On Blogger’s Block

I’ve been really suffering from blogger’s block lately. The posts just haven’t been flowing, and every time I come up with some idea, after a few sentences I find myself asking who on earth really cares anyway. Definitely not good criteria for a blog post!

Anyway, I got an email today from Des Walsh, who’d linked to my recent post on the birthday of Lornitropia. In particular he pinged on my advice to those thinking about blogging, which can be summarized as “just do it”. I love getting linked to like any red-blooded blogger, so I naturally checked out Des’s site as well. I should have done so a lot sooner, seeing as we’re both members of a few Linkedin groups, but I digress.

So there on his blog is a post about blogger’s block, along with a well-worn trick:

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

Ok, I confess that the first book I picked up was Access 2000 Developer’s Handbook, Volume 1: Desktop Edition. The fifth sentence on page 123 is “Using subqueries and union queries”. Yuk.

So I turned my chair and grabbed the next book at hand, Good to Great by Jim Collins. The sentence there is: The idea, radical for the 1960s, was to create a system wherein every Abbot manager in every type of job was responsible for his or her return on investment, with the same rigor that an investor holds an entrepreneur responsible.

This is the kind of thing that seems profound. Well, any new concept in business that includes a reference to entrepreneurs has got to be pretty good, right? Usually. However, in an organization that is introspective, where folks really love to measure stuff, calculating return on investment for something intangible, say, a competitive intelligence function, can create the institutional equivelant of the blue screen of death. Intangible benefits always defy the quantitative analysis required for ROI analysis, but nobody ever wants to guess about these things.

I think one of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned while creating a competitive intelligence function for my company is the concept of actionability. If the piece of information you’re looking for will not provoke or enable some kind of action upon its discovery, you really need to question why you’re looking for it. Consider the average company with the numerous reports that are created. Reports to convey how things are going, reports created so that when so-and-so wants to see how Outer Baldonia’s feedback modulator division did they can just go to page 12 and find out. Reports intended to keep other people honest or busy through deterrence, etc. You’ve been asked to create these reports, you’ve probably even suggested or asked to have them made. You really weren’t trying to derail the business at the time, you were trying to do something good, I’m sure. So was I. But are these things actionable?

Along with that, when you need to take action or a decision – like deciding whether to chastise some manager based on ROI – you have to remember that the goal is action, and pursue information on that basis. Don’t get background for 6 companies “just for comparison” when only 1 company’s worth will enable the action. If it’s a pass/fail question, with a pass/fail answer, shades of grey simply don’t pay for their computation.

Gather/compile/report only info that serves a purpose. When gathering/compiling/reporting for a purpose, stop when the purpose is served.

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