Cupertino Dreamin’

Xiao Yun Road, Inbound
Is this fog, or did someone flock the smog?
1607 hrs.

Sitting here in Beijing and placating my inner frustrated geek as I will yet again miss both the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and MacWorld in San Francisco, I take consolation that I am not among those thousands of marketers spending the end of December prepping for those early January Techfests.

For us Apple fanboys, this is the time of year we all speculate about what Apple CEO Steve Jobs will unveil at MacWorld. I will resist the temptation to speculate. What I will do, however, is frame out the device that I want Apple to deliver. (Attention Apple attorneys: this is not a formal suggestion, merely wishful thinking, so do not send me any letters telling me that you don’t want any unsolicited product ideas.)

I will call it “iPad.”

The iPad would be a tablet Macintosh, running OS X Leopard and all of my critical software. It will not only have superior pen input options, it will also have the multi-touch interface from the iPhone. Mouse? What mouse? Use the pointing device G-d gave you. Want to type? Click an icon and a touchscreen keyboard pops up on the lower half of the screen, allowing you to type away directly.

The device would be no more than 1″ thick, and probably thiner – maybe 25mm – so it would be comfortable to tuck under our arm. iPad would have a 40gb solid-state hard drive (no moving parts, low power drain, fast startups) for the operating system and your applications, a standard 120gb hard drive (usually spun-down) for saving files, and a DVD-ROM drive. Write on it. Draw on it. Watch movies on it. And count on 4-5 hours of battery life. Carry it all with you into a meeting, use it the same way you would use a legal pad.

iPad would be a communications monster, with bluetooth, wi-fi, and a 3G mobile phone built in so you are connected by every conceivable means, and the device will serve as a voice communicator as well. Underneath the long-life battery would be a spot to slide in a SIM card so you can use the operator of your choice when you travel. A built-in camera and all of the usual connection ports would be there as well, of course.

iPad would naturally come with a few new applications, like FingerPaint, which would allow you to do just as it says.

Naturally, the key Apple software developers – including Microsoft – would announce updates of their products that would take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. Microsoft Office 2008 with settings that will allow finger and pen input should be no problem – Redmond has had tablet-focused features for a few years now.

At the show, Apple would also introduce a whole new line of large screen displays based on the multi-touch technology, all designed for the MacPro workstations and built into their all-in-one iMacs. These new Apple CinemaTouch Displays – at 23″, 27″ and 30″ – would bring that cool iPhone touch technology to desktop Macs. Ideally, you could set the displays down like a drafting table, adjusting the angle so you could comfortably and ergonomically use the screen as the input device.

Finally, of course, Steve would announce the opening of Apple Stores in Beijing and Shanghai.

My other MacWorld wishes:

  • Microsoft and Bungee would announce Halo 3 Mac.
  • Microsoft would announce Flight Simulator OSX for Mac.
  • Belkin would announce a new MacBook Pro car charger, and either Belkin, Apple, or both would announce a full line of solar-power chargers for iPods, iPhones, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros.
  • Kensington would announce a wheeled computer travel case for the MacBookPro to replace my thrashed Samsonite model.

Naturally, I expect none of this to happen. But a guy can dream.

Erudite Site

The Lido Office Building, Beijing
Eavesdropping in Korean
1505 hrs.

In an Internet filled with fluff and flame, there are still a few websites that speak cogently to the highest parts of your frontal cortex.

One that I enjoy immensely – especially when I virulently disagree with it – is Arts & Letters Daily, a site owned and operated by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The links on their front page would make for weeks of brain tickling reading.

The editors have some very clear ideas about a lot of their subjects and choose their links accordingly. On some topics their selections tend to skew toward a clear viewpoint (they are moderately anti-religion, to put it generously), and quick survey of their recent links about China suggest a fairly skeptical view among editors about China and its prospects:

China’s Valley of Tears: Is Authoritarian Capitalism the Future by Slavoj Zizek

China’s Syndrome of Lawless Growth by John Lee, the author of Will China Fail?, in The Australian

The Great Leap Backward? by Elizabeth Economy in Foreign Affairs


A Nation of Outlaws by Stephen Mihm, author of the recent superb historical perspective A Nation of Counterfeiters, from The Boston Globe.

My Short March Through China by Gary Rosen from Commentary

Big Red Checkbook by John Feffer in The Nation


So enjoy, but be aware that despite its pedigree as a publication catering to intellectuals, there is a clear – possibly unintentional – editorial bent at work.

Outsourcing Insight

In the Hutong
Culling the herd
1657 hrs.

It is perilously easy to plunge into one’s navel here in China, to be absorbed by all things Chinese and to lose sight both of the global context in which we all operate, and the way China is seen in other parts of the world. While I’m a vocal advocate of immersion as a way to understand the way things work here, I’ve also learned that understanding China demands currency in global business, economic, political, and security affairs.

I tend to read for insight as much as information, and by trial and error I’m gradually honing my reading list to ensure that I’ve got a good balance of both.

Each year, as a habit, I go through a culling process to ensure I’m getting the most for my time – and my cash.

Stuff I’ll be paying for in 2008:

1. The Economist Still the best – if not the only – truly global news weekly, The Economist should be creating tremendous pressure on Time and Newsweek to improve their level of their coverage. Given that the latter two publications are perfectly happy to remain middlebrow (and thus likely doomed to meld into the deepening grey goo that is print media), their often-brilliant and always-engaging British rival looks to dominate its niche (and our attention) for some time to come. I mean, come on – any magazine that would run a cover photo of Kim Jong-Il with the caption “Greetings, earthlings” is the kind of publication we all should be reading.

2. BusinessWeek – What I appreciate about this publication is that, unlike Forbes and Fortune, BW rarely plays the role of business fanboy, and so delivers stories that ask discomfiting questions and that catch trends ahead of the curve. What I typically do is first listen to editor John Byrne’s weekly podcast on the cover story, then I dive into the magazine (which lands in my laptop courtesy of Zinio even before it lands on US newsstands.)

3. The AtlanticI like to have one monthly that runs thoughtful stories in my media mix. Esquire runs a close second and Vanity Fair third, but I find that they spend too much time covering matters of parochial interest. That bums me because Dr. Tom Barnett, the grand strategist who wrote The Pentagon’s New Mapand A Blueprint for Action is a regular Esquire contributor. The Atlantic also offers access to over a decade of back issues online, which is one of my must-haves when subscribing to a publication.

4. IEEE Spectrum – Thirty-two pages of condensed innovation once a month, Spectrum gets pigeonholed as an engineer’s magazine, and that’s unfair. If you want a clear, unhyped view of the direction of electronic and computer innovation, this is the publication for you. I used to love reading Wired in the old days before Conde Nast got hold of the thing. Every year when I get back to the U.S. I’ll pick up the latest copy at the newsstand and decide if I want to subscribe. I only wish they’d produce a downloadable electronic version. Ah, well.

You’ll notice there are no dailies on the list. I have to admit to being conflicted. On a day-to-day basis I really focus on the China-related stuff, and my RSS reader tends to serve very well for that. I didn’t renew either my WSJ or my FT subscriptions when my credit card company issued me a new card number following a security breach. I have no desire to send money to the News Corp publications, especially as it looks like WSJ.com is going to be free in a few months, anyway. I do, however, sorely miss the writing of the WSJ’s and FT’s China reporters – they all deserve to be in newsweeklies that would appreciate their long-form stories.

Why is This Man Suddenly Talking?

Starbucks Guomao 2
Discovering foreigners are a rare species
1144 hrs.

From atop Ogilvy’s digital watchtower, Kaiser Kuo points us to a highly readable Clay Chandler story in Fortune introducing China Mobile’s Wang Jianzhou as “China’s Mobile Maestro.”

The story is a bit of a fluff piece (Chandler comes off as a bit of a fanboy), but it is interesting beyond the content. Wang is not normally a talky person with the foreign media. For that reason, one wonders why he’s suddenly making himself more accessible to the global media.

You could attribute it to a long-overdue realization that the CEO of such a company needs to have some global visibility, but I wouldn’t buy it. For all of their global ambitions, China Mobile’s cash-cow – and its best near-term growth prospects – are in China.

There are probably a host of reasons for Wang to raise his profile, but one of them has to be a desire to buy for China Mobile greater independence from the fickle whims of regulators in Beijing. Having a moderately high profile amongst influential audiences overseas, and having a voice among those audiences, is a route to enhanced power and influence here in Beijing. A few pieces like Chandler’s, and people will start to see Wang as a cross between Craig McCaw and Jack Welch.

Of course, his old colleagues at the Ministry of Information Industries can’t be happy. In the eyes of the regulators, China Mobile responds first and foremost to the direction of the government. Wang’s quiet, deliberate creation of a base of influence in China and abroad inveighs against that.

And well it should. If China is serious about creating companies that are both local and global champions, the enterprises that began as the wards of their respective ministries must leave the nest, no matter angst that might cause the aparatchiks. China Mobile will never be a world-class company until its responsiveness to its customers and the capital markets is no less – if not more – than what it gives government officials.

Wang is going to need the support of cool heads, and soon. The worst kept secret in China’s mobile industry is how much the country’s operators and handset manufacturers hate TD-SCDMA, which was described to me by one insider as “a politician’s dream and an engineer’s nightmare.” Worse, there is growing rumbling about another forced restructuring of the mobile phone industry that would give Wang stronger competition and may even see him compelled to shed some chunks of his own company.

If I were to make a prediction for 2008, I would say we will be seeing many more puff pieces about Chinese CEOs. The importance of China, the business media’s need for a stream of stars, and the tsunami of foreign journalists coming to China in the next eight months makes that a sucker bet.

One of the best profiles I’ve seen so far is James Fallows’ profile of Broad CEO Zhang Yue in The Atlantic last March.

Confucian Schools and the Quest for Values

Starbucks Guomao 2
Turn the Music Down
1121 hrs.

Maureen Fan from the Post did a profile of Luo Yu, a Chinese entrepreneur who has set aside his businesses and is focusing on running courses designed to instill traditional Chinese values into the children of China’s newly-prosperous entrepreneurs.

We are going to see more of this kind of thing in the coming years. The Chinese people have had their moral codes stripped from them twice in the past century – once when Confucianism was tossed out the door in 1949, and then again when Maoism gradually fell out of favor in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.

What this has left the Chinese people is a moral code based on two of Deng Xiaoping’s most famous utterances:

1. To get rich is glorious.

2. It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

In other words, do whatever it takes to get rich.

Even a hardcore secular humanist should agree that this is a horribly inadequate moral and ethical basis on which to build a “harmonious society.”

I suspect many parents will head in the direction of neo-Confucian schools like Mr. Luo’s, and still others will turn to Buddhism and even Christianity, and that the government will be happily complicit in this process. It may not be politically correct for a senior member of the Communist Party to say that China’s people need to have a spiritual aspect to their lives, but you can bet they’re thinking it.

Something else we can look forward to: a growing national debate on what constitutes “Chinese Values,” and an effort to create a secular cannon of Chinese morality cobbled from Confucianism, Daoism, and the more enlightened aspects of Chinese revolutionary thought (from Sun Yat-Sen through Jiang Zemin.)

Causal Marketing

In the Hutong
Would you like fries with that humbuger?
1704 hrs.

I regularly get questions from companies, practitioners, and NGOs about best practices for corporate social responsibility in China, mostly because it’s an area about which I harbor some fairly strong opinions.

One of my biggest is peeves is this: there is a thin but important line between true corporate social responsibility and community relations tied to marketing goals. There is nothing wrong with either CSR or what is known as “cause marketing;” the problem comes when the thin line disappears, and a company will try to categorize the latter as the former.

Self-serving behavior like that tends to ruin a company’s credibility, and to add to the dormant cynicism the general public maintains about the very idea of a company doing anything socially responsible.

That said, I’m a big fan of cause marketing when appropriately labeled, and I think companies in China (both foreign and local) do far too little of it. Given the decline in the effectiveness of TV advertising, I suspect both marketers and agencies are going to do a lot more of it.

What companies should be doing is defining CSR and cause marketing very clearly clearly and handling them separately.

Jeremy Nedelka at 1:1 Magazine (registration required) did an excellent cause marketing case study, including five rules for successful cause marketing according to David Hessekiel at the Cause Marketing Forum. The two articles are a good introduction to the topic.

What I love about the five rules is that all of them apply in China:

1. Set goals, knowing what you want to achieve going in;

2. Commit resources, because good intentions are no substitute for planning, budgets, and implementation;

3. Find a cause that has a clear, intuitive link to your core business or competency;

4. Search for models in what other companies have done before;

5. Expect results because solid cause marketing builds an emotional tie between customers

I have a few to add, though, because of a few issues I have seen crop up here in the PRC:

6. Cause marketing is no substitute for CSR. You need to do both. Make sure they are handled by separate teams and have clearly defined (and different) goals.

7. Don’t be a cause-a-week company. Stick to one cause for a full marketing cycle of 12-18 months at least, and longer if possible.

8. Find a cause that is meaningful to people in China, not just to your CEO.

9. Cause marketing in China is virgin territory, so don’t restrict yourself to what other companies in China have done.

10. Olympic sponsorships are not a great example of cause marketing, unless they are executed with a particular challenge in mind.

11. When your relationship with a cause wraps up, leave everyone smiling.

Shave a little of that TV budget, guys, and put it toward cause marketing. CCTV won’t miss it, and you could put it to far better use than paying for fancy office towers for public broadcasters.

Innovation: Ferment, not Foment

In the Hutong
It’s quiet…too quiet
1252 hrs.

In a post entitled “R&D in China” that is old but by no means dated, Enterra Solutions’ Steve Angelis (annotating Geoff Dwyer’s excellent roundup piece on innovation in China) takes us on a walk through what stands between China and Hu Jintao’s goal of “independent innovation.”

In so doing, he hones in on what is probably the single most critical – and difficult – challenge: China lacks an academic establishment capable of fostering and driving world-class research.

Both authors note that simply focusing on the research end of the educational process won’t work. From kindergarten through graduate school, emphasis has to shift from neo-Confucian rote learning and theory to “problem solving” and “working as a team.” Not to mention, of course, rewarding true excellence rather than obsequiousness, and teaching and rewarding academic integrity.

Unfortunately, the suggestion that in order to encourage innovation there must be a complete free flow of ideas is a non-starter. That kind of rhetoric scares the hell out of China’s leaders – the minute you suggest educational reform and “free flow of ideas” in the same sentence, you are immediately tuned out. Innovation is nice, they feel, but not at the expense of stability. Return to square one.

Western thinkers are polarizing the issue, and we are doing so for our own selfish reasons. What nobody has suggested is that if free flows of information were allowed – but with some very clear areas where open discussion (i.e., politics, pornography, etc) was restricted – China could build an innovation-fertile culture. There might be, in other words, a middle ground between the Soviet Confucianism that seems to dictate China’s current academic philosophy and the “anything goes” approach popular in U.S. and European universities over the last four decades.

That kind of thinking is repugnant to Westerners. The idea of encouraging a wider – but still limited – flow of ideas and information in China smacks most of us like Chamberlain selling out Czechoslovakia.

The result, however, is a nation that is economically vibrant and academically stagnant, a place where you find the great minds of the nation not in its universities, but in the arrival halls of its international airports, returning from abroad with educations and experience they should have received at home.

Perhaps you are not comforted by the thought of an innovative China: there are plenty of people out there who are secretly happy with China doing the grunt work while others hang on to the intellectual property, and would be quite pleased to see things stay that way.

But we must recognize that our own all-or-nothing political orthodoxy about the flow of information and ideas does nothing to help China find a safe way into its future. If we genuinely want to see the Chinese people – and not just a privileged few – continue to prosper with a reasonable expectation of improving lifestyles, we need to find approaches that will bring Chinese education into the 21st century in a way that invigorates the system without rending the very fabric of Chinese society.

Solar Technology May Finally Be Ready to Take

Starbucks @ Fortune Plaza Beijing
Realizing that coffee is the new opium
0930 hrs.

Just as Silicon Valley was the nursery of the transistor industry, the microchip business, and the personal computer, it appears that the fertile ground at the south end of the San Francisco Bay will also nurse CleanTech.

The San Jose Mercury News is reporting that San Jose based Nanosolar is now shipping a thin film solar cell that can produce a watt of electricity for less that $1 – cheaper, apparently, than coal (at least in developed economies.)

While the American in me is delighted that the product is made in California, the businessman in me thinks that if Nanosolar could produce its solar panels in China, they could drop the cost to the point when even Chinese companies start to see he virtue of adopting solar over coal.

They may be here sooner than later. Despite a huge local subsidy to put their HQ and first production facility in San Jose, I suspect they are going to find demand exceeding their 430 megawatt annual capacity fairly soon. With rivals setting up here, China is probably an inevitable part of their plan.

Congratulations, Nanosolar. Get through that IPO (which we just know is coming) and then come swing by China and start looking for factory sites. When you come through Beijing, we’re buying lunch.

The Talent Gap

In the Hutong
Watching Clint Eastwood in “Bronco Billy”
1803 hrs.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick told a group of reporters in Beijing yesterday that, while China has plenty of money, what it lacks is is the expertise to deal with its problems.

He wasn’t kidding.

The single largest constraint on the growth of companies in China is a lack of talent. China is lacking adequate pilots to fly its planes, managers to lead its enterprises, and out-of-the-box types to drive its innovative and creative industries.

What holds true at the micro level holds is but a reflection of a broader national problem. The long-term growth of the world’s most populous nation is more threatened by its yawning talent gap than by any other single factor.

Long term, the answer is education. But in the near and medium term, China will have to rely on a growing force of imported talent to keep the economy expanding, particularly in the high-value-added industries it needs so badly to develop before the world’s youngest nation becomes the world’s oldest.

Aging Population and Independent Innovation

Back in the Hutong
Installing another Security Update
1738 hrs.

AP is reporting that PRC’s rapidly aging population is going to end China’s role as a source of low cost labor “within the next few decades.”

Which, of course, is part of why China’s leaders are pushing the economy to evolve beyond being the hands and feet of the global economy. China started reforming and opening as one of the youngest countries in the world: by the time we all start to retire, it will be one of the oldest.

The good news for China is that it has a little time, and that it will have the opportunity to watch Western Europe, Japan, and the United States deal with the same problem first. The difference for China: somehow I don’t think immigration will solve the problem.

Some New Year’s Resolutions for Bloggers

In the Hutong
Contemplating breakfast
0921 hrs.

Jorn Barger, the man who coined the phrase “weblog” over a decade ago offers a sobering perspective about what blogging was intended to be in a brief piece in WIRED. He does so simply – by posting the original 10 rules of weblogging.

Sobering.

You can argue with the specifics, but I think in direction he is right. We could all use a little more humility in creating our posts – I know I could.

Have a read, absorb them. Then get someone to translate into Chinese.

(The picture is pretty cool. Barger’s hairstyle does Richard Stallman one better. Oh, to have facial hair.)

China’s Hobby Renaissance

In the Hutong
Minding the store
2018 hrs.

One of the profound trends that is taking place across China today that I haven’t seen anybody pick up on is the rebirth of hobbies.

For much of China’s history, hobbies have been limited to a tiny elite with a lot of extra time on their hands. Most hobbies were cultural in nature (brush painting, collecting, gardening), but some in the merchant and mandarin classes had some eclectic interests (I’m speaking of the non-prurient variety, here. This is a family blog.) Hobbies, in other words, were not a part of China’s mainstream culture, and those that were – kite flying, bird raising, calligraphy – were considered by most Chinese to be something for old folks.

That has all begun to change over the past decade. Growing numbers of Chinese not only have the leisure time to pursue activities outside of work, family, and school, they also have the financial wherewithal to pursue their newfound avocations. Media are carrying more stories about hobbies, and the Internet makes information about their choice of hobbies readily accessible.

What is interesting about this is that hobbies create a new class of consumer for goods and services already available, and create entirely new markets for products that were never of much interest before.

Some examples:

  • For the first time, it is possible to obtain a civil pilot’s license as a non-professional, and to purchase and own an aircraft for private use.
  • Collecting militaria and military uniforms is an increasingly popular hobby among a startlingly diverse group of collectors, most of whom network online. And they’re not only buying Chinese items – they’re collecting from overseas as well, either via eBay or as a part of their travels.
  • Bicycling used to be about transportation in China, not recreation. No longer. Manufacturers from Giant to Trek have realized that a growing number of Chinese who ride to work in cars, busses, or trains want back on their bikes, either for exercise, competition, or adventure.
  • A growing number of Chinese are taking up SCUBA diving, despite the fact that few Chinese have ever even had swimming lessons. International organizations like PADI, the British Sub-Aqua club, and NAUI are setting up representation in China to work with the Chinese Underwater Association.
  • Outdoor activities generally are growing incredibly fast. Skiing, hiking, camping – all sports popular overseas but with little history in China – are growing quickly. Outside Magazine‘s China edition is now up to 200 pages per month, printed on what one reader described as “gorgeous, thick, glossy paper.” North Face, Sony, and Motorola are but a few of the advertisers who are either reaching out to the lifestyle or who are producing products that appeal to the specific hobbies Outside covers.

Here is a simple truth: if there is a hobby somewhere, somebody in China is practicing it, and the numbers are probably growing.

Some of the other hobbies that are showing early signs of major growth:

  • Gardening, both indoor and outdoor, is on the rise as more people buy homes and discover the value (both physical and therapeutic) of having plants in and around the home. The biggest issue here – knowledge, especially in the care and feeding of house plants.
  • Salt water and fresh water aquariums are also growing in popularity in part because of feng-shui, and in part because the sound of the pump and the fish is so soothing.
  • Scrapbooking, as a nation of people cut off from the memorabilia of their past by the paroxysms of the 20th century seeks to recapture and preserve what is left, and what they are creating now.
  • Collecting generally is big, and if Hong Kong has proven anything, it is that Chinese are avid collectors. Almost any type of collecting is growing except for stamp and coin collecting, which many seem to see as old or passe. (At the same time, those who are collecting stamps and coins have more money to spend, and so the hobby will grow in real dollar terms for some time, even as the new generation eschews it.)
  • Photography, which many are discovering through their cell phones, and which a growing number seek to step into more “pro-sumer” equipment.
  • In keeping with the switch of bicycle from transportation tool to recreational gear, cars and motorcycles are heading that way as well. In particular, after-market performance parts, body kits, finishes, and the like are growing quickly. We’re seeing the first modified cars on Beijing’s freeways, and even though the customized motorcycles tend to be limited to the CJ 750 (the BMW R71 in disguise), can choppers be far behind?

Watch for this trend to grow in importance over the next five years, and to begin to change the nature of several industries.

The question each of us needs to ask is this: how are China’s hobbyists going to change our business?

The Plural of Anecdote

In the Hutong
Waiting for a Skype Call
2004 hrs.

Listening to a podcast of a lecture on UChannel not long ago I was pleased to hear a respected researcher suggest to his audience that “the plural of anecdote is data.”

Since then I have had some interesting discussions with people who collect data for a living, and it is clear that the more orthodox of the researchers are not happy with that definition.

With many things in China, however, we are faced with a lack of data in the form of scientific evidence or peer-reviewed research. Even when we do have access to those things, they are of questionable reliability, out of date, or incomplete. Let’s face it, this is a lousy environment for private data collection, and if government statistics are any indication, public data is not much better.

While all of us would love to be able to make our day-to-day decisions based on hard data that was collected using methodologies that would pass muster with our b-school statistics professors, that kind of data in most cases simply does not exist.

We must then, I’m afraid, fall back on a far less scientific means of operation, which is to rely on the collected anecdotes we have that are relevant, being as careful and thoughtful about the credence we give them as we would when critiquing an expensive bit of research.

In a market like China, where data is hard to come by and the pace of change is so fast that it outruns research at any rate, in most cases we need to rely on what Lily Tomlin once called our “collective hunch” about the world as it is.

Does that excuse us from being as informed as possible and collecting as much data as we can? Of course not.

But I have seen too many opportunities squandered in this market by people who “need to see more data.” Some days, it’s a good day to rely on a series of reliable anecdotes as your data, provided they capture what you and your team know in your guts to be the real situation on the ground.

Solving the cc: Conundrum

In the Hutong
Contemplating my iTunes account
1933 hrs.

Talking with Tay Kuan Yan over at Hoffman Singapore the other day got me thinking about how lazy people are with e-mail.

Instead of really thinking about who needs to see what, most of us simply pile on the names in the To: and especially the CC: fields, hoping to ensure that everyone who needs to see the thing – or who eventually may wish to see the message and its contents – gets a copy.

On the receiving end, not only does this mean having to slog through an interminable list of emails that people send to you just to cover their posteriors, it also means that you are expected to be responsible for the entire content, even if it was just sent as an FYI.

People and corporate politics such as they are, we have to wake up to the fact that the CC list will be the bane of most of our lives for some time to come.

There is, however, a way to make all of this a little better:

Tags.

The problem is that the “To” and “CC” fields don’t convey enough information. E-mails have to be rethought to convey at a glance not only the importance the sender assigns to the message, but what he expects in response.

Sure, you could say “gee, Dave, why couldn’t you simply include this information in the body of the text?” Sure you could. But that’s cumbersome, and it underestimates the power of the tools we have in our hands today.

That’s why I like the idea of tags that are specific to each recipient, and are simple to choose from.

An open system of email tagging, similar to the priority/urgency tags that come through, that tell each person receiving an email how much attention he needs to pay to this. Each time you add a person’s name, you simply select from a pop-up menu of options such as “For your action,” “read and be aware,” “for your records,” “keeping you in the loop,” and other definable tags of that nature. In that way, each person knows how you expect him or her to handle the email.

The other approach would be to add additional address fields, but that would make the header of the mails extremely complicated and larger than they already are.

Anyone who takes on that idea would be a huge help to those of us who run our working lives – and our businesses – via email.