Becoming Professional: A Blog

Archive for the ‘Weekly Reading’ Category

A close up on the white king of a chess board.

by plffft on Flickr

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. I’ve enjoyed every page of it, and I’ll put up a full review in a bit. McGonigal talks about how crappy reality really is. And, truth be told, it does suck. Here’s what she thinks is wrong with reality:

  • Reality is too easy. It’s just not engaging us in good enough challenges. There’s a reason why work is boring.
  • Reality is depressing. Where is the hope of success? What is success anyway?
  • It’s unproductive. You work and work, but do you ever feel like you’re getting anywhere?
  • It’s disconnected and trivial. Do you actually know your neighbors? If you do, tell me where you live so I can move there.
  • Reality is just not engaging. It’s really hard to give a damn. Even if you accomplish something, how worthy was that goal?
  • It’s pointless and without rewards. So what if you managed to get the grocery shopping and the laundry all done in one day? That’s the bare minimum, right?
  • Reality serves up bitter disappointments. How do you get over being laid off?
  • Reality isn’t sustainable. Ask anyone what makes them happy. For one of my roommates, it’s shopping, but she’ll run out of cash eventually.
  • Reality lacks a purpose, a point. What’s the goal? As I said before, what is success? It’s not an easy answer.
  • Reality is a mess. It’s disorganized. It’s hard to know where to go or what to do.
Close up of broken glass

by davetoaster on Flickr

Now isn’t that a depressing list? McGonigal uses her book to discuss how we can use games to fix reality. I think it’s a great idea. But as I was reading I realized that we don’t need to use outside games or organize everyone we know to play with us, though that does help, if you can do it.

Rather, as I was reading, I realized that I was already playing life as a game. This blog, for example, was a game. Before you give me funny looks, here’s McGonigal’s definition of a game. For McGonigal, a game has four key traits:

  1. It has a goal. You know what it is and you try to achieve it. She translates this as “a sense of purpose.”
  2. It has rules. These are the limitations that confine the players. If you have ever played party games you know how ridiculous and fun these can be.
  3. It has a built-in feedback system that gives players information on their progress towards the goal. The popular badge system, for example. Or a leader board.
  4. And finally, it is voluntary. No one makes you play.

Now, do you see how my blogging is a game?

  1. I have a goal: Continuous growth of my readership. I’d love to hit 1,000 views a day.
  2. I have rules: Post at least once a week. Make it good, and make it fun.
  3. I have a lovely feedback system: Thank you WordPress dashboard. Honestly, though, I need to get Google Analytics on this puppy.
  4. I do this voluntarily: There is no one but myself cracking the whip.

    A bunch of swimming trophies lined up

    by terren in Virginia on Flickr

When I first started writing this blog, I thought that I was doing it for career advancement. Then I thought it was to help me make sense of what was going on and make contacts. Finally, now, I know the truth. I’m playing a game. I do it for the sake of doing it.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to think of work in the same way? School? How about marriage and relationships? I’m not trying to trivialize these things. I’m trying to raise their importance. Blogging has gained an intrinsic value for me. It’s no longer a means to an end. It is worth doing in order to do it. If work could be that way, education, and even relationships, that would be good for the entire world. And don’t kid yourself that all relationships are had for their own sake.

Do you play any games like my blogging one? Does it help you really sink your teeth into life?


picture of the application on my profile

I just finished Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. Great book. I really enjoyed it (review coming soon), but this left me with a problem: what to read next?

I use reading as a method to extend my education and really keep my brain active and puzzling the issues I’m interested in, such as digital marketing, social media, innovation, game design and gamification, and even story structure. But, I often find myself at a loss when it comes to finding a new book to read. I read more than most people I know (a novel and a business/non-fiction book going at the same time, all the time), so asking friends for recommendations doesn’t always work.

I used to go to the bookstore with my smartphone, look at pretty covers and what’s on special and then look up Amazon reviews. Then I would go home and buy it for my Nook. Yes, this works, to a degree, but it’s not the same as seeing what is on everyone else’s shelves, and thus what I should probably read, too, in order to keep up. This weekend I used Reading List by Amazon and was able to do just that.

application discriptionThis is one of the older applications on LinkedIn, so there are probably those of you who are already very familiar with it. Even I’ve been using this application for a while now. But I wasn’t using it to its full capacity. I thought it was a handy way to demonstrate my interests to anyone who bothered to scroll down that far. It could show that I’m truly into my field and the other areas I’m interested in. I honestly just didn’t bother to actually go into more depth with it.

Yet this weekend, as I sat down at my desk trying to figure out what book to purchase next for my Nook, I decided to give the application a go for its intended purpose: networking around books. Thanks to this handy little app, I picked up Free by Chris Anderson. Yes, it’s not new, and I’ve known that it exists for a while. But when I was thinking about what book to read next, this book hadn’t occurred to me at all. That is, until I saw it on a Reading List shelf.

The way the application works is that you add in the titles of all the books you want to read, have read, or are reading. All you need is the title or author since it works just like an Amazon site search to find the books you want. As you work your way through your “want to read” list, you can leave comments and reviews, ticking them off as you move them into the “am reading” and “have read” lists. You can even recommend books. Simple, right?

The useful part comes when you watch the lists of other people. One way to do this is to find people who are in your industry with the Industry Updates list. You can also see who is following your list and then follow them back. Whenever you view another person’s reading list you can also see whose lists they are following and who else is following them. So once you find a person who has similar tastes to you, it’s a simple matter of following them and the other people who have similar tastes. In this way it is like Twitter for books.

There are some drawbacks. As I was exploring I realized that some people’s lists were very out of date or really sparse. Still, like following an inactive Twitter account, you can unfollow later. And honestly, what’s the problem with following an inactive account? I don’t think it will hurt you much.

As I said, I’ve been using Amazon’s Reading List feature for just about a year now but this is the first time I decided to fully explore the application. I think that  LinkedIn applications are not as appreciated as they should be. They can be really useful, and even fun. Now that I am following the Reading Lists of several interesting people, I can’t wait to see what books they read and recommend. If you have the application, find my list and follow me. I’ll follow you back.

Image of girl in awkward position covering her head with her hands.

by Alex Bellink on Flickr

While this blog series is part of my personal rant against poor customer service treatment, I think it is also a good case study on what not to do. You don’t see quite as many situations where the entire process and system needs an over-haul quite so badly as Barnes & Noble’s seems to. So why waste this opportunity to study some customer service #fail in action?

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Open Letter to Barnes & Noble, I’m posting their form letter response. We all know how terrible form letters are. You pour your heart and soul into a CV and covering letter and get back a “Thanks for your application. We’ll let you know if we pick you” note. It doesn’t have to be that way. I recently submitted an application to GyroHSR‘s Make My Day 2011 Graduate Recruitment program. I did get a form response, but a also got a phone call from a nice lady in HR. Personal contact – it’s really something! Form letters can be useful, but they are not a substitute for personal contact. It’s a holding pattern. You send them to say, “We got your letter. We really care, and we’re gonna read it in a jiff!”

It is not how you actually respond to a person, particularly not on a complaint line. Yes, it’s easier. Sure, it’s probably cheaper, but what’s one of the best ways of dealing with a complaint? It’s not to apologize. It’s to listen. And sending a form response says loud and clear that you haven’t heard a word I said.

Before you read the response, I will make one concession to this form letter. It asks for needed information for my complaint to move forward. However, I think that a non-form letter response could have been used just the same. So, without further ado, the Barnes & Noble response:

Dear Kate Davids,

Thank you for writing to us regarding your NOOK.  To protect your
privacy and security needs, we require more information from you.

To respond to your email, we must ask you to provide your registered
email address, your registered billing address and serial number of your

If you do not have your NOOK’s serial available, please provide the last
four digits of the credit card associated with your registered email

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

See what I mean? If you read my Open Letter to Barnes & Noble, you’ll see there was plenty to respond to. But they haven’t responded to a single point or addressed the complaint at all, even to say “That sounds pretty rough. I need more information to get into your account, though, and see what’s going on.” I completely understand that the legal department would have their ears if they conceded the validity of a complaint before verifying it themselves, but nothing in my proposed statement would do that. And everything in that proposed statement would make me feel like I’m being heard.

There are a few options around the general time-suck that writing individual customer service complaint letters can be. For instance, a canned letter for a variety of situations, such as “Lost Item in the Mail,” might be able to pass as being individually written if it is tailored to the situation enough, but don’t bet on it. Canned letters, as we all know, are ridiculously easy to spot. As Myra Golden, a customer service and PR blogger, said, “Customer service professionals should always tailor the form letter to the customer’s specific situation.” While a form letter might be a starting point for different situations, in order for an interaction to feel genuine and the customer feel like he’s been heard, it should always be edited to fit each particular instance.

What do you think? How can the emotional wall of form responses be done away with?

Dear blog readers, for the last three months, I have been subjected to an on-going customer service failure from Barnes & Nobles. I want to share my woes with you in the hopes that this will get their attention. Below you will find the e-mail I just sent out to their catch-all management e-mail. Enjoy!

Subject: Yes, this is a complaint

Hello management people and Dan – the nice guy who saw my complaint on Twitter,

I am writing to you because, after 3 months of waiting for your customer service team to give me a replacement Nook because the one I had bought was faulty, I was promised an appeasement gift by Louis Lis (during the week of February the 20th) and Isabella, a floor supervisor (on March 2, 2011). I finally got my Nook back and called the hotline about the appeasement and was offered $10 and then $20 in store credit.

There are two reasons I would like more and something else:

1) Not only was my Nook held hostage, but I was repeatedly lied to and had to suffer what can only be described as some of the worst customer service in my life as I tried to get it back. I called once a week only to be told “Your Nook will be sent to you in two days. You should receive it in about four.” When the Nook did not arrive, I had to make the call again, the next week. Please understand, I live in London, a fact well-known to your customer service call center. Being stuck on hold between 7pm and 11pm at night is not pretty, and I had to do this repeatedly. I know that the poor front line grunt who was taking my call wasn’t lying to me on purpose, but it was still a lie and I hold the organization that misinformed that poor front line grunt responsible. I also had other people on the phone tell me that the most I could get was my Nook back, and that that would have to wait because the warehouse was out. That is not including the people who insinuated that the broken Nook was my fault. The item had a blank patch on the screen and was never in contact with any water. That was not my fault. I believe I am due a little more than 20 bucks for this treatment and theft. That barely covers a hardback business book off of your website.

2) I cannot use a gift certificate. I happen to be living abroad right now in London. That would be the reason why I bought the Nook in the first place. I wanted to have books with me while I travel. Now, I have a bunch of books I can’t take home that I have bought for classes. This is money I have lost, thanks to the theft of my Nook. I am a student and do not have a lot of money and this has truly put me out. Store credit, especially sent to my permanent address in Arizona in the form of a gift-certificate, is useless to me right now. It’s adding insult to injury.

So, here’s what I propose: Give me a better offer. You have no idea what a raving B&N fan I was until this fiasco. I was promoting the Nook far and wide to my 500+ Twitter Followers. I praised B&Ns customer service, too. Now I’m using this as a case study in bad manners. Turn me around. It is possible, if you give it a real try and not just shake your head and apologize.

As for the gift-certificate, if you give me credit on my online account, I can actually use it. But if you send me a gift certificate, as said above, you might as well stick it in the shredder. Just credit my account to amount more than a paltry 20 bucks. Don’t ask me to do anything else when this entire saga is your organization’s fault.

Also, try to think out of the box. I’m flexible.

So, moving forward, you’ll have to reply to this e-mail unless you like cross-Atlantic phone calls. I don’t, and I’ve made quite a few to your call-center (which is in the Philippines, actually, if I am not mistaken – at least part of it). I’m sick and tired of being put on hold and I really despise being told that managerial staff are too busy and in a meeting – “Could you please call back in an hour?” I will call and completely annoy you until I get some satisfaction. That was the only way I got my Nook back, after all. If I had waited for your side to do anything, you would have stolen it permanently.

However, I would rather avoid all that and handle this like adults. Please provide me a telephone number where I can reach you so we can discuss this and you can attempt to make me less angry.

Thank you for your consideration,


The Quick Review: Wow! Buy now!

The Long Review: Wow! Buy now!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. It’s one part history book, one part math text, one part puzzler, and one part philosophy book. And a whole lot of awesome. The best part is, even though I would not technically describe it as a business book, the points Mlodinow hits on are immensely useful for business.

Here’s an example: Mlodinow explains that producers and lead execs for Hollywood movie studios are evaluated by their ability to choose and predict winners. He then describes one exec who had this amazing knack for picking the biggest grossing films to greenlight, but then one year, she had a bunch of flops. She was fired. The next year, that studio put out mega-blockbusters. Of course, because of how the movie industry works, those were films that she, the old exec, had okayed production on. How did that year of flops occur? Answer: Simple randomness. The probability of a year of flops was just high enough for it to actually happen.

The book is full of examples like that, but it is also so much more. Mlodinow goes back in time to study where the theories of randomness came from, introducing us to history’s greatest mathematicians, often humorous characters in and of themselves, such as Pierre-Simon de Laplace, a French mathematician who lived during the French Revolution and Napoleon’s time by basically saying whatever was popular (and would let him keep his head) as vehemently as possible.

The Drunkard’s Walk also is a decent math text, as long as your goal is to learn concepts and not actually make proofs. Ever wondered what Pascal’s triangle is? Well, Mlodinow will tell you, as well as how to make your own and what to use it for. As a tid-bit, it looks like this:
triangle of numbers known as Pascal's Triangle

Then there are the great puzzles. For instance, what are the chances that given one twin is a girl that both will be girls? Well, the chances that there will be two girls is 25%, right? (50% x 50% = 25%) But the answer to this question is 33%. Want to know why? Pick up the book. It’s described on page 52, right amongst other great puzzles.

This is a fantastic book that describes many of the laws at work around us. From movie block-busters to twin girls, it’s all written in a fantastically conversational tone with dashes of humor that make math interesting. I wish my high school math teachers had used this book!

Not too long ago I published the post Go On. Give It a Go! about asking for, and recieving two advance coppies of Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness. I was really excited to get the books. I gave one to an entrepreneur friend of mine (you can see his project here) and immediately started reading my own copy. I wanted to be able to fulfill my part of the free-book bargain: post an honest review of the book to this blog on June 7th, or at least during that week. Of course, this was also right before the 2010 Phoenix Comicon. I didn’t get to read more than 10 pages a day. In the past week or so since the convention, I have been reading as much as I could. It has reminded me of being in school again, trying to finish all the chapters before a test.

As you can see, I wound up missing the June 7th blogging date, but, by golly, I’m going to publish a review of this book during the business week! I litterally just finished the book and am going to publish this post without the typical day of rest and thought I usually give all my posts, to be sure the content is valuable and there are no type-o’s. I’m doing this because I feel obligated to hold up my end of the bargain with Tony Hseih and his publicity team.

And now… A Sleepy-Eyed Book Review of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

This is a great read. Tony tells stories much like he talks. I heard him speak once while I was in college. He spoke about the corporate culture at Zappos! and how customer service can lead a business to success. Not surprisingly, that’s really what Delivering Happiness is about. Those are his two favorite topics.

The book is structured like an autobiography. The first part of it is actually about his childhood. He has a few cute and anecdotal stories about trying to get rich through a worm farm, a button press mail-order business, and a magic trick mail-order business. And then he progresses to college and pizza, his first company, Link Exchange, and then Venture Frogs, a venture capital firm he started with the money he got from selling Link Exchange, and finally Zappos!. All the while, it’s told in a personal, often wondering, narrative.

Often wondering? Well, as I said, the book is written much like Tony speaks. It has an almost stream of consciousness style to it. He’ll be talking about starting Venture Frongs one moment, then be talking about a really big New Year’s Eve Party the next, end it all with a vignette with a nameless woman who said something eloquent, and be back to Venture Frogs and Zappos! in a few pages. Not that this is a bad thing. Rather it makes the book interesting becuase you’re never sure what you will read about next.

Of course, with a title like “Delivering Happiness,” the book isn’t entirely an autobiography. As Tony mentions in the end, it will likely be used as a handbook for Zappos! employees. He talks a lot about Zappos! once he gets to that stage in his life. It’s not hard to understand why. After reading this book, I have come to see that Zappos! really is Tony Hsieh’s life. He put everything into that company. The book discusses the evolution of the company to its present day, bought-by-Amazon status. He goes in depth into the company’s culture, which is fine by me, since it is fascinating.

Lastly, the book is about a bit more than just Tony’s life or how Zappos! came to be. It’s about how to be happy. The last chapter or so is all about the science of happiness, which we, the readers, can walk away with and apply to our own lives. Pretty nifty.

All in all, I love the book, but it did leave me with one huge question: Tony Hsieh did not start Zappos! That was a man named Nick Swinmurn. Where did he go and how did Tony wind up the CEO?

The people who kindly gave the this book to review asked me to include two links in this post:

Now go buy the book. I’m going to go turn in to a Zappos! customer.

Every week I want to provide you some links that amused or helped me from the previous week. Here’s this week’s three:

How to Build Engaging One-of-a-Kind Facebook Fan Pages – If you have a small business or want to market yourself, this will help you. I’m a a social media marketer. It’s a passion, a hobby, and a job. So when I came across this article when I was just beginning to figure out the genre, it was a godsend.  

How 5 Brands Are Mastering the Game of Foursquare – Because I love Foursquare and you should, too! Well, actually, it’s a really useful tool for businesses, and this article provides some excellent examples of how it can be used.

What Happens After You Save the Princess? – I want to include a funny link every week. This one takes you past saving the princess in an old video game. So click and watch this little video. What’s a princess who’s been locked up in a tower like?

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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog ( and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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