I grew up with email. My class was the last class to learn slide-rule in high school, and the first to move from punched cards to a terminal. And it was just as inside IBM and outside networks were starting to connect remote people together in ways that are still taking over our lives. I took typing in high school, not to be an admin (like my first bosses thought), but because being able to do it well was the connection to the rest of the world. Interestingly, studies have shown that people hate email – it takes up way too much of their daily Rhythm and produces very little ROI – and yet, they can’t let go. So who is executing whom?
Part of the Rhythm of modern management is communication in writing. Now often cut down to 140 characters (interestingly a technical limitation brought to you by the internet packet definition….) How and what to share with whom can change “execution” into a totally different word. The “Jerry Maguire” memo can now be written and sent in less than a few minutes, and there are many leaders that I am engaged with … shortly after they press “send”. More common is the complaint that they are drowning in emails, usually 300-500 per day…
Bo Diddley wrote “Who Do You Love” in 1956 in Kansas City, where he heard a group of children trying to out-brag one another using a particular Rhythm. “It was like an African chant, and I wanted words that would suit it“, Bo Diddley recalled. Inspired by the Muddy Waters 1954 hit “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, he wanted to outdo songwriter Willie Dixon’s lyrical swagger: “I’m telling this chick … how bad I am, so she can go tell the cat she’s hanging with, “this dude is something else.” That’s what it kinda meant, cat ridin’ rattlesnakes and kissin’ boa constrictors and stuff.”
The use of the homonym “who do” is an allusion to “hoodoo”, a Louisiana/Mississippi folk magic belief that events can be influenced by its use. However, Bo uses imagery more common to the American Southwest, combined with exaggerated bravado. He explained that the first line, “I got forty-seven miles of barbed wire”, came to him quickly, “but I couldn’t get a rhyme for it. I thought of car tires and mule trains, and I couldn’t get anything to fit. Then one day I said ‘use a cobra snake,’ and my drummer, Clifton James, added ‘for a necktie’” Jody Williams answers the vocal lines with prominent, distinctive overdriven guitar fills and a solo. In naming Williams to its list of “35 Blues Guitarists Who Definitely Started It All”, Spin magazine adds, “His solo on Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’ is a lesson in evil”. And even with all that, it was executed as a B side… normally a throwaway.
Getting control of your inbox is a phrase that is Googled millions of times… per minute. Somewhere in those 300 to 500 emails are a few that are not B sides – things you actually need to know. Finding them is a Rhythm that requires some diligence. A VP I worked for had some great insights that I will now pass to you. First – never “:cc” your boss. It instantly changes the conversation: you have escalated the “:to” into a battle that you may not intend. If you want your “bear” to know what is happening, forward it to them with your own insights… and WHY the boss/Bear needs to be informed.
Second, when you have “:re(6)”, you must execute a meeting. The Rhythm of all the emails going back and forth may be fun to watch, but you and all of the others in the thread have failed to communicate. Good meetings are hard – and next week’s topic – but email is not the path forward. Third – the subject line can help the recipient know what to do with your missive. Insert letters in the header – FYI, Action Needed… things that actually tell the recipient what to do with it. You can then sort emails based on those headers. One my partner and I used often was to put the name of the account in the header – so all emails about UVa for example were easy to find…
But my very favorite idea – figure out WHY you are actually using email. I worked with a leader who was in the 3 to 500 category. We sorted using the above, and then moved urgent messages to be done in texts or calls. Any status information was reserved for… wait for it… 1 on 1 meetings and their… again wait… Status reports. She ended up with 10… a day, and had email off other than 10 minutes at 9, 12, and 5. 30 Minutes total each day. That Rhythm freed her to do her actual job which was not writing 😉
As you reflect back on your week this weekend, think about how you want to leverage this amazing tool… that can connect you with anyone on the planet in mere seconds. Where should it fit in your daily and weekly Rhythm. Writing it out or responding, what do you really mean, and is this the best instrument to execute your task. And will it be a B side, or worth the packets? Who Do You Love?