnoxNews.com:

“Stability balls create good posture by gradually building core abdominal strength,” says Philip Clift, licensed massage therapist and certified yoga instructor with Glowing Body Yoga Studio, 711 Irwin St. “A person is forced to sit upright with a more elongated spine, which strengthens the deep abdominal musculature and works to prevent the rounding of the mid-back and slumping forward of the shoulders so often associated with traditional chair sitting.”

Clift says the effects of using a stability ball come gradually but palpably. “Over time, this will decrease lower-back pain and stiffness and reduce tension through the neck and shoulder area, decreasing stress levels and the tendency to acquire tension headaches. After an initial period of adjustment, using stability balls should increase energy levels and concentration ability, which may increase productivity.”

Photo by Kelly Cookson

Photo by Kelly Cookson

It’s an interesting idea, though given how many people these days have back injuries, having balls may not be the best option. Still, if your office is willing to give them a try, why not bring one in? Your wife (or you, if you’re a woman) may have one from when she was pregnant; mine does. I’d just be concerned that management would kick my balls if they caught me sitting on them.**

The article also warns that relative fitness level also contributes greatly to how easy it will be to adjust to sitting on a ball instead of a chair. I’d be more concerned about my posture because I have a tendency to lean; in fact, I’m leaning to one side right now as I type. But if I was sitting on a ball, I don’t think I’d have it so easy. I’d probably lean all the way forward, and that’s even worse. At least now I’m getting support for my back via the back of the chair, even though the height adjustment device is digging into my hip quite a bit. I probably should move.

The concept of sitting on balance balls speaks to the clash between traditional office values and new and exciting technology; depending upon where you work, you’ll either be encouraged to try new things or stick to the old ways. If you’re reading this blog, you probably wish you could do the former but are shoehorned into doing the latter.

Grow some balls, corporate America. Then sit on them.

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* We were all encouraged to bring our office chairs home, I guess to save on dumpster costs.

** Enough ball jokes for you? Good, because I’m moving on.

That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #19 June 18, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble, Tips for Corporate Success.
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Don’t make it difficult for me to respond to your e-mails.

I get a lot of e-mail, some of it from customers or people who work with our clients. I don’t mind sending helpful responses, either; often people are so surprised to hear from me that their opinion of the company goes up a few notches.

Some of them, though, never get my replies. Here’s why:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:

(link)

Look, I get it: you get a lot of spam, and you want people to prove they’re humans. I get a bunch of spam too, and some of it even gets past my filters. But if you’re going to e-mail a corporate entity, or representative thereof, would it kill you to put my e-mail address on your whitelist?

Because no one in the business world has time to fill out your form and give their personal information to the company who maintains your whitelist. No one.

And now you don’t get the benefit of an answer to your question.

Don’t make me do this to e-mail you:

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