Thursday 27 October 2011

Even superheroes need teammates

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

There can be few decisions more important than choosing the members of your team. Whatever you do, the people around you shape your world and can greatly increase - or reduce - your ability to achieve.

One night in Exeter, I was out with some friends. I was running short of cash, so I left one pub early and went to find a cash machine on the route to the pub we were planning to visit next. It was a dank night and as I waited for the ATM to authorise my request, I noticed a trio of shady looking characters who were moving closer making threatening noises. Something about me was upsetting them, and they clearly meant trouble.

It might have been that they wanted to take my money or card, but I didn't think so. It sounded as though they had a problem with the way I was dressed, and they were clearly drawing other conclusions about me from my outfit.

As I stood there wondering whether my card and cash would be released before they arrived, I understood why. I was standing in a pair of running shoes, tight lycra tracksuit bottoms with swimming trunks over the top, and above my tight T-shirt I wore a cape made of red crepe material. My face was covered with a red crepe superhero mask. This is not normal - or at least not in Exeter.

I had a few moments to consider my options - fight, flight, negotiate. I didn't want to abandon my card and cash - flight would be quite costly. On the other hand,  I didn't fancy my chances as a negotiator since I probably wouldn't get the chance to explain that my friends and I had found several meters of crepe and agreed that a superheroes "run ashore" (Royal Marines expression meaning "night out") would be a good idea. So that left fighting.

As the three menacing shapes moved closer I carried out a quick "combat estimate" - the formal process by which a military commander is supposed to weigh the relative strengths of his own forces and those of his opponent. I was outnumbered 3 to 1. I was wearing rather unsuitable clothes. My cape in particular could cause a lot of trouble tangled around my neck. Worst of all, if I was involved in a fight with civilians I would almost certainly lose my job.

I stayed by the cash machine, hoping it would yield my card and cash, but it steadfastly refused to do so. The trio moved ever closer. By now I could see their hate-filled faces and hear their abuse more clearly. They had clearly decided that I deserved some kind of corrective treatment.

As I watched their approaching faces, I noticed a sudden change. Hate turned to surprise, and then quickly to fear. They stopped in their tracks, hesitated and looked at each other, then turned and ran away.

Slightly surprised, I looked behind me. Approaching, illuminated by a street lamp and silhouetted against the shiny damp street beneath their feet, a band of about 20 superheroes were approaching. Their capes billowed as they strode towards me, shimmering slightly as lycra stretched over muscle. My friends had decided it was time to move on to the next pub.

For me the main reason to join the Royal Marines was the quality of the people I met who were already enlisted. I knew that whatever the circumstances they were a good team to be a part of. In dangerous situations, I could expect my colleagues to be courageous, determined, unselfish and cheerful, and in less dangerous environments I knew they would be good fun and not too serious.

If you lead a team then giving them a sense that they belong to a great group has got to be a top priority - here are some thoughts on boosting team performance without increasing costs. If you're in a team and you don't feel that it's a great team, it's time to make a change. Either find a way to make the team better - or if you cannot do that then leave.

We tend to become more like the people we spend time with, so it makes sense to surround yourself with people you can rely on and admire. You may not always fit in with the locals though.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

It's time for Google to retune its tactfulness algorithm

Suitable for brain tumour patients?
I recently posted about how reviews can boost Google rankings. Google does a great job of helping us find what we are looking for by incorporating third party information such as reviews and links, and it also crawls websites assessing content and context.

As a result the ads it posts on publisher sites like this one are usually relevant to the content of the site. The famous Google algorithm that matches content with ads is at the heart of their corporate success - but maybe it needs a tactfulness tweak...

Six months ago, shortly after I posted on the subject of headaches, Google started serving this advert on my blog (pictured left), in the advertising panel just to the right of this post. I don't know what the ad was for (clicking on it would be a breach of the Adsense publishers terms and conditions), but since my post was about my surgery and lucky escape from a brain tumour, it probably wasn't the most suitable ad to serve.

From time to time since, I've seen the ad appearing on my blog - you might even see it now if you look to the right. I hope it isn't causing any offense to people whose experience of brain tumours has not been as positive as mine. Perhaps I'm being unfair - perhaps the advertiser really can help you reclaim your brain, improve memory and increase brain performance. Unfortunately I'm contractually forbidden from finding out.

Monday 17 October 2011

How 3rd party review sites can boost your profile in Google results

Product ratings in Google results
At This Tribe, one of the areas we have been examining closely it the role of reviews. Following some initial discussions at the Ecommerce Expo last week and further online research since then, This Tribe is trialling Trustpilot as a way to gather reviews in a 3rd party environment where readers can be confident that what they read is not under the control of the site being reviewed.

Our view is that this independence is a key part of the credibility of the reviews, and it's interesting to note that Google is paying more attention to the review sites as you can see under "4. Reviews and lots of them".

Rob, one of the This Tribe team, set about examining some of the many review sites on the market and selected Trustpilot largely on the basis of its simplicity.

Seller rating extensions make it easier for potential customers to identify highly-rated merchants when they're searching on Google by attaching the reviews to the merchant's Google Product Search and AdWords ads.

These star ratings allow people to find merchants that are highly recommended by online shoppers like them.

To be eligible the merchant needs to have 4 or more stars and have at least 30 reviews in total. Once the merchant has achieved this, it still might take up to 4 weeks in order for Google to index the results.

Are you more tempted to use a service or buy a product if you can see independent reviews? I've just put the phone down after a conversation in which my request to talk to past customers was declined. Although the service on offer sounded great, the fact that the provider didn't feel able to put me in touch with any of their former clients drained my faith in them and their offering. I won't be becoming a client.