Alltop: an online magazine rack

Alltop is a content aggregator bringing together the best content on a range of subjects from AOL to masonry to zoology. It’s a simple concept and they provide a relatively simple tool. They bill themselves as;

Alltop is an “online magazine rack” of popular topics. We update the stories every hour. Pick a topic by searching, news category, or name, and we’ll deliver it to you 24 x 7. All the topics, all the time.

There’s a new development, you can now create your own Alltop, creating an account allows you to create your own Alltop selecting from the available feeds. I created my alltop; collecting feeds from leadership, technology and writing, it’s listed in the blogroll for future reference. There is also an option to republish it on Facebook, or to indulge in a bit of self promotion by going directly to twitter. Alltop’s founder Guy Kawasaki is shameless in his self-promotion on twitter, so it’s no surprise this option features.

For people unfamiliar with RSS feeds it’s great, they can create a sort of “portal” of content they like, they do end up with the magazine rack online as promised.

Also the plus side I did find some sites/blogs via Alltop that are useful, that I hadn’t seen before. But once it’s set up there’s no further use of it. It doesn’t seem to do anything. You can share it – but it’s just your selection of someone else’s recommendations.

I had fun setting it up, but rather than use Alltop I’ve added the useful feeds to netvibes where I can sort them by subject to different tabs and can customise what I see (number of items and add text etc).

I wonder what the next steps for Alltop will be – will I get more tabs? Will I be able to recommend content? We’ll see.

Powerpoint: Extreme Makeover

Powerpoint is alive and well but it’s undergoing a makeover, an extreme one. Which should be welcome news, except that something’s missing; content.

By now most of us have learnt what not to do, either by experiencing it ourselves or via the mockery of our colleagues. But just in case you’re one of the 3 people on the planet who has a computer and hasn’t heard the phrase “death by powerpoint” here’s what not to do.

There’s plenty of information out there on what you should do as well;

And apparently people are listening. I’ve noticed a much greater use of clever images in presentations, and while the text slide is not dead, it’s certainly playing more of a “supporting” role in presentations.

However what many presenters seem to have heard is “use more images, use videos – your audience will love you”. With the result that I’ve seen old videos, an image of a mossy tree used to demonstrate “embrace”, and worst of all listened to a presenter explain why he chose particular images to represent certain concepts. If you have to explain your choice of image then I’d say you have the wrong image.

What was missing was a story, a red thread, a concept behind the presentation.  What was missing was content.

In fact the best presentation I’ve seen all week was a rather old fashioned one, fairly ugly template, fairly text heavy. But there was content. There was a concept. There was a point of view. The presenter knew his content, and talked to the audience, looked at us, engaged us.

I suspect by racing to fill our presentations with the great, dramatic images that will deliver the high impact we’ve forgotten that old old golden rule. Content is King. And we’ve certainly forgotten the original purpose of our presentation – engaging our audience.

The Apprentice – one week to go

The Apprentice, the UK version, starts again 25 March on BBC 1 at 9PM.

The candidates have been announced for what is billed as “the job interview from hell”. As in other years there’s a range of ages; 21 to 36, and a range of occupations; lawyer, teacher, sandwich maker, consultant and a fair few who are already managers.

On paper the sandwich maker – actually a young guy who has built up a chain of sandwich shops and already makes more than the job offers – looks interesting. Young, driven, no education are all characteristics guaranteed to appeal to Sir Alan Sugar (SAS). However the big question, if he’s already earning so much and has been so entrepreneurial why go for this? SAS is likely to conclude that it’s for media exposure and that won’t score points.

An unlikely candidate is Anita Shah, a highly-educated articulate woman. SAS tends to throw these out in the first couple of week unless they show big personality (read; are very annoying) and are therefore good TV.

The Apprentice "you're fired" predictor

The Apprentice “you’re fired” predictor

This year we get to play along – there’s an online score counter so you can follow who others think will be fired, and add your opinion to the mix. I’m assuming I’ll be able to play along from outside the UK.Last year’s winner lied on his CV, imitated a pterodactyl in an interview, and frankly showed little leadership in any of the tasks. It can only be up from there.

100 Best Business Books of All Time

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 14.20.38The 100 Best Business Books of All Time
What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You
By: Jack Covert, Todd Sattersten
This book was published last month, and does what it says in the title – lists the best books, and tells you why they’re important.

The books are also listed online – take a look and see how many you’ve read (I got to 17, although I have to confess one or two of those I didn’t quite finish). And you can vote; the authors will publish a new edition of the book next  year, which makes the “of all time” part of the title sound a little odd, but in any case there’s an online vote.
On a completely separate site – although many of the same books are mentioned – you can contribute a story to your favourite business book.
After you’ve submitted your story, you can download a “badge” for your blog to display which is your favourite, unfortunately WordPress doesn’t display it as prettily as the site delivers it.The story I contributed was on Presentation Zen, by  Garr Reynolds – it’s a long time favourite of mine, and if you haven’t already used it you should. It’s the clearest guide to how to improve your presentations, and make powerpoint into an effective tool, that I’ve read.

And the ads for the girls?

I went to a movie this weekend, a movie that featured a lot of sparkly shoes, pretty clothes, champagne parties and a predictably happy ending. A movie some would call a chickflick. The few men in the audience were on dates, at a guess the audience demographic was female (80%) and young (18-35). So the movie had found the right target.

The ads presented before the movie were interesting.

Ad 1: Grolsch
It’s a beer I like, but this particular ad features a famous architect (Roberto Meyer) and a famous rockstar (Barry Hay) discussing blueprints. Two middle-aged guys making witty comments about architecture and sharing a beer.

Target audience male, 30+.

Ad 2: Killzone
Killzone is a playstation multiplayer game. It’s a particularly violent game, you can get a taste of the ad here.

Target audience: male, 30+

Ad 3: Adidas
One of the “houseparty” advertisements from Adidas, with shots of skateboarding, tagging, dancing, painting, swimming… all young and happy people. Ratio of men to women = 3:2

Target audience: both sexes (more male?) under 30,

Ad 4: Axe
This is an ad for male deodorant, set in a caveman village. Where the caveman wearing axe gets to wear leather, ride a bison, and of course – get the girl. The ads can be seen in its entirety here.

Target audience: male, 30ish

There’s not really anything wrong with the ads per se, but they’re missing their demographic. Women do drink beer, play online games and wear sports shoes. Potentially they may buy deodorant for their boyfriends or partners. But none of these ads really targetted women. None.

Why is that?

A similar line of ads could have included Coke, WiiNike, L’Oreal. All of whom have products that suit women and produce ads that are more relevant for women.

The media sellers from the movie theatres are not smart about their sales strategy. They’re lazily selling in bulk avoiding all the tools marketers should use. If they used market segmentation tools to understand to whom the movies are targetted they could sell the advertising space to the right companies at a premium.

The Crisis Explained

There are lots of videos on youtube trying to explain the crisis, 275 results for “financial crisis explained”, most of which are talking heads – watching them generally makes my eyes glaze over. There are some attempts at cartoon style simplifcations – most of which display get distracted by the narrators anger at the banks/regulators/government.

But there is one that stands out, it’s the rather brilliant work of Jonathan Jarvis. It’s clear and simple, but not over simplified. There’s not too much attitude in it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Crisis of Credit Visualized on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod


I went to a seminar today given by C.K. Prahalad, author of “The New Age of Innovation“, discussing innovation and strategy. He’s an entertaining speaker, stimulating and teasing the audience.

Much of his speech focussed on the two big insights from his book, summarised as N=1 and R=G.

One consumer at a time
This encompasses the idea that successful, innovative businesses will customise the consumer experience to an individual level. He pointed to examples such as NikeID, iPod.
Resources are global
Few companies will have all the resources within the company to create these individual experiences so will rely on other companies and form partnerships

None of this felt new or startling to me, the book was published a year ago – but that’s not it. We’d discussed the same sort of concepts in a class I took at Nyenrode almost 10 years ago.

I found the question session more interesting; when asked about the current crisis his reaction was that we’re seeing a “fundamental reset of the finanical systems” adding that a year ago “no-one would have predicted you’d be able to buy a cup of coffee for the price of three GM shares”. He advised that the only certainty he could see is that we will be doing things differently “you can’t do more of the same to get out of this”.

As with any seminar we were anxious to know what was the takeaway – and the presenter obliging asked him “what should we be doing tomorrow?”

C.K. Prahalad’s answer was “Don’t do anything tomorrow morning”

There’s answer I can use I thought, but he explained that to act without understand was doomed so time needs to be spent analysing, reflecting, thinking. And then when we do act we should “Think Big”, “Start Small” and “Scale Fast”.

Digital Is Forever

What happens to your web presence when you die? Does it hang around forever? With much of our personal administration done online how do our families handle those accounts? And now that we have “virtual” friends and relationships online, does a withering avatar inform them of our demise?

digital_tattooThere’s a new service to be launched next month, called Legacy Locker, which provides storage of all your online profiles, logins and passwords and will release them to a family member in the vent of your death (and on provision of a death certificate and other documentation).

It will certainly easier to go through this process once, rather than multiple times with each social networking/blogging/email/service website.

They’re not the only ones to contemplate this issue, a Dutch networking site Mediamatic has been contemplating it more from a philosophical point of view. They’ve created an exhibition “Ik R.I.P” (Ik = I in Dutch), which is billed as “an exhibition about death, internet and self-representation”. There’s a matching website where you can leave a sort of digital will, linked to one of several online profiles. The focus here is more on the social aspect of what happens after your death, whereas Legacy Locker looks at the very practical problem of your personal information and services online.

Given how much of my life is now online, it makes sense to plan for aspects of my death online.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

There’s a law in the Netherlands regarding temporary contracts, it says that you cannot have three consecutive temporary contracts with the same employer. The third one should be a permanent contract with all the rights that that entails.

It sounds great in theory.

But the very practical result is that low cost companies simply give two long-term temporary contracts and then don’t renew. However good the performance of the person. This is especially true of call centres and other “low-skilled” work areas.

So rather than protecting workers the law means that many people are now let go, with no redundancy package, into the worst economic climate for finding work in a decade, while the company will recruit new blood and will receive a subsidy to train them.

There’s something wrong there.

Who stays, who goes, who decides.

The news is full of financial woes, failing companies and bailouts. Many of the company recovery plans include layoffs, in the thousands – and representing 5-10% of many companies.

So far the focus has been on the “big picture”, and as the decisions are being made we’re starting to see the effects – on our colleagues. For most it sucks, for a few – a very few – it’s a welcome relief and they can fund a big change.

Who goes?

Who goes?

But how is the decision made?

  1. First in, first out
    It has the advantage of being easy to decide, but may be expensive;
    – long service people will receive higher redundancy packages
    – your company loses valuable experience
    – you may put the company at risk of an age discrimination case
  2. Last in, first out
    Again this is relatively easy to decide, but also has some costs;
    – some of those new people are talents, and you spent time and money hiring them into key positions, presumably because the skills did not exist within the company.
  3. Bottom 10%
    Using the lowest performers based on their recent performance review, it’s seductively simple; but
    – good managers will retrain, change roles or remove the worst performers every year so by removing 10% across the board you may punish efficient (and money making) business units more than inefficient ones.
  4. Who wants to go
    Making those redundant who do want to go has the advantage of removing a lot of personal anguish for both managers and employees however
    – it’s unlikely to be in large enough numbers to meet cost cutting goals (and if it is you may have other, unconsidered problems.
    – if the “volunteers” are in key positions you may struggle to find a replacement internally, or make a case for external recruitment
  5. Anyone the boss doesn’t like
    While I suspect that this is a factor on occasion – perhaps when distinguishing between two otherwise equal candidates for a layoff- it’s not a useful, fair or legal strategy.
  6. Structural
    By analysing the work done in the department/business unit or company, including prioritising tasks you can assess which roles are less critical and make a decision on that. This has the added advantage of removing the analysis of performance or personalities for at least the first steps.

So what is the best answer?

I think a combination; the structual approach to make the high level decisions, possibly inline with any strategy changes that are also required. This will generate a list of positions that need to be removed. Then within each position chose the person who must leave based on a combination of “who wants to go?” and performance analysis.