Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Big Short

In the past two days I’ve seen the writer Michael Lewis on 60 Minutes and The Charlie Rose Show. His new book, The Big Short, is just out. Through the stories of three men, it chronicles the subprime mortgage debacle. Lewis was a Wall Street banker himself. You may have heard of his first book, Liar’s Poker.

Charlie Rose’s introduction went something along the lines of how Lewis had, nearly 30 years ago, told the story of Wall Street greed in that book. Well, at least he thought he had. His latest book may not be the last chapter, but it is the most recent.

A question put to Lewis was whether or not the big Wall Street banks will continue to draw the best and the brightest students, despite the stain that culture now carries with it. You can see Lewis’ answer here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Light at the End?

Some good news for business school students, according to this article in The New York Times. The recession may not be over, but things may be looking up for you all. Read the article here.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Sign of the Times

Working with students on their ITEC projects brought to mind a client I had a number of years ago. I was the lowest account staff member of a public relations team of about five, and there was a lot of excitement about this new client. They were two genius brothers, one the brains and one the salesman, and they had a novel technology ready to unleash. They specialized in digital signatures. I asked the second lowest person on the team what a digital signature was.

He explained that a digital signature, or at least how our client conceived of one, was an authoritative electronic stamp that could legally and authentically prove that a document was signed on such and such a date, or that a document was reviewed by whichever parties had claimed to have reviewed it. This was in 2001. It was around the same time a Forbes article was being passed around the office, which declared that the worst job one could have during the tech bust was that of a PR account executive for a tech company. This was my job.

Looking the company up now, I can’t find them. I don’t think they remained clients of my firm’s for very long—their funding, along with others, dried up. And I didn’t remain with the firm very long either after the bust—eventually, nearly all of the technology account staff got laid off, except for the people who happen to be working with a walkie-talkie company. Evidently, someone always needs walkie-talkies.

What went wrong with the digital signature company? Were they not unique enough? Were they not marketable? Could they not implement it effectively? After visiting with students and sitting in ITEC classes at AU, I’m asking questions now that I didn’t ask then.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Get To The Point

When asked how long he spent preparing for a speech, Theodore Roosevelt once replied: “For a five minute speech, I need at least two weeks. For a ten minute speech, I need a week. For an hour-long speech, I’m ready now.” While this may seem counter-intuitive, Roosevelt was making the point that one of the most difficult parts of communication is condensing one’s message.

Most of us don’t have the Bull Moose’s talent in communication, but many of us struggle with the same challenge. We often become attached to our words, and find it difficult to identify the most important parts and eliminate the fluff. I find this is especially true in my written communications. For school assignments, my problem is usually writing too much rather than not enough. I promise myself that I will limit my blog entries to 300-400 words, but I usually exceed this self-imposed limit and have to cut my entries down. Twitter makes this even more challenging; I find it extremely frustrating to condense a complex thought to 140 characters.

For blog entries or emails, I’ve found that one good way to eliminate fluff is to write my main idea as though it were a Twitter update (i.e. no more than 140 characters), then go through my document and eliminate things that don’t fit with this main idea. While this may sound overly simplistic – and in some cases it is – it helps me stay focused on the topic. I wouldn’t recommend relying solely on this method to condense a school assignment, but I’ve found I can often cut 10-20% of my text using this method.

Another effective technique is to have someone else look over your paper. I find that it is usually easier for someone else to spot the unnecessary points in my writing, because they aren’t as emotionally invested in what I’ve written as I am. Similarly, I find it much easier to help others eliminate the fluff from their papers than to eliminate it from my own.

We’d be glad to help you with this at the Center for Business Communications. Come see us some time.