68 posts categorized "Books"

December 22, 2011

The College Degree Myth

SchoollessEducational institutions have it all wrong. 

If you go to college, you will earn more money than if you did not. College admissions departments send collateral that show increases in income levels for those who earn degrees. Teachers, undoubtedly with the best intentions, hoping to find something that will motivate their students to learn the material they're being taught, repeat the same chorus: "If you don't pay attention now, you will not be able to go to college. If you don't go to college, you won't be successful."

They ask you to look the other way when they teach you about people from this august list.

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Abe Lincoln
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Thomas Edison
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Michael Dell

None of them earned college degrees. All were brilliant. All were succesful. And in case it's not clear from the list, several in the group had to overcome modest -- even oppressive -- circumstances of their youth to achieve great things.

There may be an explanation for this. In his classic book, How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff suggessts that the premise of the statement is the child of a post-hoc fallacy, that presumes that because many people who have degrees are successful, the degree must have caused it.

"Actually we don't know but that these people are the people who would have made more money even if they had not gone to college. There are a couple of things that indicate rather strongly that this is so. College get a disproportionate number of two groups of kids: the bright and the rich. The bright show good earning power without college knowledge. And as for the rich one... well, money breeds money in several number of ways. Few sons of rich men are found in low-income brackets whether they go to college or not." 

People like Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Douglass, etc., weren't stupid on account of their lack of a degree, and they weren't self-made men. They were "Open-Source Learners" -- people who tapped into the resources of their age to improve their understanding about how some part of the universe works.

How much more should we in the 21st century, who can write and talk with and see people halfway around the world in an instant -- for next to nothing -- be able to improve our understanding of how some useful part of the universe works, and with the tools at our disposal, put it to good use?

A little background

My brother Gannon ran into a motivation wall when we were kids. Convinced by the world that he needed to go to college to be successful, once he got it into his head that he could neither afford college nor earn a scholarship, he lost hope, checked out mentally, did as little as he thought he needed to in order to stay eligible for sports and bided his time until he could graduate and join the Marines.

And he was smart. One semester in high school, he dedicated himself and got straight As. Just to prove that he could. After having accomplished that, not believing the effort was worth it, he fell back to Bs, Cs and Ds.

Since then, I've watched his very intentional transformation from a amatuer hobbiest illustrator to a master craftsman. (You can follow some of his work on his blog). His skill can't be chalked up to superior genetics or fancy schooling. It is a product of reading, collaboration, and 5 years or 10,000 hours of practice.

How to Pursue a Degree Without Going to College

In his book, Schoolless (Available on Amazon in paperback and for the Kindle), Gannon doesn't argue that college isn't useful repository of excellent learning tools, or that people should eschew a college degree... Rather, it is a celebration of alternative learning strategies that don't cost $27,000 (the average cost of a 4-year college degree in 2005).  

Wondering how you're going to possibly send your kids to college? Lost hope in ever getting a degree without a mountain of debt? The good news is that you have options. There's still time to get this book for Christmas! Do it today. - Cam Beck


October 15, 2010

Thirsty for Help

AoC-BuyNow3 How often do you stop and consider how fortunate we are?

I don't mean to brag. But I take a shower every morning.

This practice has great benefits, not just for me, but for those around me.

I have to confess, though, that sometimes I stand in there a few extra minutes in the morning to wash the cobwebs out of my brain -- past the point that is necessary to get clean.

Take a moment to feel the weight of this: Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause 80% of all diseases.

There are two easy and rewarding ways to combat this problem:

  1. Increase prosperity
  2. Charitible giving

Now you can do both at the same time.

This year, Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton led the march to publish The Age of Conversation 3. It is full of the useful insights of over 100 authors (including yours truly) to help you do your part to increase prosperity.

However, neither we, the authors, nor Drew and Gavin, the coordinators and editors, make a dime off of it. All profits go straight to charity:water, which brings clean drinking water to developing nations.

Here's are all the ways you can help:

The step-by-step is as follows:

  1. Buy the Book and ask others buy the book. If you work in an agency or another business that gives books as gifts, get your company to purchase multiple copies and give them out as year end gifts. This is the #1 call to action, because this is where we want to see the most impact. NOTE: Please buy 1 copy at a time because Amazon counts bulk orders once, and please use these affiliate links, which will help us in tracking sales. Remember, all the proceeds from the book sales and referrals will go to charity water:
  2. Twitter Commentary - Join the AOC authors as we give a Bum Rush play-by-play on Twitter. We also ask that everyone saying anything about the Bum Rush to use the code #aoc3 so that it can be picked up by What The Hashtag.
  3. Trackback or Comment on the post that Gavin will leave here today, so that everyone can follow the conversation and help promote exposure on social sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, etc.)
  4. Digg the posts listed here and send emails and shouts to friends requesting Diggs.
  5. Stumble the posts listed and tell friends to do the same.
  6. Bookmark your posts on Del.icio.us
  7. Don’t forget Facebook – Make sure to become a Fan of AoC3 and to contribute to our wall
  8. Send an Old Fashioned email to your friends about the Bum Rush for AoC.

- Cam Beck


June 07, 2010

The Value of Meaning


You can get a brand new baseball, good for throwing, catching, and hitting, officially endorsed by Major League Baseball, on Amazon.

As of this moment, they sell for $17.75

Babe Ruth hit the first ever home run in an All-Star game. We still know where that ball is. Due to its age, it's probably less suitable for throwing, catching, and hitting, and Major League Baseball would never use it again in a game.

According the Forbes Magazine, this ball is worth $805,000.

Through a physical inspection, the new ball is far superior to the older ball. Yet the older ball is worth more because it has meaning to the people who care about baseball's history.

It is more than information; it is both a story unto itself and a small part of the story of one of the games greatest legends. 

Meaning is not limited to collectibles. Marketing is replete with examples, but so are user interfaces. In both cases, failing to make meaning with intent can result in a failure for the project. In the first case, you're ignored, which is bad enough considering the costs of some of these efforts. In the second, you can be ignored ... OR you can annoy your target audience by failing to give a clear path that leads to the completion of the user's intent. 

Likewise, brands have value commensurate with the meaning people give it. The channels you use to connect with your audiences can be stories to themselves as well as be part of the overall story of the brand.

Whatever limitations keep you from doing what you really want to do, never take the responsibility lightly. - Cam Beck

For further reading on this topic, check out Making Meaning and Personality Not Included.

May 19, 2010

Age of Conversation 3: By the Numbers

AOC3 Buy it on Amazon

171 writers

15 countries

2 editors

202 pages

10 sections

$25,000 raised for charity (Books one and two).

Our illustrious and (apparently) indefatigable editors, Drew and Gavin, gave this version of the book structure and a directive: Make this something business people can use. There are enough self-proclaimed "social media experts" out there, and it's easy to be duped. How do you apply yourself in this age of constant communication? What is most important to know?

Once again, I tip my hat to Drew, Gavin, and the other 168 authors who made this possible. I was and continue to be honored to be a part of it.

In spite of having 171 writers, the essays are well constructed and easy to digest independently, and they work well together as a whole. Each one is 400 words or less (and I understand Drew and Gav were very strict about that point). Good for a snack, a light lunch or a meal.

Official press release  |  Buy Age of Conversation 3

- Cam Beck

February 24, 2010

Why this iPad Won't Kill the Kindle Platform (and how it could)


Many have already voiced glowing praise or strong disapproval of Apple's recently announced iPad.  Some proponents, such as Leo Laporte, call it a "Kindle Killer." Skeptics and haters call it "The next Apple Cube."

These judgments are premature, however. Whatever "magic" Apple has in store for the future, there's nothing in the first generation iPad that changes the market dynamics so completely that it will disrupt Amazon's economics with the Kindle solely as an eReader.

People who buy eReaders are typically going to take reading seriously. The advantages that they bring are best realized by certain types of people:

  • Heavy readers who want to enjoy the improved economics that eBooks bring
  • Heavy readers who want to conserve physical space
  • Anyone who travels frequently and likes to read on trips

With these audiences, the iPad falls short for a number of reasons:

1. Nearly twice the cost of entry
The starting price for the iPad is $499. For the Kindle, it's $259. By way of example, assume the average eBook price is $10, with its hard-copy counterparts costing twice that. A Kindle owner must purchase 26 books before breaking even. An iPad owner would need to purchase 50. 

So for the heavy reader, the economics are hard to justify. For the casual or occasional reader, they are nearly impossible -- if they're going to use the iPad over the Kindle simply as an eReader.

2. Back-lit display
The e-Ink technology that drives most eReaders today has some limitations, but it minimizes eye strain compared to back-lit displays, such as what the iPad has. For heavy readers, this is a significant drawback. It means they can't read as much without their eyes getting tired. It may still be viable for those who are not heavy readers, but in that case, the economics make even less sense solely as an eReader, and except by virtue of wide market distribution, Apple's bookstore cannot promise much revenue to publishers, making the marketplace less attractive (especially as a closed system, as it likely will be).

At least the format is open-source anyway, so they don't have to reformat their books specifically for the iPad.

3. Shorter battery Life
10 hours is a lot of time to be reading. And the standby time the iPad promises is remarkable, but a back-lit display capable of showing full-color images, videos and applications comes at a price. With wireless off, the Kindle can go at least two weeks without a charge, so there's no reason to be tethered to a power source for travelers.

Marketing Differences

Because the iPad does a lot of things, it's hard to describe it using terms that are clear and understandable by a lot of people. The tagline for the iPad is "A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price."

What's the frame of reference? It's a "product?" So is a refrigerator. And oatmeal. And manure. 

It's almost as if Apple believes an entire category can be created by adding abstract and glowing adjectives.

Plus, because the iPad does a lot of things, making promises about how many books it holds would undermine its uses as something other than just an eReader. And it is much more than just an eReader. It's a "product" that CAN be used as an eReader. Among other things.

The Kindle, by contrast, says it's a "reading device" and promises simply that it will hold 1,500 books. In other words, more than you'll read over the next five years.

That's much more concrete than "16GB," which is how much storage the entry-level iPad promises.

So, as an eReader, Amazon's Kindle enjoys the advantage of being able to be explicitly sold as an eReader.

Apple Raises the Bar for User Experience

Apple has done some things well. Even as an eReader iPad works in some important respects. The prevailing question is whether it works sufficiently for the consumer at their prices.

1. Intimacy
Though not flawless, the experience of reading a book on the iPad looks to be more intimate than with the Kindle. The page-turning metaphor is direct and closely resembles the experience of actually turning a page of a book. Along with the ability to deliver deeper content through color and multimedia (which is impossible with either the Kindle or a physical book), motivated publishers have the capability to engage consumers like never before possible.

2. Usability
The touch-screen interface allows Apple to dispense with the metaphors that drag down the Kindle. That makes interactions more direct and gives publishers and app developers more flexibility on how they choose to deliver their content. As such, students can hope that Apple's platform makes it easier to consume nonlinear books than the Kindle does. And since anyone with an iPod or iPhone is already familiar with the iTunes interface, assuming the experience of purchasing a book rises at least to that level of usability, there's very little reason to believe the experience would be any more difficult on the iPad than the Kindle.

3. Flexibility
The iPad does a lot of little things well, and it looks like it can be used to specialize or converge however its owner intends. It can be a personal assistant. It can be a gaming device. It can be used to stream music or movies (with the right app and know-how) from a media server. It can be used as a netbook computer (especially with the optional keyboard). It can be used as a home automation control pad. Or it can be used as all of these things.

The beauty and the curse is that the consumer controls what it will be used for.

The problem is that convincing the masses that something that CAN be used in such ways SHOULD be used in such ways relies on heavy, repetitive marketing, positive word-of-mouth, or consumers themselves having the imagination for its divergent possible uses. Oh, plus they must be willing to risk at least $500 on the prospects -- with no guarantee of success.

Here's where it gets exciting

I don't know how the mass marketplace will respond, or how much Apple is willing to reduce its margin to gain a wide penetration for the iPad if at first it does not take off.

But even if it doesn't, if Amazon is smart, they won't take this lying down. Nor will Sony or any other manufacturers of either popular eReaders or tablets. If it's successful, the iPad may either drive down the costs of pure eReaders and/or inspire the development of better interactions.

If that happens, people will be more willing to adopt the platform, the cost of reading will decrease, and publishers will be forced to participate in this space and -- hopefully -- embrace the efficiencies it represents for their entire industry.

Whether the iPad brings Apple financial success or not, Amazon will need to improve its interface (which is already very good for linear reading) and technology. The iPad (and -- perhaps more importantly -- the responses it will engender from rival tablet makers) will likely change users' expectation about how they should interact with books.

Even if Apple doesn't sell as many as they hope, I would still count the iPad a success if it resulted in widespread adoption and use of electronic readers in general. - Cam Beck

November 19, 2009

The Value of Y-O-U

Value_based_fees Recently I read Value-Based Fees: How to Charge and Get What You're Worth by Alan Weiss. I've coveted this book since I wrote Innovation by the Hour last year. After I worked through my rather large (and growing) stack of reading material, I finally was able to get my hands (and eyes) on it, and I am glad I did! (Thanks to Lisa for the recommendation).

Many, if not most, people in service industries bill for time and material. This is problematic in industries whose output includes ideas, for who is to say when (or on whose dime) ideas were generated? Who owns the idea formed in an employee's head if it never sees the light of day?

Weiss argues that the problem is far more pernicious. Many of the headaches involved in consultancy or agency relationships stem from a systemic flaw in their billing methods. Weiss says it plainly: It's "simply crazy" for consultants to base fees on time and materials. When you sell value and do your job correctly, you maximize your margin while ensuring the client feels like they got a bargain.

That is the definition of a "good deal."

The book is well-written, memorable, and at times shockingly honest. Weiss says he's glad his accountant hasn't read his books, because he'd pay a lot more if he had to pay for value, not for time and materials.

He also practices what he preaches. The Kindle version of the book, which obviously does not require printing or distribution fees, is still $32, which is much more than typical new releases sell for on the Kindle, and not much less than the printed version, brand new. This is because Weiss is selling an idea and techniques to implement it, not paper and ink.

That idea in the book is worth the same regardless of the method in which it's distributed. And if you're currently billing by time and material, at $32 or $100, it really is a bargain.

The Supply and Demand of You
Weiss claims that "There is no law of supply of demand in the consulting profession." What he's referring to is that the fees you charge should have nothing to do with your supply of hours in a day, week, month or year.

However, as Weiss himself iterates elsewhere, there is only one person in the universe who is the product of your education, skills and experience. The supply of you is exactly one.

The question, then, is what is the demand for that product? It depends on what value you mutually establish.

  • What are the client's business objectives?
  • How will success be measured?
  • What results can you deliver against these objectives and metrics?

You, as a product, may be of significant value to a client, regardless of how much time you need to spend on a project, as long as you are willing to believe in your value enough to make yourself accountable to actual, measurable results. Do the work necessary to educate the client and establish agreement on what your goals are.

Then you can both come away confident that you've been successful at meeting those goals. The client will feel like they got a bargain, and you will come away knowing you've been adequately compensated for your expertise.

Pick up the book today. You'll be glad you did. - Cam Beck

August 13, 2009

A Case for Moral Selfishness

"[H]aving lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others." - Benjamin Franklin

I am a skeptic.

To an outside observer, my skepticism may look a lot like cynicism. I don't just believe people and companies are motivated by self-interest, I've seen it with my own eyes.

A person doesn't simply buy a book from Amazon because they believe it will help Amazon make money or employ more people. They buy it because they want or need the book for themselves -- either to inform, improve, or entertain. This is most often true when people realize that they're spending their own resources - they tend to spend it in a way that benefits them, not others.

If they're spending other people's money, they tend to be less careful with it.

This doesn't make everyone manifestly selfish, necessarily, because self-interest can indeed be naturally reconciled with service to others, without requiring one person to pick another's pocket to do so.

For instance, recently I bought and read A Project Guide to UX Design because I believed it would make me better at my job. Continuous personal improvement improves my marketability (self-interest), but only if my improvement leads me to help others get what they want (service to others).

I also get a lot of joy (self-interest) by making a tangible and substantial contribution to the financial success of other companies (service to others), their employees (service to others) and the satisfaction of their customers (service to others).

It's remarkable how often those things go hand-in-hand, when you work in a service industry, when regulations do not unnecessarily restrict your abillity to operate freely.

Once you realize that no one is more important to individuals than themselves, you tend to require stronger evidence that supports others' claims of all the great things you'll get if you just follow their lead.

A personality or "brand" may persuade you to be either less or more stringent with your requirements for evidence, which is just another way of saying that you trust those people and companies who have previously delivered on their promises, to the best of your knowledge.

However, healthy sketpicism, in light of moral self-interest, will allow the evidence to lead you wherever it may, even if it contradicts what you previously believed.

As a skeptic, I'll be the first to admit that the process is sometimes uncomfortable, but it also allows you to be less judgmental of other people's errors in thought and deed (which are intertwined), because you will realize that, in pursuit of your self-interest, you've managed a few whoppers yourself.

However, if there is a self-interest that should transcend all others, it should be the pursuit of the truth, which requires being capable of contradicting yourself when you find  your thoughts and deeds to be erroneous. Do not let love or hate of either personalities or brands to stand in the way of your dedication to think critically. - Cam Beck

March 09, 2009

Enemies of Progress: Success and Failure

When things are going well and business is humming along, industries are resistant to change because they don't want to change the model that has been working so well for them. They resist change so much that they will defend the status quo with litigation and legislation (through lobbying efforts) to prevent the market from adapting to changing circumstances and demand. When things are going poorly, often companies in these same industries lack the capital necessary to make the changes they needed to sustain profitability.

A prime example of this is the RIAA, who for years resisted the demand of consumers to download music directly from a distributor for use on their portable devices -- and any other device types they might want to use it. Another example that is far more troublesome is the failure of so many newspapers, whose sunk capital investment and romanticism prevents them from making meaningful change in how they create and distribute the news.

Now the Author's Guild finds itself threatened by the same predicament. Having become accustomed to receiving royalties independently for both physical books and for audio versions of the same book, the Guild is concerned that the new Kindle uses a technology that reads text aloud, using a voice synthesizer.

This technology, they fear, may one day become so good that people will no longer need to buy a separate audio version for their books.

Progress? The horror!

Also, consider the hubris of those who would either deny technological advances or prevent the text from being read aloud by a third-party (this would not be the same as a recording).

To be clear, the Kindle 2, were it to become widely adopted, represents some challenges for authors and how they negotiate royalties. However, it's in their best interests to figure it out quickly -- before their industries fail because of their inability to adapt.

Not all the news is bad. One thing the Kindle may do is, if implemented properly, reduce the barrier for consumption of the authors' work, making it more likely that people will spend the money to purchase it.

If this happens, the natural result is that more people will consume more books.

This is good for everybody.

This will enable their ideas and their fame to more easily gain traction, which actually increases the likelihood that they will make money.

But first they have to get out of the way of progress. For now, the publishing industry doesn't face the same immediate threat that newspapers do. However, if they don't find a way to make this trend work to their advantage, especially if the price for the Kindle falls to the point that it can be more popularly seen as a worthwhile investment, they aren't far behind. - Cam Beck

March 05, 2009

How Much is $1 Trillion? The Anatomy of a Sticky Illustration

Today on Facebook, a friend posted a link to this article on PageTutor.com that illustrates as well as anything I've ever seen, just how much money $1 trillion is.

I don't want to infringe on the author's work, so please go read it, and then come back here.

Simple. They set out to make a simple point: $1 trillion is a lot of money.

Unexpected. The result is just ... astonishing. Just as important as the result, however, is the build up. By comparison, $1 million, which to most would seem like a lot of money, is just pedestrian. However, had they used $1 as the building block instead of $100, the $1 million may have appeared to have more weight. I was just as surprised by the $1 million illustration as I was with the $1 trillion.

Concrete. By using human-scale objects that people are familiar with (a $100 bill. A human. A pallet), the creators were able to take a concept made abstract by its scale and make it understandable. A lot of that has to do with the progression.

Credible. The efforts the author made to make the illustration concrete also make it credible. Add in the fact that the author used a tool created by a publisher with some authority (Google Sketchup), and the author's conclusion receives additional credence.

Emotional. There is really no overt call to action here. It's really not designed to pull at your heartstrings the way it could have been. However, if the scope leaves you with your mouth agape in astonishment, then this criteria is certainly covered as well.

Story. As I said, it would not have been effective had the author just posted the concluding illustration. It required the build-up to be effective. Start with something almost all of us has seen and probably held at some point: The $100 bill. Show how what most of us consider a fair amount of money is really not all that impressive to look at. Keep building anticipation until the last moment, when the final illustration is revealed.

Most people who have been reading this space for awhile know what a big fan I am of Chip and Dan Heath's book, Made to Stick. If you're not aware or you haven't read the book, let me direct you to my review of the first edition of the book (download the PDF).

If you haven't read it, now is as good a time as any. Buy it now. You'll be glad you did. - Cam Beck

February 16, 2009

Are creativity and intelligence at cross purposes?

In my inaugural post on the  new Click Here Blog, I wrote about the potential applications of business intelligence in interactive marketing.

By design, I didn't delve too deeply into the relationship between creativity, defined in the way marketing agencies typically define it, and intelligence, defined in the way business managers typically define it. However, that topic has been on my mind pretty much since I started writing here at ChaosScenario.

The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive, but one would strain credibility to deny the tension that exists between the artistic license that often passes for creativity and the requirements created by real-world business problems set by market conditions.

Part of our problem is language, and another part is cultural. Perhaps our definition of creativity has been too narrow.

As you ponder how you define creativity, pop on over to Alan Wolk's post, "Does Creativity Still Matter." - Cam Beck