Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps

There are a gazillion ways to communicate, but one of my favorite methods is maps.

Early in our relationship, Suzanne and I divided certain responsibilities. The divisions fell predominantly along lines of competence. It fell out quickly that I often mispronounced words. I mean I really, completely, embarrassingly mispronounced words. I knew the words from print, but often had not heard them spoken. “Chasm” and “abyss” come quickly to mind, and they represented the location of my stomach after hearing their correct pronunciations.

During our courting, we also learned that I kick butt with maps and directions, while Suzanne struggles. Maybe it comes from my Midwest upbringing, with our easy grid of North-South, East-West streets that give a constant sense of bearing. Or it could be a genetic thing. My dear mother-in-law lived in Vienna, Va., for nearly 30 years and thought that every time she drove into DC, she was heading north, not east towards the rising sun. Bless her heart.

So, the family phrase became, “Suzanne is in charge of pronunciation; Paul is in charge of directions.” You have no idea how many arguments you can head off with that simple understanding.

My real point is I love maps, and I hold an inordinate amount of pride in my ability to navigate using one. But the future of printed maps is in doubt. Why? Global positioning systems (GPS). Instead of spreading the Rand McNally on my lap and determining how long my bladder can hold out until the next rest area, I just punch a few keys on the dashboard monitor and not only come up with a time, but six alternative destinations that provide bathroom solutions and snack possibilities.

Before

So, you’d figure that now that any Tom Dick and Mother-in-law has my vaunted capabilities, I’d be miffed about this changing technology. Perhaps, I should lament the death of printed maps and rail against the heavens because electronic media has usurped my distinction.

After

Truth? Let me answer with a quick question. Have you ever driven through the Catskills? After dark? Trying to find an obscure hotel? Now that’s a place you can get lost for a long time. Just ask Rip Van Winkle. Even with my over-the-top superior mapping and navigation skills, I fell in love with my rental car GPS, which we quickly named “Ingrid” for her Teutonic efficiency.

Next time you think about your love of books and magazines and all things print, remember that love may prove as fickle as a high-school crush.

There’s something I love even more about electronic media, though. It saves space.

Before
After
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Sentence of the Week: Week 4

“The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be.”

Apparently, I’m working a theme. Over these last couple of posts, I’ve developed the “I-don’t-know-where-the-heck-we’re-going” theme. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Google Ad
My future begins with coffee and the paper. Every morning.

 I found this sentence in an ad for – you guessed it – Google TV. (The complete copy is at the end of this post.) It represents something that corporate America seems to have lost sight of, which is the need for undirected research. My experience of the corporate world is that the only lever managers really work is cost control. Creating value, adding service, and building something new are difficult and risky, and in an era of tighter budgets and higher profit and loss accountability, few managers want to risk creation. Instead, they control.

Google and a few other companies support innovation. They do so by giving their employees the time to pursue their passions without direction. Consequently, we get breathtaking advances that we never could have anticipated. (Please know that I’m not putting Google TV in that category. For all I know, the ad copy may be better than the TV.)

The sentence I chose this week represents the uncertainty of the future and the desire to do things for the sake of doing things. But what I really like about this sentence is its simplicity and repetition. (I’m a sucker for repetition.)

The phrase, “the coolest thing about” opens and closes the sentence. In between, the word “Google” repeats the sounds of “coolest,” offering center to the balance. “TV” rhymes with “be,” creating end rhymes that are not obvious but still delightful. If this sentence were the front elevation of a building, you would find the equanimity of massing and repetition of elements to be very pleasing visually. The same is true of the sounds.

Read it out loud. It’s not poetry. It doesn’t scan, but it is fun.

Let’s be truthful, though. It is not a brilliant sentence. It is honest, though, and a good honest sentence at the end of some ad copy is worthy of notice.

My only complaint about the sentence is that it is not the last sentence of the ad. One other sentence follows: “Learn more at google.com/tv.” That sentence – the call to action – blows and undermines what could be a very powerful finish to the copy. Oh well. Nobody’s perfect. Not even Google.

Full Ad Copy

“Kids again.

We haven’t been this excited about TV since Saturday morning cartoons.

Not only are TVs the center of our living rooms, but five billion of us use them. That’s more than the number of people who use mobile phones or computers.

Knowing how the web radically transformed those devices, we wondered what it could do for the most ubiquitous screen in the world. Which is why we’ve been busy geeking out on how to make TV as awesome as possible.

The result, coming shortly, is Google TV.  It’s an adventure where TV meets web, apps, search and the world’s creativity. Like Android, we will make Google TV an open software platform. From the start, it will be able to work with any TV. And before long, anyone will be able to build applications for it.

The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be. Learn more at google.com/tv.”

What Is New Is Old Already

The pace of change in communication has become so breathtaking that even the most dedicated followers are struggling to keep up. In the early 90s, when I was a young editor at Remodeling magazine, I could recite the location and area code for every major city in the country. 415? San Francisco. 312? Chicago. 303? Denver.

I could do that because I spent hours on the phone, accomplishing what every editor does today with a simple internet search. And, back in olden times, we knew those area codes, because every city only had one. Now, every city has multiple codes, and they often overlap.

Okay, as my son would say, “That’s a nice story grandpa, but what’s it mean?” It means this. Those changes, while fundamental, were really quite simple compared to what’s happening now. Watch this video from 2007. (It’s only 7 1/2 minutes.) It has been one of my favorites for its vision of what a dedicated community of users can achieve with content integration.

Blaise Aguera y Arcas paints a future that shows how our understanding of the world can deepen and become more sublime through the collective involvement of individual contributors.  As he says,

“We can do things with the social environment. This is now taking data from everybody. From the entire collective memory, visually, of what the earth looks like and link all of that together… make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts.”

What’s cool about this vision of the future from more than two years ago? It’s already happening. Here are two examples.

I went to Photosynth.net today and created a detailed view of the front elevation of my house. (Click here to see.) It took me less than 10 minutes to accomplish, including taking the photos. More effort would only have led to a far more dynamic and interactive experience, but consider how much I accomplished with so little effort. That speed of change is awe-inspiring and nearly impossible to track.

What’s cool about this vision of the future? Go to Google Maps or Bing Maps. Look at the photos posted in popular tourist areas. They’re pulled from Flickr and other sources, and they give you a view of the environment we’ve never been able to capture or navigate. Consider this image I found on the photo options for Google Maps. Each point or arrow moves you to a new view, greater detail, or a different perspective.

We see the same thing being done collectively now that was just a vision of the future in 2007. As Aguera y Arcas said,

“It grows in complexity as people use it, and the benefits become greater to the users as they use it.”

I still return to this video just to experience the frisson of excitement it gives me about the future of communication and the value of connecting a community. We have no idea where this revolution will lead us, but I can promise you two things.

  1. The creation of content will be the driving force of the revolution.
  2. The revolution will provide greater freedom, creativity, and information for more people than any movement in the history of the world.

Those are good things. If the invention of the movable-type printing press eventually led to the creation of the middle-class, then who knows what benefit will arise from even further democratization of information.

It’s Not What. It’s Why.

I have never read a business book that couldn’t have been reduced to a good magazine article. But there are people out there who make me think with greater depth, and I value them beyond reason for that ability. Right now, I’m stuck on Simon Sinek, who has identified what great leaders have that people respond to.

Most of us communicate from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. We explain “what” first, “how” next, and “why” last. “Why” is always the most difficult to explain, but it is where our passions reside.

Few of us can be great leaders, but all of us can inspire employees or prospects and establish ourselves as people of worth and substance. We only need to invert our communication tendency, and first explain why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Watch this presentation Sinek gave at the TED conference in Puget Sound.

Want to know more about Sinek? Check out his website.