Developing Communication as a Super Power

Marvel’s Doctor Strange illustrates a problem we all share: Failure to Communicate. A power struggle fuels a conflict. But a lack of communication fuels the story, as it does all sagas. Quite often a missing piece of information or insight, which seem obvious to the audience, leads to catastrophes. The hero makes an error in judgement, typically caused by a combination of hubris and impulse, which leads to epic battles. In the case of Doctor Strange, his fall is literally caused by driving off a cliff while he’s texting. Although he miraculously survives, he can no longer perform brain surgery. In despair of fully healing his hands, he finds the man who walked again after a severed spinal chord injury. The man tells him of a mystic retreat in Nepal where he was cured.

Doctor Strange, genius that he is, quickly learns to become a Master of the Mystical Arts, using unnatural powers to protect the law of the universe(s). Villain and former disciple Kaecilius exploits the same mystical powers to thwart these laws for his own ends. Kaecillius makes a Goethian pact with Dormammu, a multi-universal demon, to hand over the world to him and thereby make himself immortal. Doctor Strange finds out Kaecilius’ motives during a fight in one of the sanctums where he entraps him in a magical leather and metal suit reminiscent of an iron maiden.

During this chat, Dr. Strange also finds out that the head of this super-mystical-power sect, “The Ancient One”, has kept her anti-aging formula to herself. Turns out she has a side-deal with said devil from whom she draws “dark energy.” As she reveals to Dr. Strange in her death scene:

“Dr. Strange: So I could have my hands back again. My old life?”

“You could and the world would be all the lesser for it. I hated drawing power from the dark dimension but as you well know, sometimes one must break the rules in order to serve the greater good.”

On our planet we find that following the rules, obeying the law (both god and man’s) typically prevents catastrophe. However, this habit often leads to shutting one’s eyes and turning a deaf ear to real solutions. We do not like to get or give unwelcome advice, so we listen to The One with the power. Typically this super-being is blind to the concerns of us ordinary mortals, and just trying to run the company as best he/she/it can.

In order to break the old order, and not just further our own agendas, we need to start having “brave conversations”. Rather than gossip and complain, this conversation should be about shared goals and paths to getting there. When meeting, the leader should state the purpose and agenda. Ground rules for the meeting would include actively listening to all present, sharing the floor, and framing criticism constructively.

When your back is breaking or your hands are tied, it may feel that supporting or reaching out to others seems impossible. If a path to resolution is not apparent, it will lead to demoralization, lack of commitment, and gossip.  All great projects start with a small group sharing a common goal.  However, even with shared goals conflicts about how to get there will arise. The only way to resolve these conflicts is to talk about them to the person(s) with whom you have a conflict.

This is difficult to do because we just don’t know how to do it.  Assuming good intent from the other party is key. You may agree on the goal, but have different ways of getting there.  Some suggestions I found for conflict resolution from my church association, the UUA, include:

  • Manage your own anxiety. As scary as conflicts may be to us, if our fears or anxiety overtakes us, we will not be effective. It’s not that you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel your emotions, but it is important to find a way to manage them so that there is maximum ability for everyone to feel some openness in expressing their concerns without overwrought feelings shutting things down. Breathe.
  • Try to find the learning opportunity in a conflict. What is it that all of us need to learn about what is important to us as a community? Asking the broad and deep questions in an open and deliberate way can get you “unstuck” from haggling over a particular issue.
  • Understand that a particular issue is always a part of a larger emotional system operating in a community. Rarely is a conflict only about a particular issue or person, as much as it may seem like that at the time. Find some help in uncovering the deeper concerns at play without scapegoating a particular person or engaging in the fantasy that you can “solve the problem.”
  • Build safety into your communal interactions. Create covenants in which you can name behaviors that might get in the way of healthy exchanges and deep dialogue. Using techniques such as “listening circles,” appreciative inquiry, and story-telling exercises can actually build community in the midst of conflict.

Big changes start with small groups effectively communicating. Some Friends And I Started Talking, by Margaret Wheatley, talks about how big changes begin not from the top, but from the bottom –with a small, committed group sharing the same cause.

“Change doesn’t happen from a leader announcing the plan. Change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate, or when they respond to someone’s dream of what’s possible. It’s easy to observe this in recent history. The Solidarity trade union movement in Poland began with conversation—less than a dozen workers in a Gdansk shipyard in 1980 speaking to each other about despair, their need for change, their need for freedom. Within months, Solidarity grew to 9.5 million workers.”

Further reading:

How Does a Lack of Communication Cause Conflict in the Workplace?
  • https://smallbusiness.chron.com/lack-communication-cause-conflict-workplace-10470.html
  • https://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/lack-communication-cause-conflict-workplace-9430.html
10 Ways to Reduce Conflict in Your Organization
  • https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-ways-reduce-conflict-your-organization-tyrone-holmes-ed-d-cpt/

Open Offices Don’t Work for Workers

Early in my freelance career I was working on a way to visualize and describe the Medicare doughnut hole in a “new and exciting way.”  In a large group area next to me some junior creatives were discussing the latest episode of Lost. On my second day, I asked them if they could chat in the break room. I was ignored. On the third day I explained to their boss that I couldn’t concentrate. They said, “We can’t do that. That’s our company culture.”  On the 7th day, I presented the hole concepts to the agency team and Managing Director, who didn’t dig it. This costly ‘mistake’ taught me to bring earbuds and learn to not listen to the music when I was working onsite.

Open office spaces are a dumb move for ad agencies…or any company where people have to concentrate, innovate, produce or even collaborate. And sitting elbow to elbow in a row may be great for socializing at a lunch counter or bar, but not in a working environment. The idea that open spaces would democratize company culture and encourage creativity and collaboration arose in the mid 90’s. but in the last few years this myth of the open office has been debunked in stories by Forbes, Fortune, The New Yorker, and a 2018 study by The Harvard Business School, as reported by Fast Company, in January 2019.

“Employees hate open offices. They’re distracting. They’re loud. There’s often little privacy. ‘The sensory overload that comes with open-office plans gets to a point where I can barely function,’ says one 47-year-old graphic designer who has spent more than two decades working in open environments. ‘I even had to quit a job once because of it.’ ” 

Even great ad agencies can start terrible trends. Chiat Day (creators of the legendary Apple campaign and now the 15th largest ad agency), instituted the “Virtual Office” in 1994, where employees signed their laptops in and out and then grabbed whatever desk was open. It resulted in people just not showing up, according to the Fast Company story.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed quite a change in the open areas of most of the companies I visit. The place is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. People don’t talk to one another, I surmise, so as not to disturb their neighbors and vice-versa. People don’t communicate in these spaces. According to the Harvard study: Open offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%.

When employees are your greatest asset (and one of your biggest expenses), why do companies persist in the open office trend?  The Fast Company story goes on to say, “According to commercial real estate association CoreNet Global, the average space allotted to individual employees globally fell from 225 square feet in 2010 to 176 square feet in 2013, and is projected to keep decreasing. This adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars–or more–in savings per year at the country’s largest companies, according to calculations from Erik Rood, an analyst in Google’s human resources department who examines corporate financials on his personal blog, Data Interview Qs.” Fast Company explains.

Working Virtually or Virtually Working?

However, with the new millennium has brought about an even better way to say on office space: remote working. Led by globalization and the tech economy, the movement of employees working away from the office has gained momentum.  Globally, 70 percent of professionals work remotely, aka telecommute, at least one day a week; 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week. Some major corporations that have tried it,  didn’t like it. However, employees value it, especially millennial staff, who are the biggest percent of the workforce.  Working remotely has its pluses and minuses, both for companies and their workers. Once a company offers it, is it a wise move to away the remote working option? Learn more in next week’s post.

 

Trying Out a New Builder is Not Easy.

I used Divi Builder to make this site. It’s a very popular front-end page builder, which is bundled in Divi Themes. Divi offers beautifully designed themes. So, if you want to use what they give you without much customization, Divi themes is great. However, it you want to customize your site’s functionality, you better know code. Divi tech support helped a lot in the beginning, including providing code snippets. And I called on them more frequently than I care to admit in the first month building this site. But curiously, and perhaps coincidentally, shortly after giving one of the techs access to WordPress, my files got messed up. Additionally, I kept on getting 400 and even 500 errors, such as going over the allotted memory. It turned out the host’s default PHP was not the one recommended by Divi.  The memory settings, for one were too low.  I’d call the host, the errors would stop, but then it would happen again.  I eventually was told that there is a PHP control panel in C-Panel. Duh!  I upped from the default PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.0, including upping to the Divi-recommended settings.

I wanted to make the gallery module image grid open in the light box (which I initially thought was a slider) with captions. A couple of Divi’s tech people said it was not possible to do that in Divi. Using the Chrome Inspector, I discovered that Divi gallery module function was “.mfp”  Yes, I could substitute a plug-in. But how?  I tried a couple of slider plug-ins, including Gallery Slider and Smart Slider 3.  Smart Slider was really easy and fun. But it wasn’t built to link to gallery images. I made a new gallery in Gallery Slider, pasted in the link. And voila, nothing happened.

Using the Chrome Inspector, I discovered that Divi gallery module function was “.mfp” —  which turns out to be “Magnific Lightbox Pop-Up” I went searching for a plug-in, and found  “WF Magnific Lightbox” in WordPress.org. Captions do appear when I click from the attachment page, but not when I click from the Divi Gallery image.  I wanted it to work as when I click on it from the attachment page, like so:


Lippincott Home Page

Large catalog website brand

Wolters Kluwer needed an umbrella for its various Lippincott/LWW properties, including the extensive catalog site, nursing sites, and publication sites. Shown is the prototype I created with the copy in place, as the designer and developer worked on the Adobe Experience Manager CMS.


 

However, there is no documentation about how it works. All I get in settings is:

WF Magnific Lightbox

Here you can change some stuff or leave the default options.


Copyright

Show Copyright Info
Copyright Prefix

Gallery

“Link to Media File” as default value for new galleries
Force the “Link to Media File” as default value for galleries

 


 

Converting and editing PDFs online and on desktop

Why pay Adobe for document conversion when you can do it for free or very inexpensively? Several options are available for turning a PDF into a jpeg or an editable format, such as Microsoft Word. I originally went searching for conversion options when I lost my spreadsheet of banking transactions. Back in 2016,  I couldn’t find anything that was usable, and so had to manually input the lost transactions from my bank statements.  This was quite a chore, as you might imagine.

However, it’s 2019 and online document conversion has improved.  I was very happy with the results I got from Convert-My-Image and Docs.Zone when I needed to turn PDFs of my artwork into JPEGs.
In addition to turning a PDF into a JPEG, These services let you:

  • Combine PDFs
  • Convert from Web to PDF
  • Convert a PDF to Word
  • Turn a PDF into an Excel spreadsheet
  • as well as perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Eventually, I wanted a desktop document conversion app. So after using the free version a couple of times, I purchased PDF Element Pro from Wondershare. The PDF Element Pro subscription for Wondershare is about $90 per year. Adobe Acrobat Pro, the Great Daddy of them all, costs about $180 per year (@$15 per month). Granted you’ll get a receipt from Wonbo Technologies, which may show up in Chinese in your bank transactions (it was in English in Paypal, though). However, I think that inconvenience is worth half the price of Adobe Acrobat.

Here’s a quick comparison of the features of the two:

Adobe Acrobat, unlike the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, lets you edit, annotate, convert and create, and protect your PDF documents, too. You can make fillable forms and include a signature area, which is ideal for contracts which the user can fill out just using the reader.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat — unlike the free Adobe Acrobat Reader — lets you edit, annotate, convert and create, and protect your PDF documents, too.

PDF Element

You can combine PDFs, convert to and from other file types, and edit the PDF.  Making small changes, such as removing or adding a logo, or fixing a typo, is super simple. You can even change the fonts, although the default list is somewhat limited.

Repetitive Server Ads Hurt Advertisers, Too.

So where are the ads I want to see?

It’s not the targeted ads that bother me! There’s so much talk about targeted/behavioral/interest-based ads. So why is it, when I’m playing a game on my iPad or phone, or watching a show On Demand, I’m served the same ad not just 6 or 7 times, but repeatedly for weeks on end? Look, I am all for seeing relevant ads. But, I don’t want to see the same ad over and over and over again, served to me by some mindless ad server filling up a block of time…which is my time. If advertisers are trying to reach us, why are we still getting ads that have no relevancy?

“Words with Friends” started to feel

like “Words with Enemies.”

I like, no actually, love playing Words with Friends. So why did I uninstall WWF?  The “attack of the babies” campaign. A Pampers commercial showing toddlers ran for several weeks, nonstop, play after play. The babies were adorable–crawling under rugs, scooting across a floor, kicking a ball. The voice over was lovely, warm and inviting.  Will I buy Pampers now or in the future? No and Never. It was just too much. And, it was not relevant to my interests. I am well past the age of bearing children, and my daughter isn’t wanting any. So, in this age of sophisticated ad targeting, why was I caught in the cross hairs of a mindless ad server on the one game I enjoy playing?
Opt in or Opt out? Results gathered from my browser by the DAA’s WebChoices Tool, from the AdChoices Program
Sure, the Pampers ad did give me an AdChoices Program* link to a tool sponsored by the Digital Advertising Alliance.  

I followed the directions that told me I should turn cookies back on my browser(s), so I could then block the commercial. It did not identify which server was serving this particular ad. So I selected all the servers. And it didn’t work. I tried using the Webblock app from the Apple App Store. I couldn’t figure out which ad server listed was responsible for serving up the  P&G commercial. So that didn’t work either. Even when I selected all of the ad servers.

The P&G site says it doesn’t run repetitive ads (check the Privacy Policy). It gave me a link to Adservr.org, which
purportedly allows me to opt out of targeted ads using my web browser. It only works for “targeted ads” and not those on mobile. It did however generate a report for me on my browsing habits on their platform. The summary was totally incorrect as to my preferences and buying habits, except for a handful of items. For example, it had me listed as owning
a Jeep, whereas I never owned or would own a Jeep. But I did buy a Buick in September (since Buicks are no longer an old person’s car and the only cool thing about Jeeps was MASH.)

I Need a PhD in IDFA

To block mobile ads, Adsrvr.org  says you need to upload a “mobile advertising identifier”, which is known as the IDFA used by Apple.  Apple says you can reset the number, and choose “Limit Ad Tracking” in your privacy settings; but it doesn’t give you the actual number. The setting also only applies to the Apple platform. And “you may still receive the same number of ads, but the ads may be less relevant to you.”

So I went to the Apple store to find an app for that.  But I won’t bother you, dear reader, with any further detail on this. Suffice it to say, somehow between Google, Safari and maybe God, I got them to stop. For now. And today I see that WWF now offers a paid subscription, as they had in the past.  The same problem occurs on “Scrabble” too. I don’t like scary, gruesome horror movies. However, after every play I was served an ad for a “Purge” movie.  

 AdNauseum, An article in TechHive, provides insight into why the constant onslaught of untargeted ads continues unabated online.  Media buying agencies buy a number of impressions, and the streaming service makes sure to deliver–more frequently if fewer viewers are present.  And then there are exchanges, too, like the stock market, where the highest bidder gets the most impressions. Apparently ad servers could stop showing blocks of the same ad, if agencies were to specify for example when to stagger the ads. So why don’t they?  Comcast Xfinity, my cable provider, lets me opt in or opt out of advertising. I’d like some more choices, though.

I wouldn’t mind filling out a short survey, as Google and some online publications and platforms offer this. I would also like to let advertisers and their agencies know that I like variety, and smart ads. But even the smartest ad (like Apple’s “Behind the Mac” ad) is like nails on a chalkboard after the N-teenth consecutive view.  If programming can vary up content, why can’t you?

*Warning: “AdChoices” is also the name of an adware or spyware program that can change your personal browser preferences and cause pop-up ads to display on your desktop. Make sure you have an ad blocker or a malware program installed.

 

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