Friday, June 1, 2018

Do Writing and Grammar Even Matter Anymore?

In the digital age, it may seem like writing and grammar skills are no longer essential, since everywhere you look you see examples of poor writing, improper grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Lamenters blame digital media, public education, or parenting methods. It is likely that there are a variety of reasons, but what really matters are the answers to two key questions: 
  1. Are poor writing, grammar, and punctuation impacting our ability to communicate with one another on the job?
  2. Do we need to do something about it?

At Prism we believe the answer to both is “YES” for several reasons.  Unlike face-to-face communication where words, voice, and body language help clarify the message, in written communication we have only the words and formatting of those words to form our impression of the writer.  Does this matter in written communication on the job?

      Writing mistakes lead to impressions about the writer’s credibility, education, intelligence, or professionalism. Writing mistakes also lead the reader to wonder if the writer really cares about the reader or the written message. How important is the message if the writer didn’t even take the time to proofread it?

          If that’s not enough, grammar mistakes and writing styles that are difficult to read can lessen the degree to which the message is clearly understood. Good ideas get lost in bad writing.

That said, English and American English in particular, presents a cacophony of rules and rule exceptions that leave all but the most dedicated scholars baffled at times. There may be, therefore, some good reasons to relax our standards on some of the more persnickety rules. But first, let’s look at some of the topics we see our participants latching on to when we deliver our Write On! courses at businesses and public entities.
  • The effectiveness of using the active vs. passive voice
  • How to make writing more clear, concise, and readable
  • Forming noun plurals
  • Apostrophes—for possession, contractions, or plurals?
  • Pronoun consistency
  • Common word usage mistakes
  • Common spelling mistakes

Where can grammar pedants afford to lighten up in on-the-job writing?  As a general rule, default to a conversational and customer-friendly tone. 
  • Avoid words like whom, whomever, heretofore, hereby, and per; even when correct they may sound pretentious and off-putting.
  • And it’s okay to begin a sentence with And or But to keep it conversational. But not too often.
  • Since English has no neutral third-person singular pronouns, we often recommend the use of the third-person plural (they or them) to avoid the cumbersome use of he/she and her/him.  This also demonstrates respect for those who are not comfortable with gender-specific pronouns. 
  • Unlike what many of us may have been taught, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition, if re-writing the sentence will make it sound awkward or pretentious. 

We want to hear from you! 
What grammar and writing rule do you believe 
should be "relaxed" or thrown out altogether?

     Finally, the key to successful writing on the job is to make it clear, concise, accurate, and reader-focused.  Write to inform, not to impress.  No readers will be impressed if they have to read your writing two or three times to get the gist of the message.

To take your business writing to the next level, take a look at Prism’s two popular writing courses:  Write ON! Writing and Grammar courses

Visit the Prism Learning Solutions website.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Open Office Designs, Collaboration and Productivity - The Ongoing Debate

The Michigan CEO Summit this month was a terrific event chaired by Doug Rothwell, President of Business Leaders of Michigan, at the Westin Book Cadillac November 9th.  This was a fast-paced event with exceptional speakers and a great group of participants.  Most presenters and panels were 15 to 25 minutes; a good pace.

I had three favorites during the day. One was Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, talking about the future of office space.  Most attention getting for me was his speculation that our furniture would become “smart” and rise to greet us in the morning while reacting to our arrival in the office.  My particular takeaway was the opportunity which exists to create more open and engaged work spaces and work places. For example, Herman Miller offers this Hive configuration, designed for team collaboration.

Smart office furniture can provide terrific ergonomic benefits. Can it in any way address other satisfaction and productivity issues? Can work station lighting, height and other productivity benefits help us thrive in an open office environment?

The open office approach has become the singular answer to how a company trying to collaborate and innovate should be configured, as we all emulate cultural icons like Zappos and Google. Yet recent articles in Forbes, The Washington Post and elsewhere have raised significant questions about whether the open office environment really delivers what we expected. Based largely on a 2013 research study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, they are making the case that the loss in productivity and even health issues due to the noise and stress of an open environment is significant, while little evidence can be found for increased collaboration or work satisfaction. In fact, another trend – allowing people to work from home – shows much more promise in terms of increased productivity and innovation.

So, did we jump too quickly into the sexy idea of highly energetic and collaborative spaces fueling culture and creativity, or is there something we are missing? Could training play a role? What if people moving to a new environment were brought together to agree on new cultural norms and cues? What if they were supported in developing new habits and behaviors, skills and approaches to work, that would minimize the downsides of an open environment while realizing the benefits we’d all like to see gained through productive collaboration and problem-solving?

Learning and Performance Improvement peeps – what are your thoughts? Any experiences? Do you know of anyone who is intentionally developing people to help them perform in and maximize the promise of these environments? As far back as the mid-90s, when companies were first starting to try out the movement out of private offices and into smaller, more open work spaces, Prism worked with the GM Truck Group as they relocated their engineers to Centerpoint. Much thought and care went into their assimilation into the new environment. In our fast-paced world today, has this idea been lost?

Those of you who are working in an open environment, how’s your productivity? Are there positive impacts? What would make it more positive?

We’d love to hear your experiences and viewpoints.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bill Ford at the Detroit Economic Club: A Perspective on the Future

October 31 was not only Halloween, it was a day on which Bill Ford was the speaker at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon meeting.  Beth Chappell delivered great questions to Bill and he responded on topics including autonomous vehicles, Amazon’s look at Detroit as a new headquarters, Detroit’s new spirit, Ford’s competitiveness and their position in the automotive market.

Here is a link to the video of the extended interview if you would like to see it Bill Ford at Detroit Economic Club.  Bill’s comments were constructive and particularly positive relative to Ford’s efforts in the personal transportation marketplace.  Would we have expected any less? Compelling comments though, and most striking to me, his view that the market is not about the tech which can be designed into the car, it is about people’s needs for transportation.  He spoke about how people in some areas of the world have far different needs than those of us here in Detroit or Chicago or less urban areas of the U.S.  Creating vehicles with the right technology to address these many human needs is the right challenge. 

Admittedly, I started thinking about the public transit challenge we seem to have in the Detroit area.  As a student of the autonomous vehicle technology and one who is working with some of the players bringing it to reality, there is a great facilitation challenge I would like to work.  The challenge would be to have the right people in the room to address the evolution of the autonomous vehicle tech, as a solution to the many stories about how long it takes someone using public transport to get to or from a job.  That would be a great and meaningful discussion.   

I have every confidence there will be a solution available for this in the next five years.  It should be very possible to have customized routes depending on who is looking for a ride and where they are going.  I would like to know if SMART or DDOT is working on this – if you know, please send me a note  If you are creating this solution, come and talk to us at Innovate Farmington!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Aria at 20

My Granddaughter just turned TWO!!  What will her world be like to learn in, to live in and to work in by the time she is 20?
I hope she will be fully prepared to begin a career matching her interests and aptitude.  She will have been able to test herself through her life experiences and education.  Whether she and the young people of her generation decide to be an engineer, a scientist, an artist, a programmer, a drone operator, a manufacturing technician or one of the other great opportunities which will exist, she will be educated and fully ready for her entry to the workforce.   

She is likely to have had a full array of learning technologies deployed in K to 12, in our universities and in our homes. These will provide for a much greater understanding, exposure and connection with work and life.  Let's all hope these technologies do not become so immersive that they substitute for or overcome our person-to-person relationships.  They need to be engaging, active and challenging for our young people, just as they need to be for those of us who are older.  They will fit us, our learning styles, draw on our strengths and address our weaknesses.  We are just beginning to see how personal and wearable technologies can enhance learning, engagement and experience.  Over the course of the next 18 years (while Aria is going through her prime years for education), the brain research and resulting technical developments will be enormous. 
We may well see true leaps and bounds in the acquisition of languages, in the ease of understanding of scientific disciplines, mathematics, human and animal psychology that are well beyond our imagination today.  Today we can play with apps like Luminosity, Star Walk, Wolfram Alpha, Elevate and many more.  How will applications like these become more integrated into our structured education process to increase our human potential?  Fun to consider.
What will this cost?  What would university education look like for Aria?  How will public education embrace these new possibilities?  And what about cars?  Check in on our next note.

What about cars?

The autonomous vehicle or self driving car is not far off.  With Aria at age 2, how long will she have to wait until she has her first ride in a self driven car?  Likely within 5 to ten years, so she will be 7 to 12 years old.  Will that car take her to school or over to a friends house or to a field trip?  Will it be a small bus loaded with other students?  

How will driverless cars change the learning environment.  What a question!  More flexibility on where you learn.  Less dependence on parents.  Less dependence on adults.  Less opportunity for parents to be involved?  Driving my kids around was opportunity for discussion around what was happening in school and in their lives.  Wow, what a change!

The Cost of Education

So in a world where we can look the best answer up on line, or even the best instructor, how will college courses be taught?  If the best math instructor in the world is in India, will he or she record their lectures or talks for Aria to watch?  Will they be interactive?  Of course.  What will the impact be on the jobs of the local professors at our regional schools.  Dramatic!  The competition by instructors to be the best, to offer the best products will likely be intense.  Many may become facilitators of the learning experience.  Will professors grade papers or will the computerized learning system handle all the feedback and evaluation.

Since there are so many jobs in today's teaching environment, what will be the impact of going to  an online academy to take the best course available?  Will all the local teaching jobs be gone?  The cost to society will be immense in that case.  What would the local university teaching role be in an environment where we can study a topic from the greatest expert or the most engaging teacher in the world?  

The cost of the course . . would be based on what we pay the instructor right?  Plus the cost of the technology to deliver the learning.  Let's assume the cost of the tech is nominal . . . the cost of an iPad or a good smart phone.  So if the best instructor demands $1,000,000 to be recorded delivering their class, for one student the cost would be $1,000,000.  But what if one million students take the class?  The cost is now $1.  

What is the cost of the loss of all the educator jobs in today's system?  Enormous.  Do they become learning facilitators, programmers, proctors, coaches, translators?