Archive for July, 2008

Saying I’m Sorry – How to do it right

There’s a nice story in the New York Times about a doctor who made one big mistake in his career (at 74, yet) and how he fared by apologizing.

It’s a good example of how to apologize in business, a topic that’s seen increasing play in the healthcare industry press for the past 5 years or so.

The husband of the woman whose rib was partially shaved off by mistake (not the picture above, that’s an electrode left in Maria Del Rossario Valdez after a Ceasarian section) gave a pretty succinct recipe:”be completely candid, completely honest, and so frank…that the anger was gone.”

Here were the offending doctor’s actual words:

“After all these years, I cannot give you any excuse whatsoever. It is just one of those things that occurred. I have to some extent harmed you.”

 It happens in healthcare that more patients sue for poor communication than for actual medical mistakes. There’s probablly a lesson in there for you even if you aren’t in the healthcare industry.


Medical malpractice as an epidemiological problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 59, Issue 1, July 2004, Pages 39-46, Michelle M. Mello and David Hemenway  

Johnny Bunko – the shape of books to come?

I spent the evening with Dan Pink, author of best-sellers Free Agent NBunkoation and A Whole New Mind , an overflowing pseudo-boardroom of other curious readers, and free rounds of microbrew. Dan was in town to promote his new book–Johhny Bunko, the last career guide you’ll ever need. The discussion brought up a number of interesting questions to grapple with, not the least interesting of which was this: does Johnny Bunko give us the face and format of books to come?

You’ll notice from the reprint at the right important differences between Bunko and your standard career book. First, the text doesn’t respect margins. Second, the book doesn’t privilege text in the way most how-to’s do. Third, the book is fundamentally narrative, not didactic. In short, it’s a comic book. Or more correctly, it’s an Americanized version of Manga-a graphic format common in Japan and enjoying growing popularity in the US-which makes it sort of a literary california roll (to steal Dan’s metaphor).

But should you take Bunko’s format seriously, or is it just Pink’s attempt to attract attention for an otherwise deadly dry topic? The surprising answer is that there are a number of practically, and conceptually compelling reasons to believe this is more than fad or a promotional angle.

For example:

1. The internet has arguably obviated the need to put current information on many topics like careers into book form. A click of the mouse will take you to thousands of pages of career advice that’s both free and more current than any book could be. Hence, books are freed to focus on evergreen ideas like fundamental principals.

2. Some will say that the narrative format helps make these principals more memorable.

3. The manga format is popular and ubiquitous in Japan, capable of supporting content in a variety of genre. Dan passed around books formatted in manga with a variety of content including entertainment (comic books), social and political tracts (the dangers of nationalism), and how-to’s (time management tips). In fact, he says, walk into any bookstore in Japan and you’ll find an entire floor devoted to manga.

4. Some say manga is becoming more popular here in the US. That’s not entirely clear. According to ThePublishingTrendsBlog, a big dispute about the future of manga was sparked at last year’s Conference on Anime and Manga with pundits taking different sides depending on whether they put more stake in shelf space at bookstores, titles published, and on such things as paper vs. electronic format.

I can tell you this, there were three representatives there from a Snowhomish Washington workforce education group that were rabid about working Johnny Bunko into their material for high school and college kids. They cited high school drop out rates in the 50-60% range and saw Bunko as the right message in the right media. In fact, they’d already distributed 250 copies of the book to area job counselors.

Tim’s Takeaway:

We always want the media to represent the best way to get the message into the hands and minds or our audience. For some types of messages and audiences, the narrative-centric, visually-oriented manga style may be the best match of format and content. It’s worth looking into.

Instant Messaging Reduces Interruptions at Work

Source: The Ohio State UniversitySource: Forward EscapeHere’s a bit of something unexpected. We’ve all heard the talk lately about productivity lost to the many distractions at the office.  A study at the British Institute of Psychiatry, for example, discovered that excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence and that those distracted by incoming e-mail and phone calls saw a ten-point fall in their IQ, over twice the impact of smoking or marijuana use. You’d expect Instant messaging to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It turns out, according to a new study from the Ohio State University (happens to be my alma mater), IMing actually reduces workplace interruptions.

How’s that? By combining the best of phone calls and email, instead of the worst.

Workers get the immediacy of the telephone with the incentives for brevity that come from having to type out their comments. The result is that using instant messaging leads to more conversations that are briefer.

Tim’s Takeaway:

Go Buckeyes!

Want to know how important good communication is? Here’s a great example, with a twist.  The original post, Good communication linked to high levels of engagement, appeared today on Business Education Headline News. The one-line synopsis

Research from the U.S. shows that employees who enjoy frequent communication from senior management are more likely to be engaged with their organization.

shows just how a couple of words can change meaning in crucial ways.  The synopsis claims a causal relationship that is absent from the study and from the title of the original article about that study in Here’s what the original study found:

highly engaged employees are much more likely to receive communication from senior managers at least once a month. More than half (56%) of these employees receive communication from senior management at least monthly.

This statistic is clearly different from summary in the blog post. The blog claims that it’s the communication that predisposes employees to be engaged, while the original article claims that the engagement level of employees may make communication from senior management more common.

The real data is likely different yet. Here’s the following statement in the original article reporting on they study:

 In contrast, 42% of low-engaged employees say they receive annual communication or no communication at all.

Given research methodologies, this statement probably more closely reflects the insights the study could glean. I’d guess in the study, employees who were more engaged reported receiving more communication, while those less engaged reported receiving less communication.

That might mean communication will engage your employees, or it might simply affirm your supposition that employees who are more engaged are more attentive to the communications that everyone in the company receives.

Tim’s Takeaway:

Read your research carefully before you base policies on it. And always be suspicious of any human studies that claim to demonstrate causality. You can rarely set up a human study that shows more than relationship and correlation.

We feel fine montageThe image at the right is from the wonderfully revealing “We Feel Fine” project. Scouring the internet for expressions of emotions, It is a project in mass, anonymous,  intimacy. Not only is the site poetically and artistically moving, on a practical level it gives us a sampling of the utterances we scrabble together or craft with exquisite care in an attempt to make our inner experience available to others.

If we look carefully at groups of these utterances, they give us a picture of how we express our emotions around the world, and how the expressions we choose make clear communications so difficult.

The statements the engine finds, as it searches blogs every 10 minutes, are often banal (I feel sooo good), yet sometimes quite touching (i’m alone with you you make me feel like i am clean).

You’ll find a variety of interfaces on the site, including a set of montages of single posts like the one above as well as visual representations of groupings of expressions, like this one to the left.  Tools We feel happy(programming API’s) on the site allow you to collect groups of statements along with images from the blogs and whatever demographic information the engine has been able to find on the sites where the entries are posted. 

Below, you’ll find a list of utterances I collected as they came into the site at about 9:30 p.m. PST last night. Read the rest of this entry

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