Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nonverbal Communication: Experiences in Parking Cars

According to the almighty Wikipedia;

A gesture is a non-vocal bodily movement intended to express meaning. They may be articulated with the hands, arms or body, and also include movements of the head, face and eyes, such as winking, nodding, or rolling ones' eyes.

A gesture is just one of the many forms of Nonverbal communication that we use everyday. What you may not know is just how important Nonverbal communication is in directing traffic in a parking lot of 200+ cars.

I recently had the pleasure of volunteering with the Mass Audubon Society during their local Woolapalooza extravaganza, and extravaganza it certainly turned out to be. We couldn't have asked for better weather, 60 and Sunny all day; I myself am returning to my Kentucky roots sporting a nice red-neck to show for my work today.

After a quick meeting with our Boston Cares team leaders I headed out to the parking lot to meet up with the rest of the team, which consisted of: One tall lanky Oakley sunglass sporting middle aged man named Tony who is the head parking guy, another shorter wiry balding man named Bob but referred to as "Bo" by other staff members, a lovely blonde female twenty something staffer who exudes happy-go-luckyness from every ounce of her being, and the other volunteer assigned to this team, a congenial middle aged Scottish man wearing a Patriots hat and some sporty sunglasses.

I'm given a vibrant orange vest to wear, like everybody else, "So I don't get run over" says Tony. The vest is the start of our Nonverbal communication, it clashes with the pale verdant shades of the new found Spring that has arrived this very day as if in anticipation of this very extravaganza. After a bit of a dry run in a smaller parking lot, we start seeing a major influx of cars around 10:30 AM.

Every parking car is just looking for some direction. Naturally, the Orange Vested are here to help in any way we can. Here is the first lesson I learn about Nonverbal communication while parking cars: Keep a smile, you are the first contact of this extravaganza for these people. It seriously all starts with you, if someone has a bad experience parking, they are going to be pissed off when they get to the gate and have to wait in line to get in, etc... I, the Orange Vested, am here to help you park in an efficient and economical way, the problem is, I can't share that feeling with you, the parking person, except through limited gestures involving hands, smiles, thumbs-ups, occasional leg-kicks and maybe a fist pump or two (okay, maybe I squeezed a wink in every now and then).

Let me break down the normal communication cycle while parking a car. First, there is the communication confirmation. This is normally a head-nod or direct eye-contact with the driver of the vehicle. What were doing here is setting up this nonverbal conversation between the Orange Vested and the parking party. What we want to convey here is that we see them, they are important, worthy of our attention and we are going to get them in a spot as quick as possible.

Next we want to start with a direction impression. The direction impression is usually a grandiose gesture with the hands that indicates a particular direction to be followed. The direction impression is vital because it lets the parking party know where to go next. The direction impression could point towards an available parking spot or just to the next Orange Vested individual who will continue the nonverbal directions to an available parking spot.

Finally, we have the landing directives. The landing directive is usually a horizontally outstretched right hand indicating where the front of the car should end up as well as a continuous circular "come-hither" motion with the left hand. These directives are usually given out by the Orange Vested individual in the parking spot to be parked in. The directives indicate how far to pull in, and if and where they may be dangers in the spot, e.g. rough or muddy terrain.

Overall, I had a great time parking cars today. I know I have a new found respect for the people directing traffic at large events.

Now Playing: Dropkick Murphys - I'm Shipping up to Boston

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mandating Community Service

I recently joined an organization called Boston Cares. They provide a great way for young people to find and get involved in volunteer/community service projects all across the greater Boston area. I had a great time last Saturday handing out food at the Red Cross Food Bank. It's a great way for me to meet other people in the area, get to know the city and help out in the community.

Now, normally I wouldn't bring it up.  I tend to be more of a Matthew 6:3 type of philanthropist, but I also happened across an interesting post on the Harvard Business Review Editor's Blog about mandating community service.  The author makes some interesting points about what young people get from community service organizations like City Year and why we should push for mandating community service from a business perspective:
1) A Work Ethic. My stepson, who could easily have earned a double Ph.D in Sleep and Responsibility Avoidance, now wakes up at 6:30 to face the music, puts on a uniform and works hard 50 or more hours per week.

2) Fundamental Skills. Today, too many kids are tracked to college programs to which they are not well suited; community services programs act as de facto apprenticeship and internship training programs.

3) Respect for Diversity. Companies cry a lot about the lack of diversity in their management pipelines, because they stay inside the same predictive box. By supporting community service programs that encourage young people from a variety of backgrounds, they can help to educate a new, multifaceted generation of leaders.

4) Empathy. Emotional intelligence is in huge demand these days. Companies need managers that can engage and motivate workers. I will wager that someone who has learned to work with the less fortunate knows more about right-brained, empathic leadership than anyone coming from the average MBA program.

5) Democracy 101. Finally, companies that support community service programs teach kids a lesson in real de Tocqueville-style democracy. As the great philosopher noted, democracy requires its citizens to be fully (mentally and physically) engaged. (For an impassioned "Amen," read former Senator Gary Hart's essay, "Restore the Republic").
Please check out the full article for more information and some helpful links.

Resources for Rapid Web Prototypes

Alot of times, I find myself in a position where I have to put some prototype together of some bit of functionality so I can convince either myself or someone else that we should use it in an upcoming project.  Whenever I need to do one of these "Rapid Prototype" type of projects I always end up needing to put together a little website template to show off the functionality (presentation is important when trying to get a sign-off).  I've started using some free templates I found over at Smashing Magazine to help me get to the Rapid Prototyping faster, instead of sitting around making a pretty site from scratch.  

Here are a couple useful links I've found:

100 Free High-Quality XHTML/CSS Templates - Bunches of templates ready to use, most if not all are licensed either under MIT or GPL.

Company Dark Blue Template - Nice little conservative business company template.

Free CSS Layouts and Templates - These are nice if you are just looking for the scaffolding of the site without any artwork.

Jquery - Must have for most of my current web work, also see this post at Encosia for tips on having Google Host your jQuery (all the cool kids are doing it...)

Block UI Plugin - Great for modal dialogs, even has some cool support for Growl like popups.

jTemplates Plugin - Great for client side templating of JSON data.

Encosia's Posts on jQuery and .Net nuances - Great place to start if you are new to jQuery and how best to use it with .Net