If 'Phantom Torque' Isn't Spooky Action, I Don't Know What Is

Phantom torque sounds like the name of a 70's Swedish rock band, but the International Space Station is experiencing it, and a New Scientist article says it will complicate a planned spacewalk on Monday. Apparently, during the last spacewalk this phantom torque caused thrusters to fire, nearly frying the spacewalking astronaut.

I personally think it's a NASA ploy to get attention. But they need more drama than a three hour free drift into the keep-out zone. Especially during spring break.

The real excitement today is the announcement of Space Elevator Technology Competitions! (h/t to the best source of nanonews anywhere)

I should probably get back to my Powerpoint makeover now. I just couldn't pass up a rare Spooky Action news item tie-in!

posted by Mike at 9:37 AM 0 comments


Pimp My Slides 2

My Powerpoint makeover is off to a great start. As you know from reading the prior post (and links therein), Cliff advocates a story-based approach to presentation design. In Act 1 you define the Scene, the Protagonist, the Imbalance, the Balance, and the Solution. Having chosen “Persuade your CIO to adopt the Balanced Scorecard System” as my Solution, I felt like I needed to set up a substantial conflict to move someone to that type of action. I was having trouble creating a cohesive set of elements, so I used one of the tips Cliff included at the end of Chapter 2 of Beyond Bullet Points: trying different story variations, such as Historical Narrative, Crisis, Crossroads, Response to an Order, and others. You can see my results here. With some difficulty I created several variations. The process drove out a few themes, and I finally selected the following elements:

The Setting: Battered IT orgs are searching for a roadmap to the future
The Protagonist: IT professionals (the audience) must guide radical change or be outsourced
The Imbalance: IT is viewed as a very high cost of doing business
The Balance: IT becomes a trusted advisor to executive management

Not bad for me, but Cliff suggested the following:

The Setting: The IT profession today is weathering great storms of change
The Protagonist: You can ignore the situation and hope the storm passes through
The Imbalance: The trends are pointing toward IT becoming a mere cost center
The Balance: Turn the tide by aligning yourself with an executive mindset

which I really like. He added much more detail to his comments in the word story template. Check them out for more insight into Cliff’s reasoning.

Now it’s on to Act II: Develop the Action. Stay tuned, and check out the other makeovers for more great advice and examples. And remember, you can comment both here and on the discussion board. I am always interested in other viewpoints. Right now I’m wondering the following: is the current Balance element – “Turn the tide by aligning yourself with an executive mindset” compelling? Let me know what you think.

posted by Mike at 5:39 AM 0 comments


Pimp My Slides

I’ve blogged before about how great Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullets blog is. It’s unfailingly insightful and interesting and covers a topic I feel strongly about: use and abuse of Microsoft Powerpoint.

Last week Cliff posted a solicitation for lab rats volunteers to collaborate with him on a makeover of one of their presentations. Subjects would take an existing Powerpoint presentation and redesign it according to the principles in Cliff’s book: Beyond Bullet Points. I jumped at the chance, and was delighted to be accepted into the experiment!

I could have chosen to use a bad presentation that would make the job of improvement easy. Instead, I chose one that I thought was quite good. I’ve given it several times and gotten excellent reviews. It has humor. The content is tight, with plenty of ‘new news’. It is designed for audience interaction. But I never sold any business directly related to one of these presentations. I figured if Cliff’s book (and tutelage) could show me how to do that, I’d be his biggest customer evangelist!

You can watch – and comment on – the action here. There’s a copy of the original presentation (with speaker notes!), the storyboard I’ll use to make over the presentation, and a discussion board to document the process. Please check out my project, as well as a bunch of others on Cliff’s site. If you’re not enthralled with the topic of the Balanced Scorecard Management System, there’s surely another presentation more to your taste.

Cliff’s book is fantastic. Steve wrote a great review here; check it out. I’ll add that the book is very well organized, the narrative is great, and the principles well illustrated. The presentation storyboard template and other book-related resources are available online. I’d tell you to check them out and then go buy the book, but that sort of talk is cheap. Instead, I encourage you to look at the results of applying the book’s principles and judge for yourself. Then come back here and click Beyond Bullet Points to buy the book. While the sheer satisfaction of making the world safer for presentation audiences ought to be enough compensation for my trouble, I’d really like to break my previous quarterly Amazon Associate earnings record of $0.23.

posted by Mike at 4:44 PM 0 comments


If a Tree Falls on a Squatting Bear in the Woods and Nobody's There to See It...

Who does the bear's lawyer go after first?

  1. Procter and Gamble?
  2. Gail Norton?
  3. Whoopi Goldberg?
  4. Someone else?

Drop your guess/suggestion in the comments section. I'll post my analysis next week.

UPDATE: A lack of comments from anyone outside the lazy eight ranch forces me to refrain from updating this post, except to say that This scenario is not so far fetched! Comment on that if you prefer!

posted by Mike at 3:31 PM 0 comments


Mark X's The Spot

Perhaps the greatest consulting story ever told involved an incident in the career of Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the great electrical engineer.

"In the early years of this century, Steinmetz was brought to General Electric's facilities in Schenectady, New York. GE had encountered a performance problem with one of their huge electrical generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it. Steinmetz, a genius in his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, was brought in as a consultant -- not a very common occurrence in those days, as it would be now.

Steinmetz also found the problem difficult to diagnose, but for some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering drawings, paper and pencil. At the end of this period, he emerged, confident that he knew how to correct the problem.

After he departed, GE's engineers found a large "X" marked with chalk on the side of the generator casing. There also was a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator would then function properly.

And indeed it did.

Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard of answer that his fee was $1000.

Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit a formally itemized invoice.

They soon received it. It included two items:

1. Marking chalk "X" on side of generator: $1.

2. Knowing where to mark chalk "X": $999."

Most Spooky Action readers know Mark Brady, aka Fouro, the Creative Director and bricoleur at Alchemy LLP. Like Charles Steinmetz, Mark has recently been working on a seemingly unsolvable problem. In Steinmetz'a case it was an underperforming generator; in Brady's case it is underperforming organizations. But both needed to figure out how to dramatically increase output.

We don't have insights into Steinmetz's thought process as he struggled with his challenge, but you can watch the run-up to Mark's X-marking by reading this, then this, then this poetic X, followed by this pictorial version. There's one for every learning style!

Or, if you have an organizational problem in need of X-ing, you can just call Mark. But us engineer-types enjoy using someone else's theories to solve our own problems. I wanted to alert non-Fouro-readers to some brilliant stuff they might want to try out.

And I liked the post title.

Addendum: Something tells me that meme crafting may be a useful tool in solving Fouro-class problems. Hat Tip to always thought-provoking Steve for bringing it up.

posted by Mike at 6:32 AM 0 comments