Product Development was one of my favorite courses in business school. And one class I remember particularly well was when Prof. Robertson challenged us to a seemingly impossible task: improve on the design of a paper clip.
One would think that, having the paper clip design not changed in almost 150 years, it would be ripe for innovation, yet improving upon it proved incredibly challenging. We are, in fact, surrounded by objects and tools that, like the paper clip, resist unchanged in the face of phenomenal advances in technology, materials and computing. The business card is one of them.
There have been countless attempts at replacing the quaint paper rectangle with NFC-enabled devices, mobile apps, social applications, QR codes and more. Yet, even among technology professionals, the business card remains an essential business accessory.
Universalinterface. To transfer a business card to someone, you use your hands. Since (most) everyone has hands, there are no “interface interoperability” issues, so to speak.
One gesture. It takes about 1.5 seconds and one gesture to hand out a business card to someone at a tradeshow. That ergonomic efficiency is hard to beat.
Power-less. They work perfectly well in the absence of electrical power, when Wi-fi is down, Bluetooth is off, etc…
Personality. Unlike standard app UIs, business cards convey the attributes of your personal and corporate brand. Choices of size, cut, weight, typography and content create, and communicate, personality with an immediacy otherwise impossible to achieve.
Expectations. Business professionals the world over have been conditioned to expect to exchange business cards when they meet. The cognitive barriers in switching to a different behavior are phenomenal.
Next time you think about disrupting an established product category through new technology, it may be worth thinking long and hard why it has resisted change for so long in the first place.
Here’s a quick sample of messages I received in the last couple of weeks from (mostly young) people looking for help.
Looking for an internship…
I am ___, recent graduate in ___, for personal reason I am trying to move in the Bay Area. […] that’s why I am searching for an internship (also unpaid) to network with companies there. […] I am wondering if you are able to give me some useful information/contact within your network that provides internships or exchange opportunities. If you think you can help me, I can send you a copy of my resume. Looking for a job…
I am looking for internships in startups or consultancy or financial services. I expect to graduate in my Master degree in ___ in 2014, so finding an internship this winter might help me to have an opportunity for next year. Thank you!
Looking for a job…
Hello, My name is ___, I am ___years old and I just graduated in ___ from the University of ___. […] I was wondering if you knew about any job openings I could apply to with my degree and that could allow me to exploit my double citizenship.
Looking for business contacts…
I am ___, Marketing Manager of ___. , a startup operating in the ___ industry. Next week I will be in Silicon Valley to meet with ___ companies to explore partnership opportunities. We are confident that we could benefit much from key partnerships with ___ companies and we’d like to ask you to maybe help us present and introduce our project. I would appreciate it if you could help us connect with potential partners or just give us some suggestions or addresses.
It is just an extreme sample, but there is a pattern. A lot of this help requests make it virtually impossible for me, or anyone really, to help. A few reasons:
Inward focus. The messages tell me why the job/internship/contacts are great for the sender, which is great but does very little to stir my interest. I do not (yet) have an emotional connection with you, so I frankly do not care enough (yet) to jump into action.
Too generic an objective. What comes through is often someone who does not really know exactly what they are looking for. How can I help in any way if I do not know what you want to achieve?
WIITFT?. What’s In It For Them. They often lack any indication of what value the person is bringing to the table. What are you good at? What are your top skills? The expertise you offer? If no values is expressed, there is nothing to offer to a prospective employer or business partner.
So how can anyone maximize the chances that I (or anyone) may be able to help?
Start with your value proposition. One short, crisp paragraph about how cool, valuable, expert you are (or your project is). Ideally you want to get an intro from a trusted source, but frankly I know it is work, so I am not big on that one. It is that simple.
Be (extremely) specific. Tell in as specific a way as possible what kind of company, position, person, business you want to get in contact with and why. Specifically! e.g. “I am looking to sit down for a meeting with the CMOs of company A, Company B or Company C in the next 2 weeks to learn directly from them this and that…”
Tell me what you want me to do. Be explicit about the kind of help you would ideally want from me and also give me a plan B if I can’t. e.g. “Would you be willing to introduce me to Jeff or one of the members of his team via email? If that is not possible or advisable maybe you can introduce me to someone else at Company A that you think would be the right person to talk to.”
Reduce the risk. The less I know about you, the higher the risk I am taking in helping you. After all there is always the possibility you may be a bozo or a nuisance. If possible, you should try to reduce or eliminate that risk in the back of my mind. “e.g. You can ask such and such about me. I am sure they will tell you how professional I am. I promise I will only ask your contacts for 15 minutes of their time. I will let you know how it goes next week.”
It is that time of the year. Many of our Italian and European friends take advantage of summer vacations to visit the Bay Area and regularly ask for a list of interesting tech events.
As in previous years, I have started a list interesting tech and business events taking place in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, in July and August 2012. The focus is mostly web, internet marketing, mobile, healthcare, social media, software etc.
Here’s the Google calendar in HTML and iCal format.
PS: I am not associated with, nor endorse any specific listed organization or event.
One of Italy’s leading universities – the Politecnico di Milano – is going to switch to the English language. The university has announced that from 2014 most of its degree courses – including all its graduate courses – will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian.
I still remember my master thesis dissertation at Politecnico in 1997. My thesis, “Modelling the Self-motion and Environmental-motion Coherence in Yaw” was entirely developed in English during a stint at Delft University in the Netherlands. At the time, I was forced to translate back in Italian a 10-page summary of the thesis and my slides. The defense presentation was also delivered in Italian.
I for one welcome the change. English is (still) the language of international business and academia. It will only benefit students to spend a few years prepping for communications in an English-dominated world.
But some strongly disagree:
Something of the precision and quality of teaching and learning will be lost in translation, when both teachers and students are using a second language. “Speaking Italian to our countrymen is like watching a movie in colour, high definition, very clear pictures. On the contrary, speaking English to them, even with our best effort, is, on the average, like watching a movie in black and white, with very poor definition, with blurred pictures,” says Professor Matricciani.
I am not sure I agree with the spirit of the objection. Do you?
This certainly makes for an interesting dinner topic. The only real problem I see with unbundling the college degree is that it is there is very little flexibility on the demand side of the job market. When it comes to credentials the degree is still an binary filter. You have it or you don’t.
Editor’s note:David Blake is the Founder of Degreed, the new degree for the new world. Previously, he helped launch New Charter University and was a founding member of Zinch, since acquired by Chegg.
Jailbreakverb. 1 To get out of a restricted mode of operation. 2 To enable use of a product not intended by the manufacturer.
Currently, the degree is the only meaningful “unit” of education to which employers give any credence. Of this dependency, TIME magazine writes, “The tight connection between college degrees and economic success may be a nearly unquestioned part of our social order. Future generations may look back and shudder at the cruelty of it… It is inefficient, both because it wastes a lot of money and because it locks people who would have done good work out of some jobs.”
The traditional degree, with its four-year time commitment and steep…
A: Pizza seems to polarize people, maybe cause everyone has a very personal opinion of what a great pizza should be like. Anyway, here’s my very personal list:
A16 delivers top wood-fired owen pizza with seasonal toppings.
Delfina has established itself as a solid spot in the SF pizza scene.
Zero Zero has got to be my personal favorite. Choose the Margherita Extra with buffalo mozzarella.
[Special mention] Pizzaiolo is technically not in San Francisco. Well worth the trip to the Temescal restaurant row in Oakland.
Q: What is the best spot for a drink?
A: So many choices, so little time. This one depends on a number of criteria. I go by the bartender’s craft as the primary factor. San Francisco is home to some of the best. Again, in alphabetical order: