Top Tasks Make Your Website Easier to Use, Better

Read this:

Top Tasks Management is a model that says: “Focus on what really matters (the top tasks) and defocus on what matters less (the tiny tasks).” …

Tiny tasks are also full of organizational ego. Often, the more important the task is to the customer, the less content is being produced for it; the less important the task is to the customer, the more content is being produced. This inverse relationship is very typical.

This is from a great article by Web guru Gerry McGovern. I was introduced to Gerry’s way of developing websites about five years ago and it completely shifted my thought process. He’s just so bang-on-the-money, so clear in his thinking, that I think, oftentimes it confounds most folks who oversee websites.

Think of your website as a book. Do you want to read 70,000 pages of old nonsense? Or do you want to have an enjoyable experience looking at a consumable amount of up-to-date information that you were looking for in the first place?

I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t choose the second option. I also know virtually no companies who think about their sites in that manner. Curious, isn’t it. I mean, aren’t websites supposed to augment your company? Help you build your brand? Make it easier for consumers to find information about you/your product?

Why people who are in the business of selling things don’t get it just baffles me. Well, Gerry’s right: tiny tasks “are full of organizational ego.” Ay, there’s the rub.

Recently, I purchased tickets to a show at a major American regional theatre. I won’t name names — but it’s in the capital city of the Nutmeg State — and it was the God-awfulest experience I’ve ever had purchasing tickets online. And, yes, I do know a thing or two about developing online ticketing systems … I damn near invented the methodology for how they are supposed to work back in the day. I’ve purchased plenty of tickets online over the years, in more than one country, but this experience took the cake. Why? Because their site was entirely driven by organizational ego.

All I’ve got to say about it is that the play better not suck!

Think about your website. Are you “top tasks-friendly?” If not, how do you get there?


You know what the acronym in the title of this post means, don’t you?

Well, here’s a little story for you. I work with a lot of young writers and I am always beating into their heads: check your facts, double check your sources, make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly. And, you do know what a comma fault is, right?

These days, the conventional wisdom seems to be: get it first; fix it later because, you know, like, the web lets you do that.

So, no.

I’m old enough to remember when the mantra was get it first and get it right the first time. Period. End of. That is certainly that I have always striven for — that, and knowing the past participle of strive is striven, even if strived is now acceptable — but we don’t always live up to our expectations we set for ourselves.

Yesterday, for example, I wanted to knock out a story on another blog before I left for the airport. I did, but I inadvertently failed to abide by one of the cardinal rules: proof carefully. Twice. Consequently, I ran afoul of one of my own pet peeves: I spelled someone’s name wrong. And guess who caught it? The subject himself.

I hurriedly made changes on my phone as they were boarding my flight. I’m sure I looked like a complete moron at the time and quite frankly, that’s exactly how I felt. And quite frankly, I should have.

Still, not excusing the lack of proofing, I did what you are supposed to do: I apologized, I fixed it, I moved on. At the end of the day, I took responsibility for the error and lived to write another day. That’s the game, folks.

PS — I suppose that this gets up under my fingernails because people misspell my name every day of the week. And it’s not a difficult one, either. I don’t look like a Marc Blackman to you, do I?

Monkey See



This was my visual aid at today’s staff meeting.

In case you are not familiar with Polish, it translates to “Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone for the last six months to try to get a group of very capable, creative, intelligent people to coalesce as a team and it occurred to me that part of the problem is this “not my circus, not my monkey” syndrome. In other words: not doing that, it’s not my job.

But the flip-side of that is, we work in a highly collaborative industry. Marketing and communications require you to reach across the aisle, to blur barriers, to bring in new voices, to challenge long-held perceptions, so sometimes when you are working on a highly-detailed deadline-driven project, maybe you should step back and ask, “is this my monkey or someone else’s?”

If the answer is someone else’s, then please, for the love of God, let them do their own job. Fixing their problem before they know it’s a problem may seem like a good idea, but it does not allow them to learn to do it right.

Part of working as a team is jumping in when you are needed and knowing when not to.

Lessons Learned from Not Having Drama

And the play was terrific — sweet, funny, and cumulatively powerful. The audience was with us all the way. The most common audience response was, “I loved watching you; you all were having so much fun up there!” And we were.

We closed last night. I am tired and ready to get back to my regular hours, but I will miss it, both the wonderful people and the sweet simplicity of the work. I have been  thinking about other projects I have been, and am currently, engaged with, and wondering whether they are more difficult and stressful than they need to be.

This cut is from the Mama Ph.D. blog on Inside Higher Ed. Susan O’Doherty is the Ph.D. mama in question.

I liked this cut because I’ve spent a considerable amount of my professional life in the theatre and you always gird your loins for the drama offstage and backstage. And, like O’Doherty, you are always shocked when it does not come.

Her last sentence, though, struck me: I have been thinking about other projects I have been, and am currently, engaged with, and wondering whether they are more difficult and stressful than they need to be.

Is your workplace festering stress and difficulty? Mine has been recently, and I’m off to fix it. I hope you are, too.

Why Email Will Be Obsolete by 2020

Over on, John Brandon is issuing the prediction that e-mail will be obsolete in five years. He says that some other communications channel will come along to best it and that it’s not really that important in his daily life anyway. It clutters things up.

"AROBAZE". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsTrue enough, that!

Also, in my world, students only use e-mail to talk to “old people” who are not Snapchatting their way to glory.

Here’s the thing, though, I think Brandon is wrong. Oh, not about email being obsolete by 2020. Hell, I think it’s obsolete now. The problem is that futurists always predict change out too long. Whatever the change agent is, it’ll be here before 2020.

And you can take that to the bank, kiddies.

Why Email Will Be Obsolete by 2020

Just Say No to Advertising?

In this week’s edition of New Thinking, that’s the question Gerry McGovern is asking. And it’s a good question. In fact, I’ve been a proponent of getting rid of advertising for two decades now. Without too much success, I might add.


You’re not still getting your information from the encyclopedia, are you? Then, why would you think your customers are responding to information in the same way as they did in the past?

Why? Because people still have a gut reaction about advertising. We all know newspapers and shrinking and that people aren’t reading them at the levels they did even five years ago. We all know that magazines are jettisoning subscribers and pages at an alarming rate. We all know that people are not reading online banner and display ads at anywhere near the levels the salespeople are telling us they are.

And yet, we’re not willing to bite the bullet and tightly target our outreach efforts because somehow we feel like a mass market tactic is better.

Quotes McGovern:

According to the Wall Street Journal, the top 10 US marketers reduced spending on traditional media and online display advertising by 4.2% in 2014.” According to AdAge, Nike reduced mass media spending in the U.S. by 40% in 2014.

In a social media-driven, marketing-savvy marketplace, why on earth would you advertise in the same way you did 10, 20 or 50 years ago? Everything else — EVERYTHING ELSE — has changed in that time period. Why do you think your customers are immune?

Slash your advertising and buy yourself a better human to connect to humans on the other side.

Good Experience: The Key to Consumer Interaction

Excellent report here from Marketing Charts which shares the results of a global survey of the ideal customer experience. I find the results more than a little intriguing. Also, before you run out and change your customer engagement strategy, I would caution you to note the worldwide nature of the study: only 8% of respondents were from the U.S.

EIU-Elements-Ideal-Customer-Experience-Apr2015Still, that doesn’t mean it’s bad data. What it means is that the numbers might skew a bit differently if these were U.S.-only numbers.

I find this interesting:

Overall, 71% of respondents said their typical response to a bad experience is to stop doing business with the company. A slight majority (55%) typically tell friends and family about it in person or by email, while 42% said they complain to the company and 26% post a comment on social media.

Now, that should tell you something. The impact of bad experiences with your business or organization is a game changer. Or at least it should be. If just under three-quarters of the people who have a bad experience with you leave and don’t come back — and tell a friend about it — you soon won’t have any customers left.

The curious thing is that the numbers for outstanding experiences show that slightly less people will share if they are happy. In other words, you’ll know when someone is pissed!

Last year, I had two online retail experiences of note. I had never dealt with either company before. The first was for a big ticket item. The second was for a very minor purchase. The first experience was the worst experience I have ever had and I will never, ever use this company again. The second was the polar opposite: they sent me a new product, on their dime, with expedited shipping. And then called me to make sure it was okay. I am quite sure that they lost money on that transaction.

But here’s the thing, they had no idea that I would ever be able to share those feelings or encourage others to purchase from them (LampsUSA).

As for the other (Cymax), one can’t say enough bad words. Stay away.

For the survey, H/T Gerry McGovern.

Job Seeking, Hiring and the Search for a ‘Good Fit’

This is a great piece by John Warner, on his “Just Visiting” blog at the site Inside Higher Ed. Worth a read. Especially if you are a hiring manager or someone who is looking for a job straight out of college — or 25 years after college.

I did not know how to teach a class until I did it. I did not know how to write a review until I wrote a review. I did not know how to write a blog until I blogged. No one taught me how to write a novel, but I managed to figure it out.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned, too: you’re not going to learn how to do something until you actually do it. And that can be a hard slog for a generation raised on “virtual” everything.

I’ve had these skill-based struggles repeatedly with supervisors. I tend to hire young and I tend to hire intuitively those people who, on paper, may not be as direct a match with a job description as an HR automaton may want. That’s because I can teach skills — and as a good manager, I should be teaching skills — but I need critical and intuitive thinkers who are ready to challenge me and my expectations. Ideally, everyone who works for me should be smarter than I am. That makes me stupid — or crazy — or off-the-chain smart.

Ultimately, though, it matters not one whit. What does matter is that people want to work for me. Because I’m easy? No. The exact opposite.

Media Not Asking Right Question on Sweet Briar College Closure

There are a lot of people who get their knickers in a twist over the announcement of a college closing. Teeth are gnashed. Hackles are raised. Hands are wrung. Danders are gotten up. Tears are shed.

This is because, for many people, the college that they attended shaped their lives at a time when they were just dipping their proverbial toes into the river of adulthood. And many of those attribute — I would suggest, wrongly — their very being having changed directly because of their college.


Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg, Virginia announced this week that it would cease operations in August 2015.

I say wrongly because what actually happens is that they grew up. They became adults. The college experience was happening around that change. And humans tend to need something tangible to hang that type of change on. Agree or disagree; whatever.

My life, too, was fundamentally transformed during my college years, but if my college announced it was closing tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed a tear.

Meanwhile, over in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia — up the road from the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina where I went to college — lots of tears are being shed over the closing of Sweet Briar College, which was announced earlier this week.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the size of Sweet Briar’s endowment, the role of small, rural, liberal arts colleges, the role of single-sex colleges (Sweet Briar is a women’s college) and the fact that the president of the institution noted that the place was 30 miles from a Starbucks. Did any or all of this matter or in some way effect the decision to close?

The question that has been raised is if a college, even one with declining enrollment, has approximately $85 million in its endowment, how can it plead poverty and shut down because of financial exigency?

Well, media watchers, why hasn’t anyone asked this question: “How much debt do you have?”

Boo-hoo about the closing all you want, folks, but you’ll never get the real answer unless you ask the right questions. Score one for critical thinking learned in a liberal arts environment. Ahem.

(For the record, Ry Rivard came close on Inside Higher Ed.)