What Will You Do When Everything Changes?

What will you do when people stop using text to input and receive information from the Internet? How will you deliver information to people who can’t read beyond a fourth grade level? How will you collaborate at the office together?

You may think it’s far-fetched to ask these things; however, we can be certain that media technologies will evolve. In fact, media evolves quicker with each passing decade. When those changes occur, the way people interact evolves, too.

Just think about the way smartphones have changed our lives, both at work and at home. Phones have brought our jobs home, creating new concerns about being on the clock 24/7 and work/life balance.

Instead of calling a woman or man of romantic interest to ask them out, we text them. Worse, we also break up with them via text (By the way, I still don’t get this. As an older man, ending a relationship via text seems like a cowardly thing to do).

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Generally speaking, the smartphone has already begun to erode traditional literacy. With texts, emoticons, and a new reliance on visual media, we are seeing a rapid transformation in the way people are consuming information.

The Medium Always Transforms

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You know how I feel about social network specific-strategies. In a literal sense the “message is the medium” approach to marketing is a failure waiting to happen. Marshall Mcluhan was right, though, at least in the sense that media is transformative. It changes the very fabric of our lives.

Said Mcluhan, “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”

As the Internet progresses it affects every kind of related media, from email to video. It changes the very way we interact, learn, and progress. It is inevitable that this transformative change will continue, and it will do so with more and more speed.

In turn the need to evolve our skill sets at work and at home will increase. At a minimum, media evolution will bring periodic disruptive changes that demand quick evolution. To deny this impact is to deny everything that’s happened to our world since the Internet took the consumer world by storm in the nineties.

The question isn’t what will change. Instead the question is what will you do when it happens? Will you be flexible and open to change? Will you evolve? Or will you suffer the pain and consequences of entrenched thinking and denial?

4 Ways to Reboot and Adapt New Skills

Recently we discussed surviving rapid change in media technologies. There comes a point where we embrace the fear of change. We accept it as inevitable, and grow willing to adapt new methods and technologies. But how does one go about embracing new skills?

Going back to college for a second degree is not an easy choice, both from a time commitment and from a financial perspective. One could debate whether or not another college degree could prepare you for a new profession given how fast technology is changing everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a Masters degree in Communications, Culture and Technology from Georgetown. I still use the lessons learned, but my degree was from 2000. The long-term value was learning media dynamics, and how to think about the way people use communications tools.

Getting that degree was expensive, and it’s not something I can easily do again. So, in that vein when I need to learn new technical skills, I turn to alternative methods. Here are some ways I have embraced learning.

1) Experiential Learning

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Millennials (in general) have a great attitude about change. My friends Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, co-authors of When Millennials Take Over, note that Millennials discard and adapt new technologies with the times. If one technology stops working, they move on to the next tool.

Learning by simply adapting a new method or tool can be extraordinarily difficult. Yet learning through experience can provide the deepest and most impactful knowledge. You know firsthand because you adapted by trial and error.

The challenge in this method is what I would call a sophomoric failure. A false confidence about how a technology or method works can carry you until a challenge arrives. There are often many tutorials online from people who have done the same thing, a virtual “YouTube University”, and sometimes these how-to articles and videos can help. But if the challenge is too stifling it could cost you a project or a job.

I would argue this is the challenge some social media experts face. They play with tools and talk about them, but cannot execute on projects based on their experience. A deficiency in the larger communications skill set is often the problem.

I self taught myself social media and learned several lessons along the way, including being more personal, reciprocation, etc. I became better with practice, but if I didn’t already possess other communications and marketing skills prior to my social start in 2006, I would have struggled a lot more.

2) Conferences and Seminars

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Seminars, one-day workshops, and conferences are a quick way to jolt your thinking. They help you think about challenges in a different way. These types of events usually offer a quick lesson(s), and some examples from a more experienced person(s).

The value of a seminar is a quick fix to stale thinking. It may be all you need. But make no bones about it, the impetus is still upon you to learn and excel after the event.

Further, it’s important to have a discerning eye at conferences. Not all events are created equally. At even the highest quality conferences, not all sessions are equal. To use the social media expert analogy again, you may be just getting more sophomoric knowledge from another sophomore. Look for real examples and experience to discern the value of the tips offered.

When I first sought outside experience in 2014 to break out of a stagnant period as a photographer, I paid for three workshops from KelbyOne, National Geographic, and Nikon. The lessons were valuable, and I still use them today.

3) Intensive Experiences

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A different method of learning is to take on an immersive experience. This basically puts you into a highly engaged full-time work simulation or learning environment. You are run through numerous exercises under the guidance of an experienced professional or instructor.

The effort is intense. It can blow your mind. But the new skills gained are invaluable and can really help you break out of a rut, and forge new ground. The trick is to continue using the skills in your regular work.

There are many examples of intensive workshop environments. Today’s coding academies are great examples. Language immersion seminars and schools are a more classic example.

The Santa Fe Photography Workshop I participated in over the summer was one such experience. I learned quite a lot, and have since used the tips Tony Corbell passed on in several situations, including the above photograph of my daughter Soleil.

4) Continuing Education

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Getting away for a week to several months may not be an option for many people. This is where traditional education and corporate training comes into play.

Learning through continuing education credits may not be as hip as a conference in a schwanky location or an immersion course, but it offers a proven way of learning new skills for work. The time commitment is much more reasonable (one or two evenings a week), and while homework isn’t necessarily fun, it offers a familiar routine for most.

Consider that many employers will compensate you for taking on a training program. It makes you more valuable to them. And continuing education and approved training courses are considered to be more acceptable and safe methods of learning.

When I worked at TMP Worldwide 15 years ago, I got moved into business development for a period of time (Yeah, I know, embarrassing, but I loved it!). At the time, my manager assessed my skills and suggested a Dale Carnegie sales training course. By the time two month-long class was over I had become the class SalesTalk champion, and I closed two multi-million dollar deals within the next year. Not too shabby.

These are just four ways I have learned new professional skills outside of the traditional college degree. What would you add for those looking to sharpen or reboot their skills?

Why Millennials Are Luke and Leia and Gen Xers Are Han Solo

Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant just published a new book When Millennials Take Over that details the processes and culture that businesses need to adapt. The book comes at a critical time. According to the authors, successful companies are moving to embrace the new work culture of the future (or the present, depending on your perspective) and drive business.

We thought it would be great to have a conversation with them at xPotomac on August 27th and discuss. To help prepare folks, I interviewed Jamie and Maddie last week in Georgetown. The interview is quite fun and even includes a funny reference to Star Wars as you will see. Don’t miss their session on August 27th (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off).

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GL: Is GenX the lost generation?

MG: We’re not lost. I think we are purposefully the bridge. We have a foot in both places. Millennials don’t remember work before the Internet, but we do remember some of the old ways of working that still make sense. At the same time, we’re fully digital and we get that, too.

JN: Because we kind of invented all the Internet (laughs). We actually mention this at the very end of the book. It’s a little clichéd, but we’re all in this together. The millennials don’t actually take over. No one generation ever runs it all by themselves.

We use a Star Wars metaphor. Millennials are Luke and Leia. They’re the heroes.

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GL: So does that make us OB1?

Both MG and JN: No, that’s the Baby Boomers.

JN: We’re Han Solo. Yes, we’re cynical, we’re independent, we’re all about taking care of ourselves, but we might save the day in the end.

GL: What is digital’s role in the millennial movement?

MG: The four key capacities that come out of our research — which is this intersection about millennials, what they like, how they operate, and awesome cultures – are digital, clear, fluid and fast.

Digital is the first one and we define digital as the digital mindset, which is about a relentless focus on the user experience. The user is the employee as well is the customer. It’s also about customization and personalization for the middle of the market as well as your top players. Then there’s continuous learning, continuous upgrades.

Millennials are used to having apps on their phone. Any kind of software that they use upgrades itself all the time. They want that in their work experience, their professional development.

GL: Have you seen Slack? Is Slack an example of that?

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MG: Yes, we actually use Slack amongst the two of us. I am actually watching Slack pretty closely right now, and am fascinated by them. The reason it’s taking off is that acts in the same way that you can personalize your phones, every individual has a whole different library of apps based on what they want, need and use.

Slack acts in the same way, you connect all of your services, but at the heart of it is social, collaborative and chat, and the core of it is a chat stream. You can personalize your experience. It’s not about one ring to rule it all. It finds a middle way to connect.

JN: It’s just so pleasant to use. It follows what software designers should be doing right following an intense user experience. We argue in our book that you need that same intense user experience focus what it comes to your employees and you run your organization. Why are you not designing your organization with this radical emphasis on does this work for our employees?

The case study we use is a small nonprofit – they’ve only got 22 people – they designed the entire organization around the needs of the employee. Like most of the places we found for our case studies, employees say things like, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” Or, “I remember what it was like for XYZ company, and I’ll never go back again.”

When they have an opening they get applicants from the best tech companies in town. Not the other way around. Usually, nonprofits lose their best talent to the private sector.

They redesigned their office space and created it with the employee needs in mind, and not senior management. They put the boss out in front in a pod with everyone else, not in an office; because they found when everyone has senior access to senior managers they got their job done more quickly and effectively. There’s open space where they walk together, there’s a yoga room, they have a little coffee area, there’s wifi on the roof even though they are in Chicago. If it works for the employee, that’s what they do.

Their job descriptions are customized every year to the individual based on their career path. You could have two people in the same job with very different job descriptions because they are on different paths in their career. That’s harder work for the organization, but it’s better for the employee. It gets [the nonprofit] this kind of engagement that everyone is searching for in organizations, and they basically get more done than any of their peer organizations.

They put all of their content that they ever created for this association – The American Society for Surgery of the Hand – and put it online. They made it searchable across all platforms in an 18-month platform. It takes most associations 18 months to decide to do anything. They are faster and they get more done even thought they are only 22 people.

MG: Seven of their staff are full-time technology people.

JN: The average spend on technology in the association world is about 4%. They’ve got a third of just their personnel. They also have tablets and laptops and a database system. So they spend a lot more than that on technology.

That was one of our points in the book. You have to at least be on the right side of the technology curve. It’s still just an entry into the game.

GL: With technology today, would you say that we are in a constant stasis of change? How do people deal with that?

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MG: This is one of the things that the millennial generation is very comfortable with. They are very comfortable with switching from one piece of software to the next.

GL: What do you think their secret is?

MG: I think it’s literally just based on social media and mobile apps. You have this tool in your pocket every single day, and it changes all the time based on when apps change. They live with this, they communicate with their friends with this, they play games, they do all of these things that continuously change. So they get to the workplace and they don’t understand why they are still using Sharepoint.

JN: I think of the word disruption, and there’s sort of constant disruption. Older generations define that as a problem. I don’t think that word disruption is as problematic for the younger generation.

What the millennial generation is more capacity to deal with the short term. There may be a downside to that; are they looking at the long term enough? But they are really good at dealing with short-term disruption: “This doesn’t work? That’s fine, we’ll just move to the next app.”

In the old world, the scenario would be we spent six months learning this app. We have to use it for another 18 months otherwise there is no ROI on it. [Millennials} say no it doesn’t work anymore, even though six months ago I thought it would, so we’ll just use something new.

MG: This is where the generational difference is in the workplace. A boomer IT manager who is in charge of the budget doesn’t want to buy a new thing every six months. You have to articulate why it is actually good to be flexible in the software you buy. You have to buy it with the understanding that it might not work in six months despite the money and they training you just put everyone through.

GL: Is there one thing you would like impart on today’s Xers and Baby Boomers?

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JN: Most senior leaders need to radically shift their focus to their internal culture. Millennials care much more about culture than previous generations did. They literally ask them what matters most when it comes to a job, and culture comes first. Salary comes fourth. That’s not traditionally been how we focus on an inside organization.

So if you aren’t building cultures that make sense to millennials, you are going to lose for a long time. They are going to be your customers and your employees for the next 20 years.

They are the kind of generation that says if you are not doing it for me, I am going to go do it myself. That’s what they grew up with is the ability to do that because they have the social Internet. A lot of organizations say well if I don’t hire you, you’re going to have to go home and live with Mom. And [millennials] say, OK I’ll go home and I’ll start something.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner on How Technology Is Transforming Journalism

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is an editor at the Washington Business Journal, where she serves as the business anchor on WTOP and she runs the Working the Room column. She has seen how digital media from blogs to today’s newer technologies like Meerkat and Periscope have changed journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jen on behalf of xPotomac that focuses on how digital has and continues to change journalism. You can see Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: Where have we come in the past decade with digital?

JNC: It’s light years. I have been at the Business Journal for 10 years, which is strange because that’s a really long time in journalism. It has been interesting, as we have had front row seats for this evolution.

I have seen [the paper] move away from a weekly, where we focused on publishing once a week. We threw that out the door. Stories are no longer held for print. We publish [stories] as soon as we have them. We changed our approach to our weekly print edition so it is more of a wrap-up with a deeper analysis rather than breaking the news. So that for us is one of the big changes.

GL: How do you like being on the radio instead of print?

JNC: Radio offers an immediate reaction so that part is really fun. I’ve always been passionate about radio, but I have come to develop a great respect and appreciation for it that I didn’t have before doing it every day.

Part of that respect is people invite you into their lives; it’s very much a one-to-one medium where print is one to a whole lot of people. You are sitting next to people in traffic. For people to listen to you not only do they have to appreciate what you are saying, but they also have to want to spend time with you and like you.

The writing style is very different. Brevity is very important. You learn that 30 seconds is actually a very long time, and I never thought that before.

You give a lot of thought about what you are putting into that 30 seconds. There is not a lot of fat to work with on that. You really have to cut it down as quickly as you can, and give people what they need to know right now. They have to care about what you are saying. It has to mean something.

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GL: Do you feel that’s true across media today, particularly the way social media is working?

JNC: Yeah, there is so much noise, and you can find your news anywhere now. When you look at the traditional broadcast news that we grew up with you waited for Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw to tell you what was going on. You don’t have that anymore.

What you still have are trusted voices. If you are still getting news you want to get it from someone you know and trust.

GL: Jennifer Nycz-Conner [laughs].

JNC: Let’s hope so, seriously, I think about that sometimes. That is part of the job and the occupation and the mission of a journalist to be that trusted voice. They are going to tell you the most accurate, insightful truthful version you can find.

The other part is the “what does it mean to me” part? We all have tons of noise, and we can find any fact any time of the day. What you can’t find is meaning. What is the analysis, and how does it affect me and my family, and where I live? For us as business leaders, what does that mean? Part of our job is to translate that.

GL: You are [very involved] in video, and we are seeing big changes including livestreaming taking off. What are you seeing happen with video? What is your perspective as a journalist?

JNC: It is a crazy time. I’ve been working on our video for three or four years. What we have learned, there is an incredible appetite for video now. We all have screens with us at the time.

If you think back 20 years ago, that’s crazy to even think about. I started out in live television production. I used to have to get 53-foot tractor-trailers to do the stuff you can do today on your cell phone. It’s crazy!

People will watch video if it is the right medium for what they want to see. You can’t take what you wrote for the paper and put it in a video. You can’t just recreate the standard news form. They want it short, they want it insightful, and they want the pay-off: “What does it mean to me?” If I am going to invest my eyes and ears and give you two minutes of my time, I need some sort of pay-off for it.

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GL: How do you stay relevant with everything and the way the media seems continuously evolve?

JNC: That’s assuming I am relevant. It’s an upward climb. A benefit for journalists and technology is curiosity. Journalists by their very nature are curious, we don’t go into this business if we are not. That curiosity translates to technology.

You want to try out new things. You want to test new things. You want to experiment and find new ways to tell a story. In a way, that makes us pretty good technologists.

It is hard to stay relevant. Time management is challenging. It used to be reporters went out, took a notebook and pen, and wrote a story, and had a deadline, and had deadline at 5 o’clock that night.

Now you are filing a story on your cell phone half the time. You are also shooting video, recording audio, taking pictures, tweeting while you are reporting the story, then writing the story, then writing the wrap-up of that story. Journalists have to do a whole lot more. It’s a constant decision making process about what’s the best use of my time. How will this best serve my audience?

GL: How do you feel about getting pitched through social media, Twitter, Facebook…?

JNC: It is hard. The only benefit of the tweet pitch is that it is short. You know their not going to bother with the 18-paragraph introduction before they get to the point.

What drives me crazy is the more of the ping-pong game that a lot of PR people play. They will send you an email, then they will call you and say, “Hi, I am calling to see if you received my email.”

[And] what does drive me crazy is when people don’t know what we cover. That hasn’t changed with technology. We get really consumer oriented pitches or pitches that don’t have anything to do with anything we cover. You got to know the publication, especially today when you can go online, Google it, spend five minutes and get a pretty good idea of what we are doing.

I don’t mind connecting in different ways. I was on Twitter pretty early, 2009, and that was a great way to connect with people and get some really good stories that way.

See Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th!

The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

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In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

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People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

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I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

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With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.

Future Media Success Is More than a Path

Immersive technologies offer incredible new media experiences. These paths give us the opportunity to develop new ways of interacting with our communities.

We will create incredible experiences that alter the very fabric of our lives. As the media we use becomes accepted, case studies will emerge showing how brands compelled people with remarkable moments and applications.

Consider the movie Her and the role of personal artificial intelligence avatars in society. You may think it’s far off, but the MIT Media Lab is already working on a similar project involving personal robots. Perhaps social validation via Facebook won’t mean much when we can simply ask our own personal Carla Jung what she thinks about our deepest fears.

Whatever you think of personal AI, we are entering a time when rich media will be served to us in cars. We’ll receive directions, have tweets read to us, view overlay screens, place entertainment consoles in the rear seat and more. Watches empowered with technologies like Google Now already prompt us in our ear buds that the subway stop is just two blocks to the right, and that waiting for the third train will actually save us time.

Those are just two obvious examples of the near future or the not-quite-adopted now. Yet, these portable media offer brands and content creators new paths to explore. It’s always been this way.

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During Halloween 1938, the United States experienced the incredible impact of radio drama via The War of the Worlds. No one expected such a captivating tale. Radio moved from a medium to gather around and became an incredible, dynamic imagination machine. Broadcasters were outraged, and Orson Welles became one of the world’s great dramatists.

Every entertainment podcaster today and every bad alien movie (Cowboys and Aliens comes to mind) can thank Orson Welles and CBS for breaking new ground and creating a compelling experience with an already established medium. Welles and CBS in turn surely thanked H.G. Wells for his brilliance in novel form, all the way back in 1898.

Data and Visual Media Offer Paths

I am struck by two common themes in online marketing today: the overwhelming movement towards analytics and the increasing drumbeat of visual media. Both are necessary movements — ones I have touted, too — offering paths that lead to better relationships with customers.

Paths are important, but you need levers. That is the issue with today’s data and visual media conversations. They fail to blend levers with paths.

Data points the way to better engagement or more conversions, but you need to compel people. Data only gives us the preferences of the moment and an understanding of community needs. If we fail to build strong levers, people look for a different resolution to their needs.

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Today’s marketing experts talk about visual media, but often don’t know how to develop and use illustrations, graphics, photos and videos. So we hear a lot of chatter about visual media but see few levers. If there was ever a medium in which to show and not tell, this would be it. Instead, we have road signs in the form of blog posts that point out paths, but don’t compel people.

Boring “me, too” campaigns ensue. The first ones work. But as the signal gets noisier, common content approaches fade to black. While the path is correct, the levers are weak. They lack creativity.

What’s another store selling its wares on Halloween? How about flipping the paradigm and making fun of your overwhelming box store experience with a Shining tribute, one that speaks to your target customers (30- and 40-something families with kids)? Marketing paths need creative levers.

Compel Us

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Levers compel us. Paths give us a means to create levers, but we need to do more. We have to tell interesting stories and innovate upon the current level of useful content.

Shooting photos in Washington, DC can be tough. Some subjects are so well photographed you really have to look for a different perspective. I often look for a high or low point of view, or shoot at night, or use a long exposure.

A common subject becomes compelling, more interesting. The Washington Monument takes on a different look in the fog with a long exposure. It’s spooky! A fitting shot for a Halloween week.

You’ve got data. You know you need to become more visual. What are you going to do to compel people?