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February 15, 2011

Filed under: culture»corporate

Deal

About five years ago, I designed my own business cards. On the front, they had my contact info and a stamp of my name in Mandarin Chinese that I'd gotten in Xi'An. On the back, there was a QR code containing a vCard of everything on the front, which was supposed to show people that I was way ahead of my time (this was, in fact, so far ahead of its time that nobody was ever able to scan one of the stupid things until last year).

Anyway, of the 500 or so cards I had printed, I probably still have 450 of them sitting on a shelf at home. Partly this is because I wasn't nearly as big on actual networking as I was on having a cool business card, but it's also a function of where the world is going: nobody keeps a rolodex full of cards anymore, and our address "books" live behind a touchscreen or on an Exchange server. And while I may have been a bit hasty in adopting them, these days QR codes and digital tags are everywhere. Machine-readable data has invaded the everyday world.

So this year, I'm taking an admittedly small risk and calling it: now is the time to ditch physical business cards. It'll save paper and money, reduce clutter and littering at conferences, and best of all, it'll genuinely put you on the cutting edge of digital networking.

Now you may be saying to yourself, sure, Thomas can do this: he's a bona fide misanthrope, but how can regular people get away with it? Good question. Here's a few easy strategies for going cardless:

  • Install a QR code generator on your smartphone: If you're an Android user, you probably have one already--it comes with Google's stellar Barcode Reader application. Pick a contact, choose "Share" from the menu, and presto: a code pops up that someone can scan right off the screen. I'm sure other platforms have something similar. You'll need to create an address book entry for yourself--something old-school Palm users will remember from the days of IR contact beaming.
  • Upload a vCard: I tried this the other day, and it's surprisingly nifty. Give someone the URL to the card, and it'll download to their phone or computer and prompt to be added to their address book. Once you've got it working, you even could use a link shortener like bit.ly to make a custom (trackable) URL, and just update the .vcf file when your details change. You'll need a server you can control, because it needs to send the content-type as "text/x-vcard" and the content-disposition as "attachment" for Android and Blackberry phones to understand it correctly (an .htaccess file even lets you set the card as the 'index' for a directory). iPhones are, perhaps unsurprisingly, slightly less cooperative.
  • Once again, own your name: I can't repeat this enough. Of course, it helps if your name is relatively uncommon, and even then you never know when an ad agency will try to steal your thunder. But owning a searchable, easy-to-remember domain is a great way to present yourself, not to mention a fine place to host a copy of your QR code and your vCard file.

In a few years, this'll all probably seem like old hat. That's why it's important to jump on the card-less trend now, so we can look down our noses at the luddites handing out paper slips (and manually copying them into their computers) while we still can.

I kid, of course. Seriously, though: set aside the snobbery, the savings in money and paper, the confetti of unwanted cards after a professional meetup, and the chance to demonstrate your new media credentials. Won't it feel good just to not have to carry around a stack of disposable business cards wherever you go? I feel lighter already.

April 9, 2008

Filed under: culture»corporate

The Cheese Stands Alone

I don't actually remember why I started thinking about "Who Moved My Cheese?" the other day. I wish I hadn't. It may be the worst book ever written.

I know what you're thinking: "Thomas, the worst book ever? Worse than Atlas Shrugged?" Yes. "Worse than Bill O'Reilly's children's books?" Maybe. "Even worse than Piers Anthony?"

...well, let's not get crazy. But it's still pretty bad.

Here's the basic plot of the book, which (as far as I can tell) pioneered the "management fable" genre: there are two mice and two "little people" in a maze, and every day they eat cheese from a huge pile (the significance of the cheese is never fully explained, but one assumes that it represents some kind of business/personal success). One day, the cheese is gone. The mice immediately go sprinting off to find new cheese, while the people sit around and gripe about missing cheese, until finally one of them gets up the nerve to break from his routine and head out looking for the new cheese store. He eventually finds it, and along the way pens a lot of vapid cheese-themed aphorisms about his experiences with change.

I had a manager at the Bank who otherwise I respected greatly, but who nonetheless during one of our retreats made us read Who Moved My Cheese? and I've never quite forgiven her for it. For one thing, the book is an obvious metaphor for layoffs and being forced to work harder for the same pay, which nobody finds amusing and most of us considered more than a little ominous, especially since Wolfowitz wasn't very keen on our vice presidency.

For another, you couldn't possibly pick a worse audience for WMMC? than the World Bank, which is filled with left-leaning intellectuals--although, granted, anyone with the slightest hint of rebellion in their soul should be able to figure out the story's flaws. When they asked for questions, my teammates and I immediately began pointing out the enormous holes in the fable: forget the cheese, how do we get out of the maze? Who's moving the cheese, and how do we get them to stop, or at least hold them accountable and tell us where they're going to move it next? What if I'm lactose intolerant? The whole point is to convince workers that they must react to the giddy whims of their superiors--indeed, that it's empowering to do so--instead of giving them the impression that they might be able to control their own lives. It's unsurprising that most people find this approach unpleasant, especially when delivered as a pseudo-fairy tale.

In other words, if the condescension (who are the "little people" again, kemosabe?) doesn't get you, the poor writing will. The biggest sin of the book isn't that it's a thinly-disguised metaphor for class suppression, but that it's so very, very unconvincing. You would think, since they've been doing it for so many years, that middle management types would have a better justification for misfortune than "shut up and work harder." If they do, it's not selling any books.

Future - Present - Past