Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Trust Agents in the Time/Space-Shifting Continuum

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on Aquent’s Talent Blog, February 16, 2009

2971146962_c99af07858_mThe concepts of time-shifting and place-shifting (originally called “space-shifting”) come from the realm of consumer electronics. The classic time-shifting device is TiVo, which allows you to “shift” the time of your favorite TV programs to a time of your choosing. On the place-shifting front, Sony, HAVA, and Sling Media, among others, have devices which allow you to change the “place” where you consume media by sending TV shows to your PC, for example. You could also think of the iPod/iPhone as doing the same thing with your music and videos.

At least one denizen of the interwebs, Nari Kannan, postulates that the ability to shift time and/or place is an essential element of technical innovation. He writes, “Placeshifting in the larger context with the widespread adoption of the Internet enabled Outsourcing and Offshoring! Work is not tethered to one location anymore.” We find the same idea, mutatis mutandi, expressed in this article on the future of electronic design, “The Internet dissolves international boundaries, creating a time- and place-shifting global village of design and engineering.”

Any work whose end-product is an electronic file (which could be a text document or a feature film) requires solely that collaborators be connected electronically, not spatial proximity. In fact, the only complication introduced by the fact that the end-product takes a more material form, a chair, for example, is that the collaborators must each on their end be connected to some physical transport system such as that run by FedEx or UPS.

Given the boundary-less world of cyber-enabled work, to what extent are we still bound by geography when it comes to landing gigs or hiring people, especially since anyone can post a resume or portfolio online or advertise a job opening and it can be found by anyone with access to the web from anywhere on Earth?

When it comes to actually getting hired or hiring I believe that the only thing making physical presence in a particular geographic location necessary is trust (or, more accurately, the lack thereof). As atavastic or primitive as it may be, the most basic form of trust still rests in seeing someone with our own eyes, shaking their hand, and sizing them up by talking to them, asking them questions, and gauging their responses.

Nevertheless, people nowadays will readily work with others they have never physically met. The trust encouraging them to do so is not primarily generated by marketing and faith in governmental regulation. It depends instead on the accumulated recommendations of total strangers (as can be found in seller ratings from Amazon to eBay), and the growing reach of influencers who essentially make a career out of being trusted (Brogan calls these folk “trust agents“).

The same technology that enables time- or place-shifted collaboration in myriad domains has also fostered the growth of globe-spanning trust networks. And that, in the end, may turn out to be its most revolutionary effect.

Image Courtesy of Kevin Krejci.

I’ll Ask the Questions Here

This was one of my first posts on Aquent’s Talent Blog, November 3, 2006

What if you went into a job interview and asked all the questions?

2326448445_254db07d4f_mThe web is rife with tips on how to interview successfully. You can find them here and here and here. For the contrarians among you, there are even tips on interviewing unsuccessfully.

The tipsters all emphasize being prepared, which is unassailably sound advice, as any Boy Scout would tell you, but they don’t point out something that might make you rethink your entire approach to interviewing: Interviewers are often unprepared!

While some companies have thoroughly developed and well-defined processes for interviewing people (and will even provide you with a detailed overview of said processes beforehand), many companies do not. In fact, as these tips for interviewers from Monster imply, the interviewing process subjects interviewers themselves to a lot of stress.

So what does this mean to you as a marketing professional approaching an upcoming interview? It should encourage you to play an active role in the interview and work hard to make it a conversation rather than an interrogation. Don’t be afraid to take the lead and start off by asking questions, especially thoughtful, well-crafted questions that demonstrate your knowledge and experience while simultaneously conveying your interest in the position. As a kind of test, ask yourself, Could I get a job offer based solely on these questions I’m asking?

Asking questions, especially from the outset, will take some pressure off the interviewer and, ideally, provide you with insights that will allow you to present your own qualifications in the context of the role. This is key, for while the interviewer will inevitably ask you what you have done for others, she is most interested in discovering what you will do for her, her team, and her organization. There is no better way to do that then by peppering any discussion of your talents and triumphs with specific references to the challenges she is currently facing.

Ultimately, by engaging in a conversation about the role rather than submitting to an interview for it, you will accomplish two things. First, you will more readily be seen as a colleague or a peer than a candidate. In a sense, you will already have entered the interviewer’s world.

Secondly, and most importantly, if in this conversation you can project a sincere eagerness to learn and contribute to the success of the enterprise, you will send the message that every interviewer wants to hear: Not only can I do this job, I’m already thinking about how I’m going to get it done. Let’s get started right now!

Image Courtesy of Sean Dreilinger.

Is this Downturn “Less Bad” for the Creative Class?

This post originally appeared on Aquent’s Talent Blog, February 23, 2009

2239558273_64efa8f7d7_m.jpgI heard Richard Florida on the radio this morning. You may remember him as the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, which traced “the fundamental theme that runs through a host of seemingly unrelated changes in American society: the growing role of creativity in our economy.”

Anyway, he was talking about America’s post-crash geography and mentioned that, while recessions have been traditionally bad for the working class, the creative class is still doing alright. When I checked the stats to which he was referring, I found that “alright” really means “less bad.”

Turns out, as in the past, this recession is extra hard on the working class. Jobs in production are down 12.9% since last year, and jobs in “construction & extraction” are down 14.2%. By comparison, jobs in arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media, as well as jobs in architecture and engineering, are down a mere 5.4%. So, “down,” but not “as down.”

Where is growth happening? In the sectors Florida calls “eds and meds,” that is, higher education and healthcare. For example, jobs in “healthcare support” have increased by 10.4% year over year.

My question is: Does this mean that marketing, communication, and design work related to healthcare is also or will be on the rise? What are you finding?

Image Courtesy of Buster McLeod.

“Interweb the Rainbow” or the Rise of Aleatoric Design

This was my last official post for Aquent’s Talent Blog, March 4, 2009. I explored some of the implications of aleatoric design on Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix Blog.

Ms. Pistachio was the first to alert me, via Twitter, natch, that Skittles had gone all Social Media on us. Sure as shootin’, the current (March 2, 2009) is a mash-up of social media sites where the name of the colorful and intoxicatingly concentrated jelly-bean-oidal confection appears.

Of course, Skittles, with the aid of, are following in the footsteps of Modernista!, who took their own website in this direction last year. Still, the fact that a consumer brand has emulated a trendy design shop has got everybody talking, including the ever articulate (and strikingly handsome) David Armano, who rightly predicts, I believe, that we’ll see more of this, not less and goes on to link the Skittle move to the emergence of “sponsored conversations.”

But what is this “this” that we’re going to be seeing more of? I think it’s something we could call “aleatoric” design which takes advantage of the fact that web pages, in the end, exist as a set of instructions to be executed by a browser, not a fixed arrangement of text and image (as in the print world). Since these instructions can be linked to dynamic sites themselves (Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.), design now becomes the quasi-symphonic arrangement of fluid elements that resist control or even predictability.

Given this tendency, wouldn’t it be better for web designers to have a background in performance, choreography, or musical composition than graphic arts? Isn’t it time we acknowledged that interactive design is NOT graphic design (or that the latter is an increasingly small and incidental component of the former)?

Why Culture/Personality Fit May Matter Less to Web Talent

468955567_70268757d8_m.jpgI’m still trying to figure this out. When you ask web professionals and the people who recruit or hire them to evaluate the importance of the various attributes used to distinguish one Web candidate from another, you get some strong agreement – both groups are in accord that work experience and a specialized skill set are the most important attributes – but you also get some interesting disagreements.

To whit, personality/cultural fit is only important to 90% of web professionals, while it’s important to a full 98% of employers. I’ve made my views on the fit issue crystal clear, so I won’t repeat them here, but I will say that, in the staffing industry, there’s an old saw that goes, “Hire for skills, fire for fit.” In other words, fit definitely impacts on-the-job success. So why the gap?

There are two things I mentioned in my last post on this subject that may explain why web folk view “fit” as, if not totally unimportant, then, at least, less important.

First of all, web professionals want flexible work schedules and the ability to work from home (87% see it as important when considering a new job opportunity). Could it be that “fit” declines in importance when you realize that you won’t actually be working directly with others in a particular environment?

Secondly, as we discovered, 43% of working web professionals plan on looking for a new job within the next 12 months and another 35% say they would consider making a move if the right thing came along. It makes sense that fit is going to matter less to you if you’re a short-timer, then if you’re settling in for the long haul, right?

So much for my speculation on this topic. How sound do these explanations, er, sound?

Note: I’ll probably be mining the research on the state of the web profession we conducted with Monster for a while here. If you’d like to dig into it yourself, please do so and then feel free to share your insights.

Image Courtesy of freeparking.

How Does Government Differ from Business?

1063260702_4d4a46d09a_mAs far as I can tell, the difference between Republicans and Democrats boils down to the following: Republicans think that government should be run by businessmen and Democrats think government should be run by lawyers.

I mentioned this once to a friend with Republican tendencies and she said, “That’s right. Government should be run like a business.”

My immediate response was, “But a government is not a business!” Which, of course, got me thinking about how governments and businesses differ.

For simplicity’s sake, I define a government as that organization responsible for establishing and maintaining order within set geographic borders, borders which it is also generally the responsibility of said organization to secure, if not necessarily establish.

By contrast, I define a business as a set of related processes which facilitate the delivery of a good or service within a larger macro-process of exchange which usually depends on an consensually accepted token of value (currency) and a set of rules enforced by a communal agency (which may be a mob or may be a government).

Now consider these definitions in light of Allen Weiss’ comment that most Web 2.0 “business geniuses” seem to ignore “what a business is supposed to do..namely, make a profit.” On the one hand, I find in this formulation one important differentiator between government and business: Making a profit does not enter into my or any definition of government or its purpose.

On the other hand, I must point out that I did not define business in terms of making a profit either. This was intentional because I do not believe that the purpose of any business is, in the first instance, to make a profit. Aside from delivering the good or service around which it is organized, the main purpose of any business is TO STAY IN BUSINESS. Making a profit may serve this end, but it is not an unqualified necessity.

Now, returning to the original question of government and business, would it be fair to say that the purpose of any government is to stay in power?

Image Courtesy of takomabibelot.

Not a Day Without a Line

As an undergraduate I took a class on Russian literature. One of the books we read was Envy by Yury Olesha. As I recall, the professor, whose name I cannot recall, though I do recall her telling me that she was not a feminist, told us that Olesha’s motto was, “Not a day without a line.”

Is it better to do things because circumstances demand it, or because we impose on ourselves a certain discipline? My current motto is, “Do whatever the circumstances demand.” This is my attempt to enact an ideal of freedom conceived not as “do what thou wilt,” but as “do what is right” – “rightness” being defined as “what is most appropriate to the situation.”

Can one be a “fundamentalist” when it comes to relativism? If so, that’s what I am. More or less.

On Letting Machines Do the Work

3232485_a749eb3bdf_mBlade Kotelly is an interesting guy. A product of the Human Factors program at Tufts University, he made a name for himself in the field of speech recognition and literally wrote the book on it. He is currently Chief Designer at Endeca Technologies, a provider of “Enterprise Search, Information Access, and Guided Navigation Solutions.”

I met Blade about a month ago. Because he had made his name designing machines that humans could talk to and currently works at a company which builds machines that help people sort through the avalanche of data that a simple web search can produce, I was curious to discover that he at times turns to recruiters to find design talent. I asked him, “Why don’t you just let the machines do it?”

His answer was not surprising, On the one hand, he explained, good designers are difficult to find so you need to enlist assistance when searching for them. On the other hand, a big part of recruitment involves recognizing fit, and, if I understood him correctly, teaching machines to match personality types with the idiosyncratic needs of hiring managers and the peculiar nuances of corporate cultures is difficult. (Blade, if you happen to be reading this and I’m misstating the case, please set me straight!)

Oddly enough, while reading an SAP/Accenture white paper, “BPM Technology Taxonomy: A Guided Tour to the Application of BPM,” I found this point reiterated, after a fashion. In order for a business process to be automated, it is ideal that it take place in a predictable, step-by-step manner. The authors of this study point out, however, that some business processes do not play out like that. The example they use, fittingly enough, is recruiting. Recruiting, they write, “starts with a job description and ends with a hire, but exactly how all the interviews, evaluations and meetings will go is not clear at the outset.”

It’s curious that they say that it’s not clear how the interviews, etc., “will go,” since each of these events has but two possible outcomes: either the candidate advances to the next stage, or the candidate is rejected. In that sense, modeling the process is fairly straightforward: A candidate applies by submitting an application and resume. Those documents are reviewed and the candidate is either invited in for an interview or the process ends. The candidate is interviewed and the interviewer either decides to recommend that the candidate be hired, or the process ends. Etc. That is, the process indeed lends itself to a binary, forking path description wherein each step results in a (1) or a (0). (Indeed, applicant tracking systems handle the process at this level.)

The problem however is not that there are only two possible outcomes at each stage. The problem is that, aside from certain kinds of testing that might be employed, the way the outcome is produced, how the interview “goes,” cannot be easily modeled and therefore automated. In fact, the psychological factors at play, as Malcolm Gladwell has described are so unconscious, so rapid, and so irrational, that they defy automation. For this reason, many organizations turn to so-called “structured interviewing,” which can take many forms but at its most refined reduces the impact of personality quirks and coincidental affinities between interviewer and interviewed by designing questions so that the anticipated responses will demonstrate clear compatibility or incompatibility with the requirements of a given position.

Humans are really good at certain things – pattern recognition, decoding facial expressions, fuzzy logic – that are difficult for machines to do. Machines are good at processing data (performing calculations, rendering images, etc.) by running algorithms really fast. Of course, machines can also learn, and putting a human “in the loop” can help machines learn even faster. The automation of processes such as the recruitment and hiring of new employees might not be realizable yet but such systems are not theoretically inconceivable. Indeed, everyday, they become more and more possible. [Update: For a more detailed and informed discussion of the difference between computers and brains, and the superiority of the latter to the former, check this New York Times op-ed piece.]

Which brings us to the real question, which is not, “Are there processes that we cannot automate?” Rather, the real question is, “Are there processes we don’t WANT to automate?”

Image Courtesy of The Alieness GiselaGiardino²³.