Friday, February 25, 2011

Now To Help (And NOT to Help)

Expertise is often a foundation of networking, both professional and personal. If you are willing to share your expertise or opinion with someone who is seeking same, you may find yourself a very grateful new contact, who will be there to help you should you ever require it.

There are any number of ways to achieve this, whether online or in person. Trade shows. Message boards. Even blogs and Twitter. But to me there is a surefire way to drive away at least half of the people that came to you for help in your area of knowledge, regardless of the medium.

If you want to never be asked for your help or advice again, make extra sure to ignore the particulars of the one asking for your assistance.

Help is, after all, not a one size fits all concept. Different people have different levels of understanding, different resources, and different goals. When you assume that every person you help is at the highest level of each of these, your "help" becomes more like a exhibition of how much you know. Which is quite different from lending assistance.

Let's look at a hypothetical. I am sure that many of you have encountered this sort of thread in a message board or other similar media. Maybe you have even had the displeasure of dealing with such a person in real life. But for now, let's pretend we are visiting a reputable message board for discussing digital video. (The problem I talk about does seem to happen most often with computer oriented problems, but it is not limited to same.) An entry appears as follows.

"Hello all. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I've recently purchased a Lava 3 digital camcorder from a friend. I love it and it does exactly what I need it to do for my family picnic videos and a few other family activities. But now I'd like a chance to make something special for my grandmother, who couldn't make it to our house this summer. (A little music in the background, a text title here and there, she'd enjoy that!) I bought TriloMorph on sale, and was installing it, but I can't quite get my hard drive to read some of the extras. I know it works, because I've seen other use it with these type of computers, and I have done a lot with it at work. I'm comfortable with the interface, and that's why I chose it. I'm not a techie, so any help would be appreciated."

Now let's look at a common sort of response such people get.

"Step One: Gather your receipt, put it in a bag, get in your car, return to the store IMMEDIATELY and return the garbage..err, I mean TriloMorph and get your 40 dollars back.

Step Two: Take that 40 dollars and invest it towards the $375 you'll need to get SnipCrystal, which is an actual video editing software that produces quality videos your grandmother might, I don't know, actually want to watch. Seriously, TriloMorph runs a CXT based system which may be good if you are making a 5 minute YouTube clip of a cat farting, but it has no graphic equalizer, no saturation compensation, minimal layering, and, thus far, no SmartPhone App to go with it. SnipCrystal has all of these things and more. The price is much higher, by you get what you pay for, and those who sit down to watch your videos will thank you later.

Oh and if there is anyway to use anything OTHER than a Lava 3 for you videos, like say, the Neptune 40X, that wouldn't hurt either.

Does this guy get a commission for selling stuff or what?

What we have here is someone that is obviously very knowledgeable in the subject, and someone who frequents the help boards for same. He has no problem expressing his knowledge. But the problem? He has not in the slightest way helped the poster who asked for it.

Okay, one could argue he was sort of helping in an obtuse way by suggesting what he considered to be better software. That is often the defense of people who reply in this fashion. But let's take a look at how this guy's expertise was of no use to the one who sought it.

--For starter's he was sarcastic about it. The whole "get in the car and get a refund" bit is, sadly, a real example from my experiences seeking help from others.

--He ended by taking a swipe at the poster's camcorder, about which he did not even ask a question. The expert has a hard time believing anyone would be happy with a Lava 3, even if they directly say, "I love it".

--The "expert" makes pretty broad assumptions about the poster's technical knowledge. He mentions many things about systems, stabilization, and other options, and instantly makes those the selling point of SnipCrystal. But had he really paid attention to what was being asked, he'd realize that the poster wasn't concerned about any of that. He already knows what TriloMorph can do, and that is what he wants. Perhaps because he understands it already, and isn't sure about all of the other stuff.

--The poster didn't ask for advice on the best video editor out there. He already expressed that he was comfortable with using TriloMorph, and had been totally happy with the results. He already owns the software. Certainly he knows his own grandmother, and that she will be happy with the results of TriloMorph. . But in this expert's mind, there is only ONE best. Even if SnipCrystal is in fact the state of the art software at this time, he is still assuming that everyone everywhere wants the best. He operates under the assumption that any advice anywhere should be designed to obtain one thing and one thing only...industry best.

And that's part of the problem. All of the assumptions that are made. People come to you for advice because they have a pre-existing set of circumstances. They are unsure how to proceed, so they seek your expertise. But your expertise is of no use to them if your first goal is to change their circumstances. You may have the best of intentions, but if you don't take into consideration what it is the person wants, and what they come to you with, you are basically just mentioning how inadequate they and their goals are to you.

What if someone on that same message board had responded this way?

I haven't used TriloMorph in a few years, so some of my knowledge may be outdated here, but from what you are describing, you seem to be missing a patch that came out about a year ago. You should be able to download it at the TriloMorph website ( A lot of it of course depends on what kind of computer you have, too, so if you try to patch and it doesn't work, let us know the specifics of your device, and we will see what we can do from there to get TriloMorph up and running.

This person is also one of expertise. But unlike the first example he has taken into account what the poster is, has, and hopes to do. And he has used his knowledge to pull together an answer which will address the specific needs of the poster, as opposed to the objective pursuit of the highest quality home video production equipment. In other words, this second answer was focused on the one needing help, and not the one giving help.

Now of course, beyond a certain point, a person may have to upgrade, or change their tack with something. We get to a point where what a person comes to us with just simply will not work. But there is a difference between something being impossible, and something being less efficient, or less popular. Some people, myself included, like to master what we have, find its strengths and weaknesses, and over time, if we feel the need, move on to something else. If people like me jump right to the most expensive, biggest, loudest, trendiest widget or approach or class out there, we are just going to end up falling behind, or worse, resent how much information is being thrown at us all at once.

If someone is Too XYZ to take the highway, but you do in fact know a detour, share that with them. Show them the way to their own success, even if it is not the way you yourself would go. If you do that, you become people based, and regardless of the topic, you will be seen as helpful. And, best of all, you will be seen as worth helping in the future when you need it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Posting

I'd like to invite everyone to check out my guest post on Jamie Nacht Farrell's Bizrelationships Blog. Jamie and I have been a fan of each other's writings and philosophies for a while now, and though we disagree about some key issues, that hasn't stopped us from forming a relationship.

In fact, that is the theme of my guest post over on her blog. How to disagree with people the proper way. Without seeming pompous, argumentative or unpleasant. I hope you will check it out, as well as checking out Jamie's other posts while you are there!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Not Looking for a Hero

What happens if you don't have any heroes?

Depending on who you ask, especially amongst the current generation, the answer could be anything from a life without satisfaction to impending global annihilation. Yet when I am asked who my heroes are, (and it is a very popular assessment tool) I don't  have a ready answer. Hand to God, I am not sure I know who my heroes are or if I even have any.

I suppose like with so many things it depends a great deal on how one defines "hero". If by hero all that is meant is someone whose accomplishments and attitude I find worthy of praise, then maybe I have a few heroes. But even then the word leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, because it would seem to indicate a certain element of awe.

I don't think I can say anybody on any level has ever held me in "awe" of what they are doing. It is not easy to impress me in any field, let alone put me in a state of awe about who you are and what you do.

"She's my hero because I am just in awe of what she has accomplished given her circumstances."

A common testimonial that you will not see me propagate any time soon.

Not that I take anything away from people and their accomplishments. But those that succeed, even in fields in which I wish to succeed are so different in their approach, their abilities, their luck and their overall presence that to emulate them as a hero would seem a bit foolhardy. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. While advice can be useful, and following an example may pay a dividend here and there, we are, in the end, each different. Different struggles, different help, different luck to help us get where we end up, (or keep us from getting anywhere.) Is a "hero" really that different from me? Or you?

Leaders I can understand. The can bring order out of chaos, or shatter the status quo. A leader is necessary at time to bring a movement into focus so that the greater good can be accomplished. Yet in ideal circumstances they are a first among equals. (Heaven knows we are often far from that ideal, though.)

The supposed importance of heroes lie in aspirations to self improvement. We are told how important it is to want to be better than what we are right now. Society attaches future demonstrable success on a seemingly endless cycle of reinventing ourselves as more productive, powerful and marketable versions of ourselves. Ty 3.0, then Ty 4.0 and so on. This constant striving for a better you requires a template. A template that has already gone through the same processes and struggles on their way to their success as we are right now. We can then fixate on what they did, and motivate ourselves to do the same.

Hero worship in a sense, is a worship of that we wish we were, and hope to some day be. Therefore some degree of being in awe of a hero is often attributable to a lack of respect and acceptance of where we are at present if we are not careful.

Some of the same people who view heroes in this fashion would consider a lack of heroes equal to a lack of ambition and self awareness. Or on the opposite end, an indication that a person feels they are already of such value and worth, who is left that is worthy of being their hero?

In both cases, the judgment is unfair. At least it is for me. For as I said, I lack heroes as most define them, because the only battle I really need to be winning is my own, and the fact that someone else won their own battle, though admirable and worthy of respect, does not make them heroic per se.

Olivier. JFK. Emily Dickinson. Cal Ripken Jr. Each of them for various reasons and at various points in my life have exemplified certain qualities and perceptions that I share, or even aspire to. But as amazing as I found some of their accomplishments, and as satisfying as it is to know that my opinions on certain issues are not that different from those of some of these highly influential and important people, I still don't consider them heroes.

And I don't feel adrift because of it.

How do you define "hero"? Do you have any? What does your relationship to the concept of heroes say about you? About society?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


In life, what do you when you encounter an ass. (Or a bitch, if you prefer.) Someone who has nothing good to say to you, and have the time finds fault with whatever it is you are doing. Somebody that seems to enjoy the fact that they make you uncomfortable, and may even go out of their way to just piss you off. Or at least make no effort to hide their delight when they see you are pissed at something.

Do you follow them around? Do you write down all the bad things they say about you, and tape them up on your wall so people can read them. Do you blame yourself for not being not put together enough to avoid their actions, and try to find ways to re-invent who you are so that they don't screw with you anymore?

Or do you take the sane, healthy approach, and just avoid them. If they enter the room, leave. If they call you, hang up. If they attend the same parties, hang out with other people. There just isn't any benefit to exposing yourself, or other people to whatever their problem with you, or your work is.

And let's face it, if the last nine encounters with someone have been insulting, hurtful, or any number of other unpleasant things, most of us are not going to stick around when they see the culprit approaching the tenth time, and wait for them to prove they are going to be an ass today. An ass is an ass is an ass.

So tell me then, dear readers, why does that very understandable, self preserving behavior morph into censorship, cowardice, and denial when it is done online?

I have someone who follows me on Twitter, but never has a single constructive thing to say to me, but instead belittles my every tweet. I block her. That's what the button is there for. But I get accused of a lack of self-identity.

It's even worse with a blog. I moderate the comments that appear here specifically to weed out such people. I don't do it lightly, but after about the 15th bitchy comment, yeah I will refuse to post their comments anymore. And if I am really displeased, I will in fact go back over old posts and delete their previous comments. I'm avoiding the unpleasant. I'm refusing to engage someone who has proven time and again they add value to neither my blog nor my life. Yet I am accused of being "inauthentic" when I do so. (I won't even dignify the borderline illiterate notion that this constitutes "censorship".)

Isn't the world filled with enough jerks? They are not going to go anywhere. Too often we have no choice but to deal with them. The online world is one of the few places we have at least some power to rid ourselves of such mischief. Why shouldn't I embrace that chance by punching a few buttons and washing my hands of them? I want to provoke thought, and even discussion. But if people cannot discuss without being arrogant pains in my ass, you can be damned sure I am going to avoid them online as much as I would offline. You should too. Life is too short.

Do you consider it somehow "inauthentic" to block obnoxious people from your online platforms? Does it matter if others don't seem as annoyed as you are, if you personally are put out by the behavior of someone else? Isn't that what moderation of your online experience is all about?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Missed Anniversary

Six days ago, Too XYZ turned a year old. Yes, it was on February 1, 2010 that I first introduced this blog to the world, as part of my new social media presence. And the day went by with nary a mention from me.

Why didn't I make a big to-do about it then? It's often part of my personality to be sentimental. Is it because I no longer care about this blog? That's not it at all. The truth is, I didn't really think about it. I suppose I had a vague sense that somewhere around this time last year I launched Too XYZ, but I was never motivated to find the exact date.

I should, I suppose, have written an assessment of what I learned during the first year of doing this blog. What could improve and what is good about it. Thank people who made it happen. Compare the reality with what my aspirations were. Express my goals and visions for the second year of the blog.

But in the end, I didn't, nor do I plan to. I don't feel it would serve a purpose.

For one thing, the excitement of milestones may not be novel enough for me as a blogger and writer. I experienced, and have celebrated the chronological milestones of my other, older blog, Always Off Book. That blog was five years old by the time I even started this one, and so I had already proven to myself and others that I do have it in me to sustain and regularly update a blog for an extended period of time. Doing so for this one is something of which I am proud to a certain degree, but I have in a sense already been there and done that.

Not to mention the fact that I think it would be somewhat ironic if not hypocritical  for me to celebrate the one year anniversary of this blog, which is dedicated to those who do not fit into the mold, by rolling out one of the most conventional, status quo driven types of posts. This blog hasn't been conventional from the start, why make it so now?

However I feel the biggest reason I didn't consciously think of celebrating this milestone is that that my views on social media, as well as the nature of using it for personal gain have changed in the year this blog has been up. Not everything is different, but I have come to realize that it is only by embracing the status quo, kissing a little ass, and following all of the trends, suggestions, fads, and conventional wisdom that a blog can actually become the sort of idea depot on the scale I had envisioned a year ago. A very well meaning friend once actually suggestted to me that perhaps it was time for me to make the blog "more conventional" in tone, not realizing how that would counter act the raison d'etre of Too XYZ.

You see, I am still a content driven minimalist with little to no desire to hire outside consultants to "whip this blog into shape". I'd still rather spend my time writing and coming up with content to share with others then learning code, taking classes in marketing, and buying the latest e-book from "Super Blog Guy!" It isn't that I have no desire to work hard, (a sin of which many have accused me). It's that I have come to realize that taking these steps emphasize style over substance too much.

It isn't that this has to be so, as many stylish blogs have decent content. The balance is there. But I find the slope to be a slippery one.

Several blogs that started out at about the same time as this one, or even later, have gone on to become, or at least are on their way to becoming semi-famous. Perhaps even bringing in a passive income for their writers. I know some of these writers, and even advised some of them early on. I follow them on Twitter and are their fans on Brazen Careerist. And when they first started out I was drawn to the up-start, personal, passionate nature of their posts. Blogging from the gut on a minimalist platform. Granted, few were as minimalist as Too XYZ, but they were small time web sites with big time ideas and attitude.

I am sad to report that more than a few of them have hopped on that "blogging rockstar" train. They have spruced up their templates. They have hired web designers and marketing people. Their Google reader feeds are stuffed to the brim with subscriptions to the Seth Godins and Chris Gui...(what's his name?) and that ilk. They are in constant search for bigger blogs to which they can guest post. All in the name of spreading their ideas to a wider audience. To get on the map, as it were.

They have met with varying degrees of success. I won't lie and say there is no envy on my part. It is particularly aggravating because they are getting picked up by bigger blogs for guest posts, winning awards, and generally being far luckier than I am, even though in the end what they do isn't that different from what I do. Forgive me if I don't fall into, "you should be happy for the success of everyone around you, even if you are not succeeding" crowd.

Yet that occasional envy is tempered by a realization that came to me in this last year. I've come to realize that a lot of steps that these contemporaries took were in some ways selling out. There, I said it. I would never name names, especially since I think they are all decent people. And I can't blame them for wanting to be famous sooner as opposed to later. Maybe they really can help more people that way. But as far as the gritty, personal, passionate and original, content driven nature of their blogs...the very things that drew me to read their work in the first place? It is in many cases decreased. I won't say eliminated totally, because some originality is still there in a few of them. But it has become clear that marketing, presence and social proof won out the day with them, as opposed to allowing content to speak for itself. All of it made sadder by the fact that once upon a time they, like me, were satisfied with content being the focus. They seemed like my kindred spirits in the blogosphere. Perhaps at the time they were.

Which is probably why this blog is not huge after a year. And probably why it shall never be so, barring some other unexpected event. My posts have been mentioned by some pretty big name people off and on, but never with a lasting impact on the popularity and influence of this blog, or my web presence. Probably because, in the end such things had no influence on the nature of this blog either. I just didn't do what the majority told me to do with such moments. I continued to just do what I did, both then, when it caught the eye of the movers and shakers early on, and now, as it seems to catch fewer and fewer eyes as time goes on.

Conclusion? It shouldn't surprise you to hear me word it thus, but (personally) I am Too XYZ to turn Too XYZ (the blog) into some marketer's wet dream. I know what most people would do, because I hear people chew me out pretty regularly for not doing it. I basically lost a friend because of how pissed they were I wasn't being more conventional. So I can repeat the advice back to all the world quite well by now.

Every time I hit on an idea or position that people comment on passionately, I am supposed to write an e-book. Every time a post of mine is mentioned somewhere, I am supposed to mention it somewhere else. I am supposed to go out and find umpteen million followers so that when I ask the so called "big dogs" for a chance to guest post, they can perform a cost benefit analysis on me and see a reason to combine the notoriety with Too XYZ, with the notoriety of their own blog. And my own obscurity is based on my being lazy, and...oh lord you get the idea. So the cycle goes, as oft this blog hath shown.

My alternative is to keep saying what I say, in the manner in which I say it. Sharing these posts with people, and hoping they will start reading. Or start reading again as the case may be. Commenting on the blogs that have the sort of spirit I admire, and going else where when I find they no longer speak to me. Accepting that my ideas based, content driven, CW defying modes operandi is in all likelihood just not going to ever be anything that sets the more visible section of the internet world on fire.

That's because I don't work in fire. I don't have a torch. Or a gun, or a knife. I am no ninja, guru, or rockstar. What I am is a guy with a hammer, beating his way in slow, laborious fashion through many things: The mountainous rocks of collective bullshit. The iron gates of pre-determined privilege and influence. The accumulative barnacles of the status quo encrusted on the bow of my humble skiff as it inefficiently wades through a somewhat turbulent ocean of sameness. A skiff which may or may not one day catch a wave that takes me to the gleaming but fickle shores of internet fame.

A year (and six days) into this experiment, it is still my hope that my ideas, my thoughts, and yes even my controversies have made people think. Given them ideas. Inspired them in some way. And most of all, encouraged those who fit into no mold to go form a mold of their own, either online or offline. My desire to somehow achieve this service on a larger scale remains. But if it cannot be done by continuing to operate according to my own sense of style and marketing, I suppose in the end I don't want to do it.

My main thrust here at Too XYZ is to keep swinging that hammer. And if you've ever done such work before, you know that stopping what you are doing can kill your progress. You must keep up the momentum of the swinging, swinging, swinging, so that inertia doesn't take over and stop you. I can't stop that work to take time to make myself a rock star. I have to keep going.

Which in the end is why I have ignored my latest milestone.

Where is fancy bread? In the heart, or in the head?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Networking With Consultants: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Online platforms have been good to me in regards to networking. I am not where I want to be in my career yet, but I get the impression that when I do get there, it will have a lot to do with the relationships I built starting online, as opposed to the ones in person.

Such platforms, despite their pitfalls are valuable to me because they eliminate all the bullshit. (And no matter what anybody tells you, 80% of traditional networking is nothing but bullshitting, end of story.) If I see a blog post I like, I leave a comment on it. It's self contained and obvious what the blog is about, and it is clear that the author is expecting people to approach them about it. They respond to my wonderfully specific initial contact, and in many cases, instant new network connections result. I can right away start opening up my highly inquisitive mind and ask all sort of questions about what they do, who they are, how they arrived at their opinion. Right to Final Jeopardy without the pointless cocktail party small talk for warm up.

But when it comes to learning about specific topics and discussing the nature of one's field, there are certain types that are very difficult for me to engage online or offline. One such group that often puts up barriers to my preferred method of exploring a new relationship are consultants. To be more specific, consultants in such categories as social media, public relations, marketing, and other mostly intangible fields.

What follows is a professional, not a personal assessment. It has nothing to do with how wonderful a person you may be if you are a consultant. But I do continue to hit a snag professionally whenever I try to get to know one. Try to network with them, as it were.

The difficulty I have with establishing a relationship with these people is that one can't really explore the nature of their work, aside from the basics. They can talk about previous accomplishments, and perhaps show me a portfolio of their work which I suppose is sort of okay. It tends to get boring after a while, though, as I like to talk to people not resumes. But many consultants passed a certain point won't discuss ideas or brainstorm with you because they "don't work for free." Given the nature of their work this barricade is often thrown up even in social situations that would otherwise be unconnected with career advancement. It is an understandable but very unfortunate defense mechanism that consultants throw up, which tends to discourage people like me.

And therein lies the problem with networking, or sometimes even socializing with consultants. Unlike other occupations, they have to place a limit on how many questions they can answer about what they do. What is worse, they have to place a serious cap on answering questions pertaining to what they would do in any given situation. And that type of conversational limitation can really dump cool water on a developing idea exchange with me, because I love asking people, "if this happened, how would you handle it in your position?"

Not to mention it tends to sound the slightest bit smug when somebody says, "I can't offer anymore on that unless you pay me," during a conversation. Fair as it may be to one's personal bottom line, taking this position is going to sound unfriendly and rude to a lot of people.

I'll illustrate my frustrations.

Let's say I encounter a nature photographer on Twitter. I can ask her what sort of camera she uses. The type of photos she takes. She can actually show me some of her pictures. I can ask her, without feeling under threat of taking food out of her mouth, "I always have a hard time taking pictures of moving objects, what shutter speed do you suggest?" Matters of her art, her science skills, how she picks subjects, what she would do in that tasty hypothetical situation I mentioned. The answers to these questions often determine how interested I am in establishing a relationship. And unless she has other reasons, she is perfectly at liberty to answer all of them. Because she is paid to take photographs, not to talk about photography. Ergo, by talking about what she does, and what she can do, she isn't robbing herself. She and I can feel free to brainstorm about taking pictures. (And if she reciprocates, I can brainstorm with her about, say, writing a novel.)

Ask that same set of questions to an internet marketing consultant. The conversation would be much shorter. Because they are paid to brainstorm. They make money by assessing a situation and coming up with solutions. The exploration of photography I had with the photographer would be something for which I would have to be charged by the hour with the marketing consultant. That is because the exploration of the ideas is the very thing for which the consultant gets paid. And whether I opt to pay the consultant for her hour's worth of suggestions and ideas, or if I opt to bid them good day and discontinue the conversation, I'm bound to feel let down by the whole experience.

"You'd never ask your photography friend to take pictures for your magazine for free would you? So why the hell should I as a consultant offer my services for free? Answer me that, Mr. XYZ Guy."

Okay, here is your answer. No, I wouldn't ask a photographer to take pictures for free. And I wouldn't expect a consultant to work for free either. The issue isn't the legitimacy of charging people. I could charge people for the right to shake my hand. There is nothing stopping me. But it would certainly put a damper on my social life.

The difference between the photographer and the consultant is I am free to explore the expertise of the photographer through the most basic of human functions; by speaking to them. And by being directly exposed to the artistry, the acumen, the aspirations and advice of the photographer, even if I don't have a prayer of matching her in skill and accomplishment, I am improved. Inspired. With a consultant, I am warned I may be on the clock. Makes it tricky.

Look, many consultants do great work. Like any profession, kind, generous, helpful, brilliant people consult for a living. And they naturally have passions outside of their chosen field. People are more than what they do for a living. God knows I shout that truth every chance I get. But in professional as opposed to the personal arena, where our toehold is often established through conversation about our contributions and why we make them, I think consultants are at a bit of a disadvantage. They are when it comes tome, anyway.

Maybe if they eased up somewhat on what they will and won't talk about off of the clock. In order to network effectively they may have to actually give away some of their products and services for free during the course of regular conversation. After all, to an extent even the photographer does so. I may not own the photo, but once I see it, it's in my mind and in my heart wherever I go. If photographers attempted to charge for every time that happened, they'd be out of business.