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John Klossner's Ink Tank

Klossner: Virtual training

Virtual training

It was within moments of submitting my recent blog entry on social networks that I felt like something was wrong. Oh, I can always get a joke or two out of the Luddite angle -- "nothing's been the same since I changed from my tin can and string" -- but it's getting old. There have always been changes in technology, and there always will be. Networking is networking, whether it is gathering around the fire in front of the cave or tweeting to your 90 "friends."

I want to be a Luddite. I want to complain about new technologies and wax nostalgic about the way things were when I was a kid and we had Tang, and Twinkies and how these new technologies are all just hopped-up games. Of course, Luddite-ism is relative. I'm sure that at some point in history people were whining about the development of shoes, umbrellas and sliced bread (but the whining would have been legitimate only if the subject were using sliced bread for shoes).

Why is it so attractive to me to be a Luddite? I think I've figured it out: Technology has created an environment that limits possibilities for visual humor. To put it more plainly, it's hard to draw good cartoons with computers in them. By good cartoons, I want to say that I enjoy -- and aim for, with mixed results -- a combination of visual and verbal in cartoons. I like a funny drawing, accompanied by a funny caption, and vice versa.

Current technology makes it harder to create this combination, leaving us with cartoons that rely more on the caption to provide the humor. You can draw a couple people standing around a ... computer monitor. Or you can draw someone holding a ... cell phone. Or you can draw someone staring at ... their laptop. I want to draw an Alpine goat herder with one of those giant horns, poised over a mountain precipice, complaining that the network seems slow today, but it ends up looking like anyone else standing outside with their cell phone. It's just not the same.

(I also wonder if the urge to gripe about new technologies is a byproduct of aging. If so, are there any minor Luddites? Nine year-olds who wish the world was the way they remember it -- before they started mixing the peanut butter and jelly together in the same jar? I imagine a lot of technology is being met with resistance because it first gains a following with younger users. And does this trickle down? Do 12-year-olds get disgusted with 7-year-olds? I have a control group composed of these ages in my house. I would say "yes," but not for technology-based reasons as much as "don't come in my room!" reasons. Therefore, I can make the logical progression that all complaints about new technology are based on not wanting the new users of these technologies to enter our rooms and touch our things.)

If anything, I should celebrate and encourage the fast growth of technologies. People's tendency to jump to the newest technology, coupled with spammers' and hackers' desires to follow the crowds, means that those of us who linger over our older technologies will benefit from the smaller numbers of users and abusers involved in them. (I find this philosophy also works well in movie rentals.)

Fortunately for those of us in the humor business, there is still plenty of human involvement in all things technology. Virtual training, a subject currently on many minds and blogs, is such an issue. The use of many social media are unpredictable -- they have no established rules, users are making up the standards as they go, and the applications that best serve government and business are still unclear. Throw in IT's and management's need to control technologies and communications in their sphere and -- bingo -- plenty of irony for all.

It seems that many sites that are used for virtual training are also blocked by agency security settings. You can't imagine what a relief this is for me. All this time I had been considering Luddite-ism to be a line in the sand -- a black and white issue. But seeing that even those in the IT business can't decide what technologies are appropriate or not helps me realize that there are plenty of gray areas, and that I'm not alone.

And there will be plenty of cartoon possibilities in the future.

Klossner virtual training

Posted by John Klossner on Jun 01, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Klossner: An experiment in Social Studies

Stammtisch table

We have a stammtisch table. One night a week at a local restaurant – okay, the only restaurant in our small Maine town – we gather and participate in a group discussion of any topic – politics, movies, sports, etc. This is based on a German custom in which bars and restaurants set aside a table that anyone at any time can use for such a discussion. The idea is that anyone can go to a restaurant or pub and know that they can sit at the stammtisch table, without having to make reservations or go with a specific group. Participating establishments place a stammtisch sign on the table, and everyone knows what that table is for. (There is still a learning curve on stammtisch in our community, as our local restaurant owner often has to ask families who just sat down to move from the stammtisch table, after which he has to explain the concept of stammtisch. Our local restaurant owner can now be considered a stammtisch expert, which he certainly wasn't before our bringing the concept to him.)

Our stammtisch table is developing into a place where busy neighbors can find each other once a week, and our conversations have centered around catching up with each other as much as politics. (Although last week featured a wonderful round of architect bashing, as one of our neighbors is an architect and another is a carpenter, two fields who seem to get along as well as lions and hyenas. My favorite joke of the night – what's the difference between an architect and God? God doesn't walk around thinking he's an architect.)

Is stammtisch Web 2.0? Anyone can participate. It allows for a wide variety of conversation. It's German Web-4.0, but for our community it's a new communications technology. I ask this because I'm trying hard not to be a Luddite. I want to instinctively react negatively to each new technology that comes down the road. Social networks? Twittering? Hey, it's all PONG to me.

But then I think of the social networks I DO participate in. I belong to LinkedIn, although I'm not the most active participant. (I still have less than 10 friends – oops, they're called "colleagues.") I belong to a Mac users group that has been marvelous at sharing information and PC bashing. I belong to and occasionally participate in several industry (sounds better than "cartoon") chatrooms. On Saturdays I go to our local little league field where my son and all the other 6- to 12-year-olds in our community play baseball, and I talk with people for two to three hours. (Maybe little league is English for "stammtisch.") And of course there is the previously mentioned stammtisch.

As you can see, I'm not the most technologically connected person. Am I missing out on something by not contacting my former seventh-grade classmates? Should I be filling out profiles instead of participating in Americanized German customs? On my LinkedIn page, I am told that I am using 80 percent of my profile space. Would I be more successful if I used 83 or 87 percent?

A friend of mine used to respond to her children, when they protested her decisions, "I'm your mom. I have enough friends." I often think of this when I look at social networks. When do you have enough friends or contacts? When do you have enough social networks? A recent Nielsen survey estimated that 60 percent of new Twitter users quit within one month. Is that because the technology didn't cover their needs? They found something better? (How does one quit Twitter – "am sitting in office. realize I have better ways to spend time. I quit."?)

A question that still lingers in my mind is: Is Web 2.0 productive. Or is it just basic water cooler communications on steroids? I find myself sensitive to the "dark side" of these technologies. A couple examples:

* Twitter tweeters recently contributed to the swine flu panic.

* The last paragraph in Richard Pople's column (along with a couple insightful comments) on Web 2.0.

One of the more entertaining situations I have seen discussed, as business tries to integrate social networks into their operations, is the place of hierarchy. What if your boss asks to be your friend? What if they turn down your request? The slings and arrows of social subtleties can be easily misinterpreted through technology – how will this apply in a business setting?

Maybe we can discuss this at stammtisch this week.

FCW Facebook

Posted by John Klossner on May 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Making Stuff Up

Some of the most innovative work I have done is in describing what I do.

As a professional cartoonist, I suppose I could be considered to have some insight into innovation and creativity. (My family, after experiencing yet another combination of pasta and chicken when I'm in charge of dinner, might disagree.) I spend my waking hours trying (that's a key word) to think of ways to tell a joke or illustrate a humorous point uniquely, with varying results. Some would argue that I have found a veneer of an excuse for sitting in a coffee shop and staring into space all day, but I've found people to pay me to do this, so the ruse works for now. (Or, as I like to point out when asked if I make a living cartooning, it depends on your definition of living.)

I always find it a bit ironic when people discuss creativity and innovation, as if there is a "Creativity for Dummies" title. (Oops, I'd better go check to see if there is. No. There isn't.) If there was one proven way to be creative, it wouldn't be creative, right? Since creativity and innovation run a fine line between what is expected and what isn't, it seems wrong to have a checklist for creativity. (Should we put "don't have a checklist" on our checklist for creativity?)

The truth is, creativity and innovation come from trust -- trust in yourself and the processes you use, and trust in those you're working with. A workplace where employees are looking over their shoulders is a place that won't foster much creativity. (Take this from a man who works alone all day.)

Taking my 25-plus years' experience as a jumping off point, here are some observations about creativity:

(Before I start, I would like to take a tangent about the "cloud computing" metaphor, since the cloud is one of the technology innovations du jour. A cloud is not something I would ever think about storing anything in. Clouds have no foundations. They are moist. Every time I have ever been "in" a cloud, I could not see anything. Why would I store something in a place that is wet and has no floor? This reminds me of my problems with the Peter Pan (http://www.peterpanbus.com) bus company name - do you want to use a transportation company that is named after the eternal boy, who kidnaps children and takes them to "Never Never Land?" I didn't think so.)

  • There is a basketball term, in reference to coaching, called "rolling out the balls." It is usually used in a pejorative sense to mean a coach or manager who isn't teaching and is merely letting his or her players play all day. I have always thought this could be seen as a creative process also - many discoveries come in unregulated environs, and it's up to management to recognize what is and what isn't useful to their needs. How do you "roll out the balls" in an agency setting? Have an office "recess" each day from 2-4 PM? "Play" procurement? The problem with "rolling out the balls" is that you may have to suffer through days of sloppy play and multiple failures to discover one thing that works. Most managers don't have the time or the budget to sit through this, leaving employees to be innovative on their own.
  • People who really think outside the box don't say "think outside the box."
  • I have rarely been innovative on deadline. I have been safe.
  • There is a huge difference between being creative and looking creative. Some of the most creative people I know dress like pharmacists.
  • There are more creative pharmacists than you think.
  • Don't confuse a good idea with a well-presented idea. I remember, in college art classes, resenting a particular person who didn't come up with strong concepts but spoke well when presenting them and, therefore, did well in the class. This rankled those of us who did our speaking through our drawings and had no language left for the presentation. Heck, if we wanted to be public speakers we would have majored in it. Since then I have learned why, as a general rule, PR people make more money than cartoonists.
  • On a related note, just because someone isn't using the same language as you doesn't mean they're not creative. Unless it's pig latin.
  • Some of the most innovative acts occur on behalf of procrastinating.
  • Personalized license plates make me think that there are hordes of creative folks roaming the streets, yearning to break free.
  • I have often found creative ideas by paying attention to something that I dislike, and trying to learn about it. This hasn't always been easy, as in the cases of Vin Diesel (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004874/) movies and John Tesh's unique mash-up of almost every musical and dance genre known to western culture. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9so2wcOiv40)
  • There's a difference between being creative and being creative for a living. Again, this depends on your definition of living.

Posted by John Klossner on May 04, 2009 at 9:03 AM0 comments

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