What Google Taught Me About Personal Communication

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking in the Leading@Google series at the company’s storied Mountain view campus. It is a remarkable place. Yes, the food is amazing, and it’s everywhere (you are always within 100 feet of free, fantastic fare). Yes, the surfaces are ecologically sound and the use of energy is minimal. Yes, the organic culture is reflected in creative work settings and meeting locations, like the five-seated cycle on which people ride and convene simultaneously.

Beautiful and informative electronic displays of information are ubiquitous. Everyone’s on email, all the time. So, in this definitively 21st-century work environment, how do you grab employees’ attention to entice them to attend a one-hour session with an author talking about his new book? This was the challenge for my hosts and, being creative Googlers, they found a way that cut against the grain, and it worked.

They created small posters on paper and taped them on the glass door entrances to virtually all of the buildings on campus. They used a bit of paper, it’s true, because they knew that the medium had to be distinctive. And so it was. We had a great crowd.

This was another great example of how Googlers are continually innovating with the use of media, even if it means going back to the future. This episode reinforced a few important lessons for how to choose your medium intelligently:

1. Know how the people you’re trying to reach use various forms of media. If your kids are texting to converse, and you want to enter the conversation, why bother using email or a phone call?

2. Experiment with the use of different media to see what works best when. Is face-to-face as necessary as you think it is? Why not try reducing face time with some key people in your life (your subordinates, for example) and increasing it with others who might need it more (like your clients and your friends)?

3. When you need to stand out and rise above the din, switch it up. In 2008 there’s something special about receiving a personal note or letter, one that displays the distinctive hand of the author (not Times New Roman 12 point font). When was the last time you wrote a personal letter?

I’m doing research on what we are learning about how to use the different forms of communication now available to us and would love to hear a story or lesson you’ve learned since the start of this year about choosing media wisely.

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