Don’t hire to fill the position

When you need to fill a position, it is tempting to take the first applicant who can do the job.

Don’t do it!

It takes time to integrate a new employee, and for the employee to learn the corporate culture, procedures, and why we always take a little extra time with this one particular customer. It takes you time to learn if they are diligent, punctual, trustworthy, and a regular source of insight.

There will come a day when you need to fill a position with more responsibility. And it’s great to have someone who knows your organization ready and is chomping-at-the-bit to step up to that important job.

Every job in your organization is a trainee position. You’re already investing in teaching employees the one thing you can’t hire outside: your people, products, procedures and culture. Why not leverage that investment for the future?

There is a downside: you may hire someone with an eye to the future and lose them to another opportunity before you can use all their growing talents. But graduating some great people from your organization is a small price to pay for having a deep bench when you need it.

Are you a star player? Are you looking for a growing company where you’ll have lots of opportunities? We’re hiring.

Everything I want to say has already been said

I want to blog more, but whenever I think of something to write I do a web search and find someone else has already written it. For example, this article addresses the same point.

Is anyone reading the 937th review of that movie? Nope. But the 938th guy just wants to rant or rave.

It’s the detailed, thoughtful post you want to write but someone-already-did-three-months-ago that’s frustrating. And once I find it, I lose enthusiasm for writing my own take.

I need to have more original thoughts. Or resign myself to twittering links.

Google destroyed the web

I don’t mind advertising supported content. But I’m sick of the heaping mounds of garbage that clutter the Internet in an attempt to generate “passive income” on 0.000001% click-throughs of Google AdSense ads.

Today I searched for the answer to a question. The top hit was a useful article written by a subject-matter expert. (Good job, Google.) Many of the following hits were a simplistic rewrite of that article that had been search engine optimized, and were hosted on massive “content” sites cluttered with ads.

You can always tell a Search Engine Optimized page. A Search Engine Optimized page reads like it was written by a six year old. People who write a Search Engine Optimized page are sure to include keyword phrases many times so that search engines can optimize the way they find the Search Engine Optimized page.

I’m not saying anything new. I’ve just reached my personal “I want to scream” point.

I’ll give them some credit; Google has gotten better. Now when I search for “hilton fresno” I’m very likely to see Hilton’s official site ahead of the nine-million “I loaded the yellow pages into a web site” sites.

But it’s still out of control. You can’t trust search anymore. It’s why people are turning to social media for links and visiting trusted blogs and content providers.

(It’s good for my business, too: people buy Bible software because they want a dedicated tool and a curated library. There’s lots of free Bible content online, but our users don’t have time to separate the wheat from chaff.)

Google, Bing, and especially Wolfram Alpha are trying to offer more “answers,” rather than just links. But most of my searching is for another site, not just an answer. I want to be sent to somebody’s page – just a real page, not an ad-farm.

There’s an opportunity here to create a web search engine that punishes results littered with ads. Google can’t do it – they live off those ads. A site that took ads but didn’t have an incentive to send you to other sites full of them could offer a superior experience.

And there’s an opportunity for publishers, too, to take their quality brands and build content sites that take over some of what you’d use the search engine for.

Everything tastes better with umami

The secret to my amazing chili?

A quarter-cup of Worcestershire sauce.

Why is Caesar salad dressing so good?

Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and (I hope!) anchovies.

I spent years loving umami-rich foods without understanding why. It’s a natural flavor common in many foods and cuisines, but if you don’t know it’s there, it’s hard to incorporate in your own cooking.

The WSJ has an excellent overview, and you’ll find more information and recipes at the Umami Information Center. My rule of thumb? There aren’t many dishes you won’t improve with either parmesan cheese or Worcestershire sauce.

The future is now

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, wrote about The End of Book Publishing As We Know It. His post includes a video of Sports Illustrated’s tablet prototype.

It’s very cool, and looks like the obvious next step in publishing: the freshness of a web page, the editorial attention of a magazine, and the depth of a book, in the form factor of a Kindle.

It even looks comfortable and familiar to me… I feel like I’ve seen it before…

Separated at birth?

SITablet

Logos4HomePage

We’ve been building the future for a few years, and we’re shipping it now. (Minus the dedicated device with touch screen; but put Logos 4 on a tablet PC and you’re just about there.)

So here’s my experience-based take on Hyatt’s six conclusions about the future of book publishing:

1. The line between newspapers, magazines, and books is about to become blurred.

Boy, howdy. We contracted with professional news artists from major newspapers to build a whole new set of infographics, like Solomon’s Temple shown above. We consulted The Society for News Design’s annual awards book for Home Page layout ideas. The page incorporates hand-chosen excerpts from books and will integrate with Bible Study Magazine in the future.

And let me add databases to the blurry mix. A single table or piece of data in isolation won’t satisfy users of an interactive tool. SI will need to have their stats linked into massive back-end databases, just like a Bible map now needs to be backed up with all kinds of metadata.

2. Publishers will need to envision multimedia content from the beginning.

And in many cases this means starting over. We have dozens of books with graphic representations of Solomon’s Temple, but we had to start over to ensure we’d have not only a great image, but the high-resolution vector art and 3D model. (Look for that same temple model to be animated and explorable in the future.)

Publishers also need to secure the rights to re-mix and re-use data. You don’t want a timeline graphic, you want a database of events you can repurpose many ways.

3. Consumer expectations are going to skyrocket.

Paper is the true what-you-see-is-what-you-get medium. Our expectations for what we can do with it don’t go beyond scissors and tape. In the digital world, consumers expect the production values of a major motion picture with the data crunching of a spreadsheet and the flexibility of a scrapbook.

There are many issues for publishers to worry about here:

  • Production Quality – There will need to be a bigger investment in art and design. And, in interactive media, a significant investment in the design of the user interface. Design will need to anticipate usage scenarios, too. The picture bleeds off the page for artistic effect? Great – but can I copy it uncropped to put into my report?
  • Flexibility – We already had high-production-value multimedia content. The 1990’s saw a plethora of multimedia products; Microsoft’s Multimedia Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony was an excellent example of using every media type to produce something that wasn’t a book, a magazine, or a movie. But production of each product was insanely expensive, and each product was a closed box, tied tightly to a technological moment in time. These products are unusable today. Future-proof publishing needs to have flexibility designed-in.
  • IllustrationRights – The entire publishing industry is built on a rights-model designed for physical distribution. Any significant property (books with text, multiple contributors, and licensed images, or video with music, images, and other content) is tied down like Gulliver was by the Lilliputians. We are creating new media and new content not only to use it flexibly, but to be able to grant consumers the right to use it in the ways they’re demanding.

4. The cost of producing digital books will get more expensive.

In addition to audio, video, and design costs, publishers will need to invest more in markup and tagging. It’s not enough to cite an article in a footnote, it needs to be linked to the source. Are cross references links? Are people disambiguated? Are places tagged with latitude and longitude? Are events tagged for timelines? Are images annotated so that you can search for a picture as easily as for a word?

Indexing and abstracting will become much more important. Stand-alone back-of-the-book indexes will need to be replaced with rich tagging that works across multiple properties.

5. Digital content creation and distribution will become our primary focus.

We’re still distributing on DVD-ROM’s, to my amazement. (Broadband Internet just isn’t everywhere yet.) But a few months ago we shut down the last of our physical distribution network. The good news is, we didn’t own a warehouse, and serving that distribution network was just a small part of our business, and never our focus.

Physical products will remain an important part of the traditional publisher’s business, but they’ll need to decide if their focus will remain on physical-goods logistics or move to digital competencies. This is different than the move to sell off printing-presses a decade ago. It is more than asking “Do we outsource the warehouse?” It’s asking “Who are we?”

6. People will be reading more than ever.

The good news! We see this all the time. Freedom from the bonds of paper weight means we can give the user a great deal on more content than their shelves could hold. An easy interface and automated research tools help engage users with their content. Each innovation – especially our move to a newspaper-style Home Page – helps users get more out of their digital library. And when they get more value from it, they purchase more content.

Publishers, are you ready?

Take this simple quiz:

  • [ ] Graphic design is a core competency in-house, not an outsourced project.
  • [ ] I have unrestricted global rights to the content I publish.
  • [ ] I employ an Information Architect.
  • [ ] My content is always designed for use in multiple media or formats.
  • [ ] Everything we own or license is thoroughly indexed and stored in a database.
  • [ ] I employ an Interaction Designer.
  • [ ] Software development is a core competency in-house.
  • [ ] I have an experienced digital publishing partner, not a project-based contractor.

Do you need a perfect score? Nope. (I don’t have one either
.) But these are things to think about as we prepare for the new normal in publishing.

You had me at free parking

My company sponsored a scholarship at Western Washington University. (For not-at-all altruistic reasons: you apply for it by showing up at a meeting where we get to introduce our company and internship opportunities. We want first pick of the best students!)

I got a thank you letter from the university, which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that it included an all-campus parking pass.

This pass has little cash value. It’s not transferrable, and not good for events. I’m on campus just a few times a year (an advisory board, visiting a class, etc.) and there is always a free day-permit reserved for me at the visitor’s center. I don’t need this pass.

But I love it. Parking is always a mess at universities, and I’ve got a golden ticket. I can drive from my office right to the building I’m visiting.

This pass costs the university nothing. But it’s the free prize inside. And I’m embarrassed by what a difference it makes in my attitude towards visiting and contributing to the school.

Fennel salt, you make me happy

FennelAndSalt What’s wrong with America, where there’s no cheap, simple pleasure we don’t turn into an expensive, complicated pleasure?

I don’t know, but I’m going along, at least in regards to salt. Murray River Pink Salt Flakes are a difference you can taste at the table. (It’s too expensive at the gourmet stores; split a 2 lb. bag from SaltWorks with a friend. Or keep it all; you’ll use it.)

And then I discovered Fennel & Salt. Twice the insane price of Murray River by the jar. But sprinkle it on some sauteed vegetables…or right into your mouth…it’s like fairy dust from Italy. I don’t regret it one bit.

On Writing Well

Phil Gons put me on to 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice, a delightfully-testy attack on Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

So I won’t be spending the month of April toasting 50 years of the overopinionated and underinformed little book… English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.

Alas, The Elements march on unmolested. A testimony to the convenience of their form, the boldness of the assertions, and the continued strength of the brand.

In that spirit:

  1. Throw away your Elements.
  2. Purchase On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.

We could have had an F-8

My grandfather worked for the Campbell Soup Company from 1946-1978. There were always lots of Campbell’s products around, and I drank a lot of V8.

Alas, I never got to try F-8, V-8’s fruity friend, and one of the projects my grandfather worked on. “This deliciously distinctive fruit drink is a blend of: water, sugar, naranjilla and cocona juices, concentrates of pineapple, apricot, apple, lemon and lime, banana puree, citric acid, guar gum and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).”

I don’t know if F-8 even made it to shelves, or how long it lived; I do know the concept lives on in V8 Splash and V8 V-Fusion.

An F-8 label was tacked to the boathouse ceiling at my grandparents’ summer home, and I always wanted one. My mother has the last one we could find, and I scanned it in so I could share it with other family members. And you.

F-8 Blended Fruit Drink

Bouts-rimés (Fr., literally, “rhymed ends”)

“A form of literary amusement in which rhymes being given the participants, they fill up the verses. According to Ménage, the notion of this frivolity was derived from a saying of the French poet Dulot, whereby he accidentally let the cat out of the bag, or, to change the metaphor, let the public in behind the scenes. Complaining one day of the loss of three hundred sonnets, his hearers marvelled at his having about him so large a collection of literary wares, whereupon he explained that they were not completed sonnets, but the unarticulated skeletons, – in other words, their prearranged rhyming ends, drawn out in groups of fourteen. All Paris was in a roar next day over Dulot’s lost sonnets. Bouts-rimés became the fashion in all the salons…”

From William S. Walsh’s fascinating time killer, Handy Book of Literary Curiosities, 1906, kept dangerously in reach of my chair.

What can you do with pen, scuffle, men, ruffle?

“One would suppose a silly pen
A shabby weapon in a scuffle;
But yet the pen of critic men
A very hero’s soul would ruffle.”

“I grant that some by tongue or pen
Are daily, hourly, in a scuffle;
But then we philosophic men
Have placid tempers naught can ruffle.”

“Last night I left my desk and pen,
For in the street I heard a scuffle,
And there, torn off by drunken men,
I left my coat-tails and shirt-ruffle.”

But the best is a “rhyming end unto itself,” if you will:

“Boy,
Gun;
Joy,
Fun.

Gun
Bust,
Boy
Dust.”