Surviving without e-mail

The BBC website is carrying a story about the boss of an IT company Atos, banning all internal e-mail.

Thierry Breton caused a sensation last week when he told an interviewer that he planned to ban internal email at the information technology services giant, Atos.

Read the full story here

Let’s be clear from the outset, he’s not planning to ban all e-mail. If you’re trying to get in contact with someone inside the business you will still be able to e-mail them. What Mr Breton is stopping is the stream of e-mail that goes from one desk to the next.

Personally, I reckon this is a brilliant idea.

In the last year I had to review my e-mail using habits. I wasn’t getting work done as well as I should have been because every five minutes there was another e-mail that would need replying to. Just that little envelope icon was enough to cause a distraction. So, I now have a plan.

For the most part I only open, read and respond to e-mail first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. In cases where I think that the e-mail I’m sending will illicit a response that will require more of my attention, I’ll schedule it to be sent towards the end of the day, meaning that I won’t need to deal with any response until the following day at the earliest.

This may sound a little cheeky, but there are days when conversations can start by e-mail that are no help to anyone. While I’m not a great fan of meetings either, I can see times when it makes sense to get five people in a room to discuss and issue rather than attempting it by e-mail.

I should also say that there are occasions when rules need to be broken. Dealing with external clients and customers, I’ll try to respond more quickly. Coming back off holiday, I’ll sit for a morning or a day to clear the backlog. I’ll even deal with messages on my phone when I’m travelling and there’s not much else to do. But, in general, the principles above still hold true.

So this is currently how I manage e-mail, but I’m willing to learn. So if you’ve got any tips or tricks I’d love to hear them.

Customers can become allies

Once a week I try to tidy up my Twitter account and spend a few minutes looking at new followers. I’ve stopped following every organisation and person that follows me, but if there’s something there that sparks my interest I’ll check you out for a few weeks. Anyway, this week I end up on Matt Edmundson’s blog.

Matt’s a Christian guy blogging on entrepreneurship, business, the use of technology (PowerPoint to web 2.0) and his life. We both seem to share similar motivation for moving to Liverpool – I went there in 1996 to ‘study’ and watch Liverpool play football but, unfortunately, couldn’t find a way to stay in the city. We seem to have a few similar interests, including marketing.

From: 'Update: a new definition of marketing' on Matt Edmundson's blog,

That’s really what got my interest, especially his diagram on the movement of an individual from first contact, through being a customer to being an ally of your business/organisation. The final step looking something like this…

Movements come as a result of deepening the connection with Customers and thereby creating Allies. This is where I want to take the companies that I am involved in – not being just a business but a movement, and I guess to do that I have work at getting the customers in to the Ally phase, because here is where the magic starts to happen.

From Update: a new definition of marketing

I’ve got a busy day ahead but I plan to spend some time thinking through the full diagram and how it would impact on the operation of Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK.

If you’re interested in this stuff it’s worth checking out Matt’s blog.

Learning with iTunes U

It would be nice to think that after getting a Masters degree in Marketing Management I’d be done with studying. The truth is though, that while the Masters has turned out to be just the right qualification for managing marketing processes and strategic planning, my knowledge of how specific functions work is sometimes lacking.

So I’m going back to school with iTunes. Yesterday I spent a while hunting down some courses from places like Arizona State University, Duke and the Open University to fill in some blanks. I’ve downloaded the first couple of lectures from seven different institutions and plan to listen to each one and pick three of the best to keep me going for the next few weeks.

I’ll let you know if it’s any good when I get to the end.

Quaker Clearness Committee

I was fascinated to read Marko’s post about a Quaker Clearness Committee. I’d not heard of one of these before, but in a jumbled existence where there are too many good, demanding, urgent ideas, the idea of taking some space and time with some good friends to think things through sounds like a great idea.

The overview according to Marko

this process was fairly simple, really, and is based on the idea that the holy spirit is in each of us (both the person with the question, and the other participants). but it’s not as much about “advice giving” (which often crosses into our own junk and mere opinions), as it is about asking open-ended questions to bring the convener into a space where he or she can more clearly hear what the spirit is saying.

Of course, as soon as the process is over it would be really easy to slip into advice giving mode, but that’s not the point.

While I was at uni I had a friend who would get into a real flap about her assignments. Deadlines would loom and the pressure would increase and she’d ask, ‘what do I do?’

We’d then talk for a bit about her options and she’d come to some kind of conclusion and press on with the task. Her assignments would all get done and the pressure would ease.

I never once said, ‘Well, I think you should do this.’ We’d just talk until she had a clear idea of what needed doing and when. This Clearing Committee sounds like the same kind of thing. Giving an individual the space and time to think through some of the stuff that life throws at us and making us more equipped to make decisions.

Maybe for some there is an element of the Holy Spirit in there, especially around certain issues, but I also think it’s a pretty good process for people who don’t necessarily believe in God.

We’ve never done it that way before

My job has an interesting element to it, the ability to predict the future.

Now before you get excited and start e-mailing for predictions for this year’s Derby winner (Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, or any other horse race) I should be quite honest and let you know that I can’t.

What I do know is that the following statements are completely true:

  • Being successful last year doesn’t mean that repeating the same thing guarantees success.
  • Being unsuccessful doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea that can’t work in the future.

Mark wrote an interesting blog post this week about getting comfortable. He pointed out that it’s easy to look for the safe ground and never try anything new. Only repeating stuff means that you’re likely to miss out on the new and the exciting. For some it’ll be that they miss out on great food, others it’ll be seeing new things, for some it’ll mean that they’ll miss Jesus.

One great line his post though was…

But – we’ve never done it that way before, these 7 words would have to be the most inspiring words you are likely to ever hear???

Exciting isn’t it. Doing something new.

So share, what have you tried to do that’s turned to success or failure?

Plan ahead and expect the unexpected

Very often we do an admirable job of dealing with normal. When things carry on, the same today as it was yesterday, we’re happy and can cope. Occasionally, though, circumstances combine and a situation occurs that isn’t routine.

We have a local recycling point. It’s about a mile away from home, so we store up the things that can be recycled and about once a month, when we’re passing, we drop off the bottles, cardboard, tins and plastic that can be reused. Obviously, just after Christmas, is a busy time in the recycling world but the following sight isn’t something that I would have expected.

Paper and cardboard was piled outside of the cardboard bin, all the glass containers were full and there was very little space for recycling cans.

Now, I think I could have guessed that the weeks after Christmas were going to be a really busy time for recycling, so possibly a good time for putting on extra collections or providing extra bins, or maybe even putting up a few signs of what to do should bins become full.

We face a similar national crisis with the snow. Local councils running out of grit and salt for the roads. I have to say I’m surprised by this. It wasn’t so long ago that they were all claiming to have contingency plans for heavy snow and that there wasn’t going to be a problem.

On Tuesday, Tany and I went to see Holmes, the film – don’t bother, it’s not worth it – so were in the cinema for two and a half hours. It was cold but clear when we went in. All the snow had melted from before Christmas and nothing fresh had fallen. When we came out it looked like this…

It made getting the car out to drive home entertaining.

The cinema is in a shopping centre. People here are quite impressed by this place, but I’m always wondering why they couldn’t put a roof on the whole thing. Tuesday night it was snowing inside! It makes me think that they didn’t plan ahead.

So my challenge from now on is to spend some time planning ahead. Maybe taking a couple of hours out of the week to think what needs to be done and what could happen if things go badly or go well. If it snows again tonight I may not be going out tomorrow and I’ll have more time for doing this.

Why is, ‘You can do it’, so hard to say?

It was late last night when Tany and I almost fell into the trap of watching a TV programme about teenagers who appeared to have swapped their lives in the UK for a place in a school in South Africa. That was what I took to be going on but as I didn’t see the beginning or the end I’ll never really know.

Anyway, this girl had managed to get herself in trouble for using inappropriate language and was hauled in front  of the head. Instead of being yelled at she was spoken to like an adult and shown how having a negative attitude reflected really badly on her. It was a brilliant piece of management. Tany’s comment was along the lines of, ‘You know I’d work better for someone like that, rather than for someone who pointed out all my faults’.

I used to work for a chap who would continually say, ‘well done’. It didn’t matter how mundane the job was Henry would always recognise a job well done. We used to tease him a bit for it, but actually, the more experience I have of work the more I value it when someone stops and says, ‘well done’.

You know it’s Biblical to be encouraging. Paul writes about it in Romans 12,

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Now some people may be more gifted than others in different areas, but that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. Some things are just worth doing.

A quick Bible Gateway search returned 59 responses for the word ‘encourage‘. Mostly along the lines of, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thes 5:11).

Encouragement is great, it changes attitudes, motivates individuals and groups and generally makes all people feel better about themselves and the world in which we live. Why then do I find it so difficult? Sometimes I avoid being encouraging by telling a joke or teasing someone. It’s almost as though I feel awkward with positive affirmation. Instead I should really make the effort to encourage people whenever I can, I think it would make my world a much better place.

Volunteered Personal Information (VPI) – A charity’s blessing or curse?

Alan Mitchell has noted a change in information gathering for companies. Data is no longer something we have to go out looking for, quite often our customers are more than happy to provide the information for us, he calls this Volunteered Personal Information (VPI).

The reason we are suddenly quite happy to provide businesses with our personal preferences is the belief that we will get applicable information in return. For example, companies can now find customers who are looking to move house in the next six months and send appropriate information in return. As Mitchell says…

Putting this all together, this is not a superficial blip. It is a once-in-a-century, fundamental sea-change in marketing’s operating environment. For the past 100 years, top-down was the only information flow worth talking about; now, bottom-up is fast supplanting that pivotal role.

I just wonder what this means for charities. The first question that springs to mind is, do we have the resource to sort through customer information in this way? Sure computers can automate this process, but how much is the outlay likely to be for software that can do the job, and are we really thinking of what to do with the resulting data?

That said, I doubt many charities can sit back and let the world change and still insist in communicating in the same old fashioned way. Yes, there are still a group of supporters who like to receive things through the post once or twice a year, but there are a whole swathe of potential clients out there who communicate in a whole new way. Very often they are open with their personal information, but their communication is less formal and less structured than we are used to dealing with. Charities have to change to operate in this new world just as businesses do. We can’t just rely on people stumbling upon us and having enough goodwill at that moment to start a conversation.

Charities, whether they like it or not, have to deal with a huge shift in the way we communicate and share information. It’s not something that can be put off any longer. [Read Alan Mitchell’s article online here]

UK Church Administrators Network (UCAN)

A friend has passed me details of the UK Church Administrators Network (UCAN), to share. It’s simply a group for people who are working in church administration to join and network, with the possibility of some organised training in the future.

For everyone from senior manager, through PA and secretary, to project co-ordinators, this is really only worthwhile if a decent number of people become involved. So if you work in church management or administration it’s probably worth a look.