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Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

Strategies for Increasing Message Retention

I know that it is troublesome that everyone else, “but us,” have such a terrible memory and inability to remember details. However, there is more going on when we dig into this commonplace challenge. Humans develop mental models, cognitive maps, frames, internal scripts, and other processing methods to understand the environment and situational context albeit with frequent misunderstanding and imprecise perceptions (Tversky, 1993). Even with these accuracy challenges, the automatic use of mental shortcuts is a power element of our existence and helped spur our advancement as a species. The realities of humanity’s unconscious mental information processing mechanisms are the significant loss of the content details from the beginning, middle, and end of an interaction (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, p. 1). Think about that fact before walking into your next meeting. What we say at the start of a meeting is forgotten as much as what is said during the conclusion.

Remember, most people will not remember the details of communications or interactions. People will primarily remember the themes and generalities of a message (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 1-2). To combat this natural loss of informational detail, we must address the issue of content’s significance. Research demonstrates the connection between the level of personal significance an individual applies to the content with the ability to recall the details of that content at a later time (Edvardsson & Sund, 1998, pp. 3-4). As we take part in meetings and exchanges with our colleagues, we need to adapt our messages to how people process and keep meaningful information.

If we desire participants to retain more details and for longer, then the content must possess a high level of personal significant to each member (Holbrook, et al., 2005, 749-752). This requires the content sender to understand from each person’s perspective their internal motivators, desires, and goals and how the information will speak to these factors. Challenging, to say the least, as many people may not be aware of their own motivators and goals. We can start by thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, if the retention of details is a lower priority, the focus of the content development should be in the formation of an emotionally connected narrative story, so the participants retain the desirable themes, tone, and impressions.

Both approaches require meaningful forethought, planning, and solid execution. The process starts by taking the time to understand the goals and the level of retention required for the given situation. This is not as simple as it sounds, but that is another topic for another day.

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Back to School Night

Back to School Night

Google is taking over Macs in schools!  Chromebooks and Google Classroom seem to be making some serious inroads in the K-12 education.  For every Mac we saw tonight, I saw a technology cart full of Chromebooks.  It is fascinating to see the adoption of technology in the classroom. The students seem to love it and enjoy the content. Teachers were more dubious.  With all new technologies, some glitches were experienced and some people adapt to new technologies faster than others.

A couple of teachers seemed less than thrilled, but everyone else had positive comments as to the role of the new electronic tools. Many teachers prefer the Chromebooks to Macs for the students.  They commented on cost and the benefit of having one for every student.  In addition, they liked how students could start on an assignment at school and finish it at home.  They days of “I forgot my assignment at home” are gone since all the data is stored in the cloud.

It will be fascinating to see how the technology evolves over the next decade.

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Menno Groenmen
So Many Cords – Where is Wireless Charging??

So Many Cords – Where is Wireless Charging??

I was just picking up around the house and noticed just how many darn power cords we use. We are a gadget-based household; I am a techie to say the least. We have smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, music players, and every other conceivable electronic device ever made under the sun.

I just collected everything and plugged them all into charge; we must have 12+ power cords. I have a total of five (5) different connectors on these devices.  One connector would be outstanding, but how about the world standardize on two (2) or three (3)?  These devices are spread throughout the house, so you do not realize just how many you have. I feel as if I may need to build an ultimate charging shelf to keep all this straight.  Challenge – Go and Collect all of your devices and cords.  How many do you have?

I KNOW in a couple more years wireless charging will be the standard. IT CANNOT COME SOON ENOUGH! I do look forward to the time when I can walk in, toss my devices down, and know they are getting charged. Besides, how is that children seem to eat power chargers like Tic Tacs? It is crazy! I think that I should start assigning them a home.  Funny, I never thought about tracking my power cords before, but it might save me a trip or two to Verizon to replace the wondering power cords.

Enough…back to the to-do list…

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A few comments about education

A few comments about education

I wrote this the other day for a different purpose.  I made a few more tweaks and thought I would post it…

One of the first questions we have to ask is what we want out of our education and lives.  If the purpose of higher education and advanced self-education is simply to acquire the skills necessary to achieve a specific career goal such as a technical skill, then learning about the “arts” are not required.  However, if the goal of our education is to produce an individual who has a well-rounded knowledge about the world and exposed to diverse cultures and backgrounds than classes about the arts, literature, and history becomes an essential component.

I look for educational opportunities that are interesting to me and expand my knowledge of history and of other people and cultures that differ from my own. My experience taught me that as we achieve higher levels in our career, our daily interactions with our peers and teams become critical.  After all, great “managers” and leaders are compensated at a higher level than the people with the technical skills they lead.  There are many elements to a great manager but having a well-rounded education that allows them to effectively interact with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is one of the more important points.  If a leader cannot understand how to relate and interact with people on their terms, then they will never be able to build a successful team.  This is one of the purposes of a well-rounded college or self-directed education.

For example: One of the common elements that you can talk to almost anyone about is music.  Everyone loves music, and it can be a foundational element to begin a new relationship with someone.  Having some level of understanding and appreciation of all forms of music can be used to achieve that initial connection to other people that starts building a sense of mutual understanding in professional and personal relationships. If you have no education in the history and multiple types of music, then you will not have that knowledge to have even the most casual conversation with someone new that can be that first spark of connection.

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Training Often Gets Forgotten in the Rush to Release The New

Training Often Gets Forgotten in the Rush to Release The New

When I was early in my career, I often aggressively rolled out new systems and applications with minimal planning or rigorous testing.  Some very serious lessons were learned during those times about the importance of rolling out platforms with a plan.  Call me completely insane but I actually rolled out a new Microsoft operating system early in its life cycle (pre-SP1) on a brand-new Dell laptop line.  I am not sure a worse match had ever been made as we spent almost a year making that work right.

Now I am much more cautious in how I approach new hardware and software systems.  I expect reasonable levels of testing and quality control completed before anything ever sees the light of day.  The one area that I have probably become the most aggressive and steadfast in holding my line is around training.  If something is completely new and has never operated inside of the enterprise, there must be a training plan executed to ensure that knowledge silos are not formed.  The smaller the user base of the targeted system, the more important training becomes.

Knowledge silos originate from both inside and outside of the IT organization and are equally problematic.  If the new platform is only known by a small user base within the organization, then a serious failure point can occur.  What happens should these individuals become unavailable for any reason?  Additionally, who can be the validation point for their work if no one knows how to operate or utilize the platform in question? Oh the problems that would ensue if you had one SAN person, and he/she was out sick when the array started to experience some issues.

A little training would go a long way with other competent team members.  Could they solve the problem?  Maybe or maybe not, but they would at least have an understanding of the core components in order to work with a vendor or begin the troubleshooting steps on their own. These very basic questions have to be addressed before the rollout of any system or application.

 There must be adequate levels of training to address these primary concerns.  Once a training plan has been determined and started then the risk of knowledge silos falls dramatically, and most people would be comfortable with the release of the platform to the selected user base.

Wipe That Data Before You Give It Away!

Wipe That Data Before You Give It Away!

A short time ago, a friend of mine picked up a few spare hard drives.  He was looking for older model hard drives to put on the shelf for when his low-priority legacy servers’ hard drives die.  When he got back to the office, he dropped the hard drives into a computer to test and wipe them.  While chatting last week, he told me he found a tremendous amount of Very Personal information on the hard disks from financial, tax, and medical records to what appeared to be personal intimate photography.  The prior owner of the hard disks probably upgraded their computer but did not delete the files before they gave their computer to someone else. Can you say, “bad idea!”

Donating your computer to a school, charity, or friend is awesome, but you must make sure that your information is securely erased.  I am sure most people do not realize that deleting files or running a quick format of a disk does not prevent the contents of the disk from being recovered!  There are very inexpensive applications that will complete this type of data recovery for even a novice user.  Never, ever, give a computer away without first wiping the hard disk completely.  Remember, deleting files does not actually “delete” anything.  It simply tells the computer that area on the storage media is available to be overwritten by another file when needed. 

There are many applications that can complete a disk wipe, but the one I use is called CCleaner.  In the tools’ section of CCleaner, you will find an option called “Drive Wiper.”  Select the hard disk that you wish to wipe, and then choose the entire drive and the security level of complex 7-pass overwrite.  This will make sure that even an IT professional cannot recover information from the disk.  For the truly security concerned person, you can use the very complex overwrite feature, which uses a 35-pass overwrite.  It is very important that you do not accidentally select a disk that has information on it that you wish to keep (like your “C” drive)!

I cannot stress the importance enough of wiping your hard drive before giving your computer away.  Your personal identity is too important to trust to anyone.  Remember that these rules apply to all forms of storage media and not just internal hard disk drives.  Think about USB “thumb” drives (USB sticks if you prefer) or even CD/DVD discs that you burned with backed-up data.  How many people a day lend others there USB drives, but is that safe?

Make sure that everything that has any of your personal information on it is wiped or destroyed permanently.  Keeping your information safe and out of the hands of nefarious individuals is your responsibility so do not give them easy access.

(Note: I have no affiliation to CCleaner or the developers of the application. I receive NO compensation or consideration for this post.)

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Keeping Your Professional Skills Current…Or Else

Keeping Your Professional Skills Current…Or Else

My gosh there are a lot of people out of work right now and many of them are looking forward to taking your job right out from under you. Not a very pleasant thought when you take a moment to think about it. However, the reality is that many displaced workers are doing a better job getting their professional skills current than most people who are still employed. Community colleges and other institutions of higher learning are experiencing some of the highest levels of new entrance applications from returning students than ever before. This seems to be a double edge sword; while it benefits the returning students it can have negative consequences for others.

If you are a young professional fresh out of school and entering the work force, you have some stiff competition from displaced workers that have more business experience and who have also recently updated their professional skills. If you were lucky enough to have kept your job through the downturn, you have competition from displaced workers who will do your job for less money and took some of the unemployment downtime to update their professional skill sets. It is a tough world right now for both those currently seeking and those who have secured employment.

It is critical that we do not allow our skills to become out-of-date. Working professionals must continue their education throughout their adult life, even if that means taking a class a semester at a community college, attending vendor training, or setting up a “home lab” and buying a book or two. Professionals must stay competitive in the job market. In the IT world, there are hundreds of service companies regularly calling department heads and proselytizing the benefits of outsourcing various positions for considerably less money than they are paying internal employees.

As a professional, you must provide your boss some great reasons not to listen to these calls by keeping your skill set growing and delivering more value than an outsourced company can provide. This is advice that I have taken to heart, and to that end, I have returned to school. I want to be at the head of the pack so it is my responsibility to keep my professional skills in-line with the current job market demands. This is not the responsibility of my employer. Unfortunately too many people get sucked into thinking that their employer should be reasonable for keeping their skills current by providing training. This is a trap that should be avoided. My career, My responsibility.