The Last Telegram

For over a hundred years one of the most tried and true methods of efficiently communicating across the globe was the telegram. That technology allowed for the first trans Atlantic cable to be financially possible. When my dad proposed to my mom he sent a telegram from Germany to Fresno California.

If you’d like to send a telegram today, you can’t. The last telegram was sent on July 14th 2013.

I find it prodigious that the iPhone and the telegram had several years of overlap. Looks to me though, like the iPhone won.

Is Anyone Reading This?

One of the things I do is take notes for meetings at work. Thanks to learning how to type when I was a young age (love you mom!) I’m reasonably good at this part of the job. After the meeting I’ll send the notes out to the team.

We’ve been so busy recently I wondered if people were actually getting to the end of my notes and reading them. So, yesterday I included the following:

I had Wheaties this morning.  It’s the breakfast of champions and this project deserves champion level effort.  

Within just a few minutes, one of the team members wrote me back to let me know that she appreciates my dedication to the project as expressed by adjusting my eating habits.

What a simple thing to a say, and what wonderful emotions came from reading it!

There actually is a greater lesson in this!

Photo by bruce mars on

One way to set up a collaborative conversation (one where both parties feel they walked away better than when they started) is to think of each opportunity to speak as a vessel that needs to be filled with the other’s thoughts.

While done humorously in my situation, that’s essentially what I was doing for this brief conversation at the end of my notes.

Recently I posted about the need for collaboration not confrontation, but knowing a few snippets on how to set up a collaborative conversation can be helpful. It’s not about you hitting the home run comment. It’s about you setting up the other person to contribute.

Oh, and I got the answer I was looking for. Someone was reading!

Together is Better

A few weeks back I was updating the Book List and snuck in there a little book with a lot of wonderful pictures.  Today I’d like to mention a bit about Simone Sinek’s Together is Better.

There are a few things that a reader will need to accept in order to enjoy this book.  Chief among them are the ideas that a book can be powerful, short, and include pictures.  Once the reader has adopted that premise, the book becomes easy to digest and enjoy.

Inside Sinek’s work are several colored pages of drawings each with brilliant insights that tell a story of a group of friends on a quest to make things better.  In his text he takes the time to articulate and define objects and concepts we often deal with in our complex world while the artwork helps to solidify the message in our heads (people are visual learners after all).

The book is short enough to read on a lunch break and perfect for leaders to leave in the break room to spark conversations.  If it still feels overwhelming after I described it as having pictures, I’d like to also add that my eight year old read it to me one afternoon in about 35 minutes.  It’s a quick read.

Oliver DeMille often talks about having unifying cultural artifacts among groups and how impactful those artifacts on that society that adopts them.  If your group is going to adopt an artifact for reference this one is likely a perfect fit.

The best way for me to endorse this book is to say that if you’re in an environment that has people then, this is probably a book you’ll want hanging around.


Interview Feedback

Two weeks ago my daughter had her first job interview for a local pizza company (she got the job). Similarly I did several hours where I was being intervewed for positions within the valley. One of the companies I interviewed with scheduled 5 1/2 hours of interviews. That’s a lot of answering questions. When I was finished I started thinking about the purpose and process of conducting interviews.

In at least two of my previous positions I’ve conducted hiring boards, written interview questions, and even trained others on a hiring process that’s was scaled by one of my previous organizations. I’ve always believed and taught that interviews should be conducted to ask questions that can’t be answered from the resume or other available material like the cover letter, resume, or LinkedIn.

All of those mediums are designed to be one way. It’s the applicant’s part to communicate about themselves using those mediums. A large part of the way our society structures the labor market process is one way. One of the first things to practice in applying for a job is the personal elevator pitch. Pitch is an interesting word to have in that phrase.


  1. to erect or set up (a tent, camp, or the like).
  2. to put, set, or plant in a fixed or definite place or position.
  3. to throw, fling, hurl, or toss. [emphasis added]

The 3rd choice is most apt when refering to the phrase elevator pitch becuase it’s literally the candidate tossing information forward towards the audience.

The problem is, unlike a pitch at a baseball game, few interviewers bother to give feedback to the person making the pitch. Could you imagine a baseball game where the umpire lets four pitches land in the catcher’s glove before announcing the pitch count? “Two balls, two strikes,” he says. That’s a good status update, but it doesn’t exactly give feedback to the pitcher to allow him to change his behavior.

One of the requirements of learning organization is to absorb and respond to feedback. No feedback = No improvement.

I have amazing friends. We look forward to opportinities to work together. I was elated a couple of weeks ago when Sarah Maycock asked me to help do mock interviews at Columbia High School in Nampa, Idaho.

The setting was the exact one that was missing from my high school experience. A caring teacher helping his students prepare for their future created a fictional company and each of the students were supposed to apply for positions in the company. I was one of several fictional ‘hiring managers’ interviewing 3-5 students in 20 minute increments.

All of the fictional hiring managers were recruiters and others with amazing portfolios of experience. I was impressed to be in the room with them. Sarah has a great way of networking with some of the best talent the Treasurer Valley has to offer.

Teenagers are more expressive. I did my best to maintain a neutral expression and I could see they were frustrated by some of the interview conversation norms. So I started responding to their frustration by providing more immediate feedback–especially the parts they did well. After all, we needed to assess them for a grade, but not at the expense of helping them improve.

When I was designing hiring processes one of the key things I’ve brought to the table was to help those on the panel realize that their questions were actually training someone who would be joining our staff. After all, we’re going to hire someone from the pool and the questions we ask are going to teach them what we care about and what the job requires.

For the high school students I let them answer as themselves, and when there were opportunities to compliment their experience, tone, or overall communication style I did so. Nerves relaxed and their confidence grew.

There are may good reasons why I’m grateful high school is not real life, but the lesson here can be applied beyond high school. It’s ok to interview people and provide them feedback when they’re doing well. A good job, or a kind follow-up question can go a long way to help people improve. Be open to providing feedback and be humble enough to receive it.

The Listening Difference

Listening makes a significant difference in the quality of our relationships, but we often miss opportunities to be better listeners.

Listening is a profound sign of respect. In many cultures the is tehe one who has the autority. When you take the time to listen you elevate the status of the person who’s speaking. To provide some contrast, what status does the person who constantly gets interrupted have?

Meetings are a great opportunity to practice our listening skills. All too often, we’ve gotten in the habit of bringing our devices instead of bringing our attention when we have to meet in a group. I get it, some people have lots of opportunity to be better presenters, and some meeting topics are only tangentially related to your responsibilities. In Project Management (PM) how you listen will determine client success. You can’t afford to miss a cue about a delay to the critical chain and it’s bad business to bulid quality solely from an outdated checklist. [Link]

Unless the device is the tool that allows the meeting to occur, leave the device behind. I’ve had great success working with stakeholders that had difficult reputations by bringing a reusable notebook with me to a meeting. The notebook removes the barrier created by a laptop screen. It creates more interpersonal opportunities.

The fact that I don’t bring a laptop combined with the fact that my notebook is reusable often gets the attention of whomever I speaking with and it ends up being a discussion point. I share how it’s designed for me to take photos of the pages and save my notes digitally. I share how the text washes off with water and uses a comfortable pen. Once we’ve covered the technical capabilities I then get to share the real reason for the notebook.

“What you have to say is important and I didn’t want to put a barrier between me and the things you needed to say, but I still wanted to take notes because what you were going to tell me is important.”

I haven’t met a stakeholder yet offended by that statement.

After the meeting I’ll go over my hand written notes and type up a meeting summary to send to the client.

Hi, XXX this is what we discussed.
– Thing 1
– Thing 2
– Thing 3

I agreed to do the following before our next meeting:
– Thing 1
– Thing 2
– Thing 3

We also agreed that you would do the following
– Thing 1
– Thing 2
– Thing 3

As I get working on my things if I need to ask a follow-up question can I do that over a text message or would you prefer some communication method?

Similarly, the best way to reach me is via text.

It might feel like it takes longer to write things down by hand and type them afterwords, but I’ve found this takes a lot less time than solving the problems of not listening.

But Jacob, what happens if you find you miss something in your notes?

Well, I tell the stakeholder that I was going over my notes and I’d like him to clarify something. If I’ve missed that bullet point all together then I say things like “I was distracted thinking of the second and third order effects of [bullet point 1] that I’m afraid I missed your second point. Would you mind going over that again for me to I know we’re on the same page?

When you head off to your next meeting, ditch the impulse to take your device and instead grab a piece of paper or a reusable notebook (I’m a fan) and sit down and listen.