How to Hack Your Annual Self-Review

Hack your review, hack yourself. Photo © johngineer
Hack your review, hack yourself.
Photo © johngineer

Once again, it’s time to write your annual self-review. Just like last year (and the year before), Review Season sneaked up on you when you weren’t looking.

Now you’ve landed on this page after raiding Google for tips and tricks, hoping to find some secret key or formula that will help you ace your written self-evaluation so that you can get back to… well, whatever it is you’re doing instead of preparing for your review.

No such luck. There’s no hidden back door, no algorithm to fool, no “one weird trick” to get around evaluating yourself and your actions.

If you were successful in your work this year, you’ll need to weigh the merits of touting that success versus coming off like a braggart. But if you failed to meet your goals, then you’ll need to decide how to handle being accountable for your actions or whether you’ll blame circumstances, your colleagues, or that old favorite, “The System”.

Sound familiar? It’s a painful scenario experienced by workers all around the world. But reviews shouldn’t be so binary. And they shouldn’t be dreaded, either. Accountability has somehow become a dirty word in our lexicon… a tool that’s wielded like a cudgel when it should instead be seen as being more like a warm blanket.

Because reviews can be hacked, just like any other system or process. Hating on reviews only displays a lack of imagination. And you’re better than that — I know it. Continue reading

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Guest Post: On Giving

Ed. Note: This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa and I’m extremely grateful to the author for creating such a thoughtful post. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by me, on Santa’s list of 2013 gift posts.

On Giving. Photo © Shereen M
On Giving.
Photo © Shereen M

On Giving

I can still remember the first time I read The Gift of the Magi. Reading it today is one of my favorite holiday traditions.

My mother had brought home a special edition of the story book complete with a red velveteen slipcase and the title embossed in beautiful script letters on the cover. It sat on our coffee table for all of five minutes before I gave in to the allure of its gold-gilded pages.

I recall feeling the lump in my throat as I read about the main characters, a couple of modest means, Jim and Della, who sold their most prized possessions only to unknowingly buy each other gifts that they would both no longer be able to use.

In the end it didn’t matter. In the end, the act of giving the gifts was greater than the gifts themselves. Real life works this way too.

Just like the many others who’ve read the tale before me since it was first published over a hundred years ago, I was deeply moved. I may have even got a bit misty-eyed.

But look beyond the cosmic irony of Magi’s mechanics and you’ll see actions universally held as noble and good. Actions like thoughtful consideration for another person’s needs and desires, and sacrifice for the sake of someone else.

Stories like these resonate with something deep inside us, because we all want to give and receive that sort of gift. Continue reading

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Why I am Joining the Content Strategy Team at Facebook

Life doesn't slow down, so you've got to keep moving. Photo © Dave Morris
Life doesn’t slow down, so you’ve got to keep moving.
Photo © Dave Morris

Life doesn’t slow down.

It keeps moving. It won’t wait for you to catch up. And it never gives you a chance to catch your breath.

In just the first half of this year, I completed my master’s degree in information management at the University of Washington, a two-year program that culminated in a massive content auditing capstone project. I spoke at eight events, presenting a total of 536 individual slides. One of my decks even went viral, attracting close to 300,000 views as well as a mention in The Huffington Post.

I wrote a handful of blog posts, including this hand-curated list of 200+ content strategy resources. I also guest-blogged, I mentored, I did informal pro bono consulting and Q&As with a number of organizations… but mostly I met people, and I listened, soaking up information and perspectives and new ideas.

Throughout all of that, I also worked a full-time job at REI as their Principal Experience Architect. I worked on a mix of information architecture projects, content strategy, and business analysis and planning. REI’s been incredibly forgiving of my disheveled appearance, my apparent lack of interest in shaving, my constant yawning and bad habit of falling asleep at my desk.

And that’s no small feat with a stand-up desk, let me tell you.

So it’s been a busy six months. But even so, I’m not truly weary… I’m energized. And since life doesn’t slow down, I’m going to speed up.

Transitions

The welcome sign at Facebook corporate HQ in Menlo Park, CA. Photo © Marcin Wichary
The welcome sign at Facebook corporate HQ in Menlo Park, CA.
Photo © Marcin Wichary

Later this month, I’ll be joining the amazing Content Strategy team at Facebook down in Menlo Park, California. I’m blown away by their talent, their empathy, and the sheer scale of their accomplishments, not to mention the challenge set before them: iteratively crafting content experiences that will be used by over one billion people. Continue reading

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Information Endures: A Story About Stories

Ed. note: Each year, the UW Information School (where I’m a grad student) holds its annual Dean’s Club Dinner to thank its donors and board members for their gifts and service. This year, I’m emceeing the event along with fellow iSchool students Amanda Jasso (MLIS, 2013) and Amado Robancho (Informatics & HCDE, 2013).

As part of my duties, I was asked to speak about my life, what brought me to the iSchool, and how I hoped to use information to bring value to people. It turned out to be a bit wonky; keep in mind that I wrote this for information scientists. But it’s also part stand-up comedy, part nostalgia for 1980s tech, and part dreaming about the future.

I’m grateful to the iSchool for asking me to share my story.

Introduction

UW iSchool Dean's Club Dinner. Photo © UW iSchool
UW iSchool Dean’s Club Dinner.
Photo © UW iSchool

Hello, I’m Jonathon Colman, a graduate student in the MSIM mid-career program. When I’m not at the iSchool, you can find me at REI headquarters down in Kent, where I serve as their Principal Experience Architect. And when I’m not in Kent, you can find me stuck in traffic on I-5 because I’m trying to get back up to the iSchool.

Now for those of you on Twitter, I’m @jcolman. I mention this because I’m sending out pre-scheduled tweets during the evening with links that are relevant to the subjects of our talks. You can also find them using the hashtag #DeansClub. There’s even a pre-scheduled tweet about pre-scheduled tweets… how meta!

Oh, yeah — and that’s a Thing now: pre-scheduled tweets. They’re perfect for that awkward moment when you just can’t seem to find the time necessary to write 140 characters about what you’re having for dinner… but still need everyone to know that you’re eating something.

…against all odds, all sense of scope, and against all our rational instincts, we love information.

But my point — and I do have one — is that information endures. Yes, even information on Twitter, as ephemeral as it may seem. We can still tell a story with just 140 characters. Certainly information’s been an enduring factor in my own life (and yours, too, I’d wager) and in a way, that endurance is what brings us together tonight. Continue reading

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Ignite Seattle Video: How Introverts Can Survive in This Extroverted World

Last month I had the honor of speaking at Ignite Seattle. My topic was How Introverts Can Survive in This Extroverted World. Shauna Causey and Monica Guzman encouraged me to pitch Ignite and Beth Buelow inspired me by expanding my understanding of introversion in our recent interview.

The great folks at Ignite Seattle just released this video of my talk:

Continue reading

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The Numinous

One of my favorite words is Numinous. Is it strange and child-like to have a favorite word? Then yes, I am strange and child-like.

All the same, I want to show you why this is my favorite word. It involves a story. And the story begins as most stories do — with a book.

The Book

I first encountered the concept of the Numinous when I read Contact by Carl Sagan. That was back in 2001. It was just a few months after I returned to the US after my Peace Corps service in West Africa. And it was just after I got my first job as a “webmaster” doing front-end development, design, and a little something called SEO.

I’m sure that you remember the opening scene from the film version of Contact that came out several years later. If not, give it a another look:

Contact by Carl Sagan

My step-father gave me the book. It was beat-up, wrinkled, dog-eared. He obviously loved it very much. He was a hard-core science/science fiction fanatic; Carl Sagan was one of his favorite authors. My step-father could go on and on for hours about black holes and string theory. At one point, he practiced astrophotography with a home-made kit.

That was when we were younger. But science wasn’t enough for my step-father; he had his own Numinous to seek. And so he gave in to his long-term addiction to prescription drugs less than four years after handing me his copy of Contact.

I haven’t seen him since. But I still have his book, so perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to return it to him someday. Truth be told, I don’t think that sort of luck exists, no matter what you believe in. Continue reading

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Why Our Content SUCKS

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at SearchFest by SEMpdx down in Portland, Oregon. I spoke on the “UX and Audience” panel with Susan Delz of Ion Interactive, moderated by Nathan Isaacs of 7G Media. My travel to SearchFest was partially funded by a generous grant from The University of Washington’s Information School, where I’m currently a graduate student.

I talked about Why Our Content SUCKS And How We Can Make it BETTER.

Why Our Content SUCKS. And How We Can Make it BETTER! - my presentation from SearchFest by SEMpdx on SlideShare

Slideshare promoted my deck to their “Top Presentation of the Day” over the weekend. So I wanted to take some time to break down why I told this story, what my inspirations and goals were, and share some insights in order to enhance transparency and understanding.

I also want to share a secret with you about how I approached this talk that makes it different from any presentation that I’ve ever done before. Continue reading

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Ignite! Seattle 19: How Introverts Can Survive in This Extroverted World

I’ve had a fun, challenging journey this year talking publicly about introversion and lifehacks for introverts.

I started by helping introverts and shy people become better public speakers. Then I followed up by interviewing Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur.

And tonight I’m giving a talk at Ignite! Seattle titled How Introverts Can Survive in this Extroverted World. Here are the slides:

I'm speaking about 'How Introverts Can Survive in This Extroverted World' at Ignite Seattle 19 on February 20, 2013!

Slideshare Top Presentation of the Day - How Introverts Can Survive in This Extroverted World

What you may not know about Ignite! talks is that they follow a unique format: each talk is only five minutes long and contains 20 slides. Sounds pretty simple, right?

But here’s the kicker: the slides auto-advance. That means that a new slide is shown every 15 seconds regardless of whether or not the speaker is prepared.

Sound like fun? I’ve had a blast preparing over the past few weeks, but tonight is The Night. I’ll be challenging myself to put out a lot of extroverted energy during this talk while staying true to my introverted roots.

I’ve also got a fun trick up my sleeve (courtesy of the brilliant Zachary Cohn and Scott Berkun) that’s hopefully going to pay off BIG-time.

Thanks so much to the great team at Ignite! Seattle for all their help, hard work, and the time that they put into preparing the speakers and the show itself. We all hope to see you tonight!

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Interview with Beth Buelow: The Introvert Entrepreneur

Beth Buelow has become a recent source of inspiration for me. She is the founder and CEO of The Introvert Entrepreneur, a company here in the Northwest that “offers services for introverts and those who live/work/play with them.”

One of Beth’s main goals is to work with people and institutions to develop the sort of empowered, productive environments that help introverts to flourish. Beth says that the key to accomplishing that is for people of all types to understand and appreciate what it means to be an introvert in an extroverted world.

I reached out to Beth after writing about public speaking as an introvert and I’m thrilled that she agreed to do an in-depth interview with me about her work, her background, and the nature of introverts and introversion.

Want to stay in touch with Beth? You can become a fan of The Introvert Entrepreneur on Facebook and follow Beth on Twitter as well as visit her site to learn more about her background and services.

It’s not only about introverts as people; it’s about the needed balance of quiet to loud, slow to fast energy.
Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur

JDC: Hey Beth, thanks for talking with me. First, please tell us about yourself and The Introvert Entrepreneur.

Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur
Beth Buelow, the Introvert Entrepreneur
Photo © Beth Buelow

BB: Considering this question, it’s like I’m being asked, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s part of the proof that I’m an introvert at my core; telling you about me feels like a complex undertaking. I’m afraid I’ll either bore you or sound narcissistic.

So here’s the bottom-line version: I’m an entrepreneur, coach, speaker, author, wife, dog/cat mom, reader, sailor, photographer and thinker. Like many introverts, I spend too much time on social media and the internet. And I’m always — always — looking forward to my next long nap. If I could, I think I’d be like Linus from Charlie Brown, and carry a blanket with me everywhere!

My company, The Introvert Entrepreneur, exists to serve and celebrate introvert energy in our world. It’s not only about introverts as people; it’s about the needed balance of quiet to loud, slow to fast energy.

I coach introverts on how to find their natural voice, make the most of their strengths, live in alignment with their inner truth, and build a sustainable life, personally and professionally. Continue reading

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The Epic List of Content Strategy Resources

Since I left SEO, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Content Strategy. What is it? What books and blogs should people read to learn about it? What conferences should folks attend and who are the experts in the field?

I thought I would assemble my favorite Content Strategy resources into a list that has everything all in one place for folks who, like me, are new to this field. This makes it easier to find for those who are interested, not to mention easier for me to share when I get questions.

But I also created this list as a way of thanking all the amazing, brilliant, and talented content strategists out there who inspired me with their work and insights. In a way, this list of content strategy resources is my love letter to the industry that welcomed me into its halls.

Content Strategy definitionBooksJournalsBlogsArticlesEventsForumsMore lists

A Definition of Content Strategy

So what do I mean by Content Strategy anyway? Is it the same thing as Content Marketing? Let me set some expectations before we jump into the resources so that you know what to expect.

Diagram describing the critical components that Brain Traffic considers in every content strategy
Diagram describing the critical components that Brain Traffic considers in every content strategy.
Graphic by Brain Traffic

Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic (whom you’ll see included in the lists below) states in A List Apart that “Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”

I think that the word plan plays a keystone role in that definition. Planning is an essential skill for content strategists, who often do quite a bit of research within organizations to examine workflow, standards, governance, process design, publishing systems, and several other factors that go into the second part of Kristina’s definition: “…the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”

I love her distinction between the words useful and usable. A content experience must be both in order to be truly successful.

Rachel Lovinger of Razorfish (also in the lists) adds to this definition in Boxes and Arrows when she states that content strategists use “words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.” Note that here she specifically references both language and data, which indicates that we’re talking about “big-C” Content, not just blocks of lorem ipsum text. It’s also clear that we’re talking about experiences and how content enables experiences that help users succeed at their goals (and businesses to succeed at their objectives).

In the same article, Rachel adds that “content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design,” which further helps us dispel the myth that all content strategists care about is text. We care about content as experience, which is why we focus on content inventories and audits, workflow mapping, publishing systems and processes, delivery channels, and so on. Remember: useful and usable.

Of course, there are a lot of further definitions and nuances explained in the resources below, but the above summations are essentially what we mean when we talk about the big picture of Content Strategy as a discipline and community of practice. Because of the emergent understanding that content is more than just text, you’ll find that there are natural connections to related disciplines such as Information Architecture, User Experience, Interaction Design, Content Management, and yes, even Content Marketing.

So are Content Marketing and Content Strategy the same? No, but they are clearly related, so a better question to ask might be: are these two practices compatible with each other? Definitely! Can and should content marketers work with content strategists to help improve user experiences, publishing workflows, and delivery to channels? Yes, please!

Bringing these two disciplines closer together for the benefit of organizations and their users is one of my professional goals, which is yet another reason why I created this resource — I need your help to make that happen. Continue reading

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