The BBC and their Trump localization challenge

Warning: This post includes language some may find offensive.

german_swearwordPresident Trump’s recent undiplomatic language to describe Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador was a big news story. So how did the BBC report it? That depends on where you were watching or listening.

Whilst the word “shithole”was deemed acceptable to a domestic audience in the UK, it wasn’t to folk in the US. You see The BBC is bound by the guidelines issued by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), that regulates TV, radio, cable and satellite output. It lists words that are deemed offensive or indecent.

The end result was that listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme were able to hear the quote in full, whilst those watching the BBC’s World Service received a slightly different quote.

In fact it left reporters with a bigger question. Could they report the story at all? If they couldn’t use the word “shithole”, what word could they use to get past the FCC’s regulation? “Arsehole” was deemed inaccurate, so should you use a nondescript phrase instead (e.g. “Trump’s vulgar slur”). The trouble with that is the story loses potency.

Localization of any kind is a sensitive issue. I mean why do you think the Red Cross is rebranded the Red Cresent in Islamic countries? It is so easy to offend.

So what would you report Trump’s quote? I think I’d have just translated it into German. It sounds so much better.

Is this technology for technology’s sake?

virt_assistA BBC News page caught my eye today. It focuses in on the battle between Google and Amazon for the virtual assistant ground.

Reading through the page, one question comes to mind. Is some of the technology innovation displayed at the CES 2018 Conference really necessary?

One use case mentioned in the piece is Amazon’s Alexa being fitted to a bathroom mirror, and then being able to turn on your sink tap or flush your lavatory. Another is Google Assistant being fitted to car entertainment systems.

Here’s my beef with virtual assistants. They’re really not solving the big problems.

OK I know of some people who’d die for the ability to flush a public lavatory without touching anything the great unwashed have touched before. But if you have to, is it really that big a problem?

The in car entertainment system has a practical use at least. I can see a use case for playing your favorite track without fumbling for a button on the display and taking your eye off the road.

The virtual assistant marketing makes a point that you can switch on the oven to cook your dinner 30 minutes before you arrive home. You can even tell delivery men that you’re not at home and to leave what they’re delivering in your back yard.

Useful? Perhaps, but both of these use cases have flaws.

I won’t leave any electric or gas device (except the TV or  lights) switched on whilst I’m out of the house. Having a cooking device come on just seems unsafe to me. Likewise I’m really uncomfortable with telling people I don’t know that the house is empty. I mean what if they broke in and stole all my tech? What would my Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant control then?

To do lists: I love (and need) them :-)

OK I admit it. I’m a bit of a stickler for detail. Oh and I hate mess. The end result drives my wife mad. Minimalism rules as far as I’m concerned, and that goes for my whole life. Whilst others may rely on pure brainpower to remember to do things, my to do list is online. There’s no scruffy scraps of paper littering my desk.

My Todoist productivity report
My Todoist productivity report

My tool of choice is Todoist. It’s an easy to use to do list app, that has some useful organisational functionality. Some of them are even available in the free version. I use the premium version, which at less than £3 a month is a steal. Among the most useful benefits for me are:

  • Adding taxonomy by adding labels to tasks.
  • Adding comments and file attachments.
  • Creating custom task filters to focus on important tasks.
  • Creating tasks directly from my email client.
  • Synchronizing my task list across multiple devices.

Anyway, enough of the sales pitch. What I wanted to share was Todoist’s statistical analysis of my 2017 productivity.

They sent my a report that is pure nectar for someone like me. It’s full of detail of how many tasks I’ve completed, what days and times of the day I’m most productive, and even the days I postpone or reschedule tasks the most. Yes even someone as organised as me (ha!) can run out of time to do  everything I want.

I won’t bore you with the report’s detail, but the end result of all the backslapping is that I’m among the top 1% of Todoist users in 2017. The exact number of Todoist users seems to be a closely guarded secret, but a smart guess is in the millions.  So if there are two million users, I’m among the top 20,000 for productivity.

Perhaps I need to start recording my productivity. Oh and add a recurring task in Todoist to remind myself to do it 🙂

Is your communication technique effective?

If you work in an office, you’ve multiple communication methods available to you. Whether it is a telephone, email, an Instant Messaging (IM) application, or face to face. Whatever you have available, knowing when to use each one is a skill worth learning.

The trouble is, that’s easier said than done. A lot depends on your office environment and traditions. I find it helps to answer a few simple questions before taking the leap.

Location! Location! Location!

If the person you want to communicate with is located two desks from you, it can be more effective to just speak to them. If it is urgent, you should say so, and give them some background information in order for them to make an informed decision about whether it is OK to interrupt them. Just because you have interrupted them, doesn’t make it the best time for them. Perhaps start with, “Can you spare me some time to discuss …..”. If they can help, they should be willing to accommodate. If they can’t, you can agree a time when they can.

If they’re not located nearby but in the same office location, you can still adopt this approach. It’s good to get out of your seat and walk around occasionally too. Of course a lot depends on time management. If every time you needed something you walked to the lift and took it to the 10th floor to speak to someone, you’ve questions to ask yourself about your time management.

Things get more complicated still with larger firms. For example I lead a team based in London, but with a manager based in the USA. I deal with individuals on a daily basis spread across different time zones. Getting information from someone who’s still asleep or out for the evening is near impossible. This is where the next question arises.

Everything is urgent, right?

In today’s modern competitive world, corporate environments often see results as the major success factor. This is true in some roles, but mostly it isn’t. Knowing the urgency of the communication, and what you expect someone to do something for you, is key here.

If it really is urgent and the person you want to communicate isn’t free, what then? Could you wait until they are free? Could someone else help who is available? Only if the answer to both these questions is a definitive “No” should you continue.

Even if you think it is urgent, a second opinion can prove invaluable. You may absolutely need some information to make your target of getting a task complete by this Friday, but if you don’t complete it until Monday would the overall project fail? It is rare for deadlines to be definitively set in stone that there isn’t some flexibility. Go and talk to someone.

What’s the objective?

Finally understanding why you need to communicate with them in the first place is important. Ask yourself all the following questions, not just one:

  • Is it to get information, or provide it?
  • Do you need to communicating with one or multiple people?
  • Do you need to share some information live with them (e.g. presentations, demos)?
  • Where are they located?

Having the answers to these will help you understand the best communication method.

My Pet Hates

Before I sign off, here are a few of my communication pet hates:

  • Don’t email me and a minute later come over and ask me why I haven’t responded. If you need an urgent response, email isn’t the way to go.
  • Don’t assume that just because you need to respond to a communication, that everyone else who received it needs to receive your response. If I receive a message sent to 20 people informing me of someone’s promotion (i.e. useful information) I don’t want to receive 19 responses offering personal congratulations to that individual (i.e. not at all useful).
  • Don’t substitute an IM application for email. This is perhaps more of a generational issue, but younger folk are used to getting instant responses. It’s the social media effect, but in an office environment it doesn’t always work. IM applications can be useful, but they aren’t an email alternative.
  • Companies with more than one IM application. If that is you, don’t spam them all. Think about which one the recipient is likely to use. If you don’t know, use face to face and ask them for next time.
  • Don’t use email or instant messaging to have a discussion. Sometimes what starts off as a simple question sent to multiple recipients snowballs into a discussion with an ever increasing recipient list. Stop right there. Organize a meeting or conference call with the key recipients, and agree a way forward.


This post deliberately doesn’t try to tell you to use a specific communication tool. There is no hard and fast rule. It gets you to step back and calculate the most effective tool to meet your objective. Oh and remember, what met your requirements this morning, may not be suitable this afternoon.