Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Spreadings

Stuff spreads.

Snowy weather results in a chain reaction of delays for travelers attempting to move via trains, planes, and automobiles. Celebrity gossip moves from mouth to mouth, air wave to air wave, and server to server, all interlooping, and all slightly reinvented.

But here is something that is worth spreading. TED topics.

If you have an affinity for words, language, or reading between the lines, you'll enjoy this enlightenment piece by James Geary.  An engaging and thoughful speaker, James discusses the power of metaphors, and how the right combination of words, that start not with the words, but rather the experience, encompass almost another language embedded in language itself.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thinking Thursday



I am working on a bucket list.

Why? I am turning 30 in 355 days, and I am excited to spend the whole year preparing for a new decade "thinking big."

On the list:

Own a cozy and thought-rich bookstore, working with staff that want to eat up books as much as I do.  In this bookstore I can I live and breathe what feels natural and meaningful, and hopefully, provide a place where others can come to be enriched as I am.  Might experience be the new marketing?

I can smell the paper and ink already.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Web 2.0 Wednesday

One year ago, I didn't tweet.  In fact, one year ago, I had hardly even heard of twitter.  And when my select group of friends did in fact mention their twittering, I thought they were referring to being in a state of having too much coffee.

Twitter was my favorite breakthrough in 2009.  Because while it has existed since 2006, 2009 really was its year.  Now that we are on the brink of 2010, a new concept occurs to me (and to many others who have been thinking along the same lines) - Top Twitter Trends of the year!  Much like how Time magazine always does a year in review - most popular technology bursts, biggest scandals, best movies, etc., Twitter has been tabulating the data for this all along - and has crowdsourced quite the list.

Pretty interesting.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tribal Tuesday


Lately, I've been thinking about what tribes I belong to and which ones I consider to be successful.  But first, a little explanation on what a tribe is.

To quote Seth Godin: "a tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have joined tribes, be they religious, ethnic, political, or even musical...it's our nature.

Now the internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost, and time. All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger and enabling new tribes to be born - groups of ten or ten million who are about their iPhones, or a political campaign, or a new way to fight global warming."

Now, I'd like to share with you a tribe that has actually done exactly what a successful tribe is supposed to do: increase awareness, interest, enthusiasm, and most importantly - connect members with others in a beneficial way to keep the cause or mission of the tribe going.

Since we all need to eat, and more so, because eating can be one of life's finest pleasures, food tribes have always existed.  But some food tribes have existed in more robust form and have lasted.  Take for example, powerhouses like Julia Child and her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Julia took a stance on eating in America and cultivated a following with her passion and humbleness.  Her book drove followers, and so did her TV show. She was trusted and she grew a lasting tribe.

Next, I think of other cooking rockstars, and how they have driven a following - Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, and Giada De Laurentiis.  But what I also see is that to be a trusted food leader, you don't need to have your own cookbook or series on the Food Network.  You can simply be a trusted blogger.

Hello Food bloggers.

Unlike food websites like epicurious.com and allrecipes.com, the opinions and successes/failures of food bloggers are not anonymous.  Once you get to know the tastes, and likings of a food blogger, they become a trusted friend. Your hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And most of the successful ones that I have seen are pretty darn honest, as their reputation is everything.

And once they generate loyalty, other passionate foodies or simply those wanting to try something new and take a leap in drive their success.  Everyone benefits and a tribe is born.

What tribes are you part of?  And why do you think they have succeeded or failed?

Monday, December 14, 2009

All the Days of the Week

Experimentation is good.  And experimenting with writing is not only free, but gives your brain a nice little workout, where it might otherwise fall into a static rut - - and anyone out there who runs - and more specifically runs the same distance, same incline every day, Monday - Sunday knows - while this gets pretty easy pretty soon, it doesn't do much for enhancing your running ability.  Instead, trying out new courses, trail running, aqua running, beach running - all variations work new muscles, building a more well-rounded running profile.  But of course, I am not talking about running here, but writing.

I am setting out for the next week to write on a different, predetermined topic for each day of the week.  And because I am the nerd type who gets major kicks out of finding sequential words that start with the same letter, I give you my list:

Matters Monday: favorite discovery of the day "that matters"
Tribal Tuesday: a new tribe I am following
Web 2.0 Wednesday: a new web 2.0 discovery
Thinking Thursday: a thought
Finding Friday: a find
Surreal Saturday: a fact that I deem surreal in some way
Spreading Sunday: stuff spreads.  what do i notice this sunday?

Seeing that today is Monday, off I go with my favorite "what matters" discovery of the day.

This one (to me) is utterly obvious.

Matters Monday



Early this morning, while I had the shower running, and the teapot boiling, a friend of mine emailed me a link to Seth Godin's new ebook What Matters Now.  My phone bleeped.  Hmm.  What Matters Now?  Seth Godin?  This was worth turning off the running hot water for.

I jumped on my computer, downloaded the 82 pages of deliciousness and knew I had something even better than my daily Wall Street Journal to read on the metro ride in.

If you didn't come across this compilation of thoughts from some of the best writers and thinkers alive today - honestly - you should read it immediately.  It's thoughtful, comprehensive, stop-in-your-tracks moving, and pretty much everyone can gain new insight and perspective from it.  It brings together writers like Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love - with the new Committed due out in January), Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind), Chris Anderson (The Long Tail), Gary Vaynerchuk (Crush It), Paco Underhill (Why We Buy), and Tim O'Reilly (technology rockstar).

Not to borderline on corny here, but this collection really is like a strand of 80+ or so natural pearls - each cultured and outstanding in a different way.  It presents mini essays on topics such as Productivity, Ease, Sacrifice, Fear, Focus, Leap, Timeless, Technology, Attention, Neoteny - taking the best of individual gifted writers/thinkers and whirling out new perspectives.

My absolute favorite take-away from this gem?  I learned a new word that I love - neoteny - n. retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species.  I love that a word exists to describe this characteristic found so infrequently in adults, yet one that if practiced, opens up the possibility for so much.

I'll share the entire account with you, as Joi Ito describes it effortlessly:

"Neoteny is the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood. Human beings are younger longer than any other creature on earth, taking almost twenty years until we become adults. While we retain many of our childlike attributes into adulthood most of us stop playing when we become adults and focus on work.

When we are young, we learn, we socialize, we play, we experiment, we are curious, we feel wonder, we feel joy, we change, we grow, we imagine, we hope. In adulthood, we are serious, we produce, we focus, we fight, we protect and we believe in things strongly.

The future of the planet is becoming less about being efficient, producing more stuff and protecting our turf and more about working together, embracing change and being creative.

We live in an age where people are starving in the midst of abundance and our greatest enemy is our own testosterone driven urge to control our territory and our environments.

It’s time we listen to children and allow neoteny to guide us beyond the rigid frameworks and dogma created by adults."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dream it - live it - thank you long tail!


I 100% believe the long tail in our society is thriving, kicking (wagging), and growing by leaps and bounds. Here's an example. I've always been interested in marketing, psychology, and technology topics. Just as recent as 1 or 2! years ago, I remember researching the bejeebers out of google, trying to find the latest books, articles, and speakers on these passion areas of mine. When I found books that crossed over between any of these disciplines, or had awesome ideas in their own right, this usually resulted in a little firecracker of crazy excitement - and ended with me furiously looking through the article or book for quick gratification, and then immediately printing out the goodness (or searching for it on Amazon.com/calling Barnes and Noble down the street).

When I first started using Twitter about 10 months ago, this may have been the coolest factor I immediately noticed. I could search on keywords I was passionate about and find more articles in 90 seconds than I could previously find in 90 minutes. And more often than not, I didn't even have to do a Twitter search because the people I followed had the same kind of interests as I did, and thoughtfully pooled their creativity into a constant stream for my pluckings. Gone were the days of Google as my sole resource. I now had passion-sharers to rely on!

And with the Twitter pluckings, the 1st degree of people that is, came the 2nd degree. These are the people I discovered from the first layer. Next came the 3rd and the 4th and with this wasn't limited to just Twitter profiles but links to personal blogs and in turn further extensions of shared-passion-goodness. As my pool for fishing grew infinitely bigger, and more and more people started revealing their true interest areas, I started noticing a manic level of similarities I have with people I most likely never have crossed paths with.  All this shared inspiration and possibility for input and discussion would have otherwise gone to waste (and of course I am aware I am still just scratching the surface here).

"Know thyself."

What is coolest to me about these niches along the long tail is that the people who do know themselves, and are acting on it and going for it and living it - are finding it radically easier to connect with other like-minded people, and therefore can actually succeed at doing what is truly them. Take the blog OhSheGlows as an example. Angela from Ontario set out to live her dreams and open a vegan bakery after several stifling years in academia. She blogs each day and receives floods of comments on each of her posts. People reach out to her to tell her how her leap of faith into what she truly likes to do inspires them in their own quest to find their own path. As a result, her bakery is growing, and she is happy doing it.  Before blogging and distribution channels like Twitter became a part of our routine, garnering a following from all over the world would have been considerably more difficult.  She has the passion.  Others have like-minded passion.  The newly opened internet of publishing makes it easier to connect and make her dream a reality.

Same principle with any start-up.  Rent the Runway just opened its doors this past Monday.  It's like a "netflix for haute couture" - with the goal of making it possible to rent runway quality dresses for a few days at 10% of the cost of the actual dress.  Sisterhood of the travelling dresses anyone?  Without social media channels and niche groups popping up and informing each other of these innovations, small businesses and individuals consulting on their own or starting their own deal would have a much harder time spreading the word. 

The long tail is growing.  And it's giving people the opportunity to take what is truly exhilarating to them and run with it and find it in others, and help them go in the direction of their dreams. 

"Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." --John Updike

Photo attributed to futureancient

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Create an "Addictive User Experience"


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what makes some social networking, or web 2.0 applications so pervasive resulting in the "tectonic shift" we are undergoing. The applications we are talking about here are ones that you get a craving to check in with - and see what has happened in the last couple of days, hours, or sometimes, minutes. I hear often that these sites are not about the technology, but rather about something more underlying that shapes our relationship with them. Communication? Humans are innately wired to want and need to communicate. Community building? We want to affiliate ourselves with certain groups, causes; some wanting to lead, and some wanting to follow. In both of these cases, any innovation that makes these basic tendencies easier to do will most likely be game changers.

When I consider sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and consider what qualities these sites have that result in enough energy to shift the current placement of our (tectonic) plates, and push us into a new technological era, it becomes apparent that regardless of whether our need is to Communicate, or Community build, what really results in this kind of motion and transformation, is that these sites are tapping into some of our pretty basic and core needs, and when given the opportunity, we are naturally energized to act upon them.

This past Friday, I was re-introduced to this concept I've been mulling over from a new angle. I attended Maryland's Smith School of Business 10th Annual CIO Forum. A panel was held called "Business Models and Sector Transformation." Of the speakers, Premal Shah, President of an organization called Kiva.org, a non-profit with the mission to "connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty" spoke about when creating a site with the goal of making a big splash, concentrate on creating an "addictive user experience."

"Addictive user experience."

When Premal put this phrase out there, my somewhat amorphous ponderings of what makes people come back to certain sites day after day suddenly took on a more understandable shape. I put myself in the shoes of any random Joe, with access to the internet, a little bit of disposable income, and a penchant for getting that "feel good" vibe when doing something for the sake of "doing good." Now, with my "addictive user experience" spectacles on, I took a look at the site and noticed what attributes it had that could get me hooked.

1. Easy to contribute and low barrier of entry. Signing up is easy, and any lending amount is accepted. A participant doesn't have to be Bill Gates to get involved and make a lasting difference.

2. Specific, recognized cause. A lender can choose a specific cause to get involved with that can be as personal or random as he likes.

3. Gratification through data feedback. Who doesn't love feedback? The site tracks different pieces of data and reports it back to the lender.

4. Opportunity to be recognized. Most of us like to be recognized, especially for something that speaks well for our character. This site features lenders and entrepreneurs on the homepage with the info they choose to present.

5. Authentic, transparent, something to believe in. The site maintains authenticity and credibility and users can continue to participate knowing they are standing on solid ground.

This is all good stuff. Yet what is better, is the fact that there innumerable sites that can benefit from this type of productive platform and Kiva is proof that it can work. Extending this beyond non-profits looking to support a cause - to simply government agencies - we can observe that countless civilians making up the public have opinions, insight, and talent to contribute. And when a site is constructed with the administrator wearing the right spectacles - considering what will energize its audience and get it hooked, data-driven dashboards can symbiotically bring administrator and user together to benefit all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where the Ideas Are


It's the age-old question: how do businesses, individuals, and causes find new ways to solve new or lingering problems? Where do the best ideas emerge from? If things have been done a certain way for as long as can be remembered, how does one think about a problem/opportunity differently?

I discovered some insight into how I would answer this a couple of weeks ago, pretty much by accident.

Long story short, I was out for a run.  Running is something I've done consistently since I was in grammar school.  I had my routes around Boston, Carlisle, and Concord where I grew up, and free flowing pensiveness was the norm.  Then I moved to DC.  And joined a running group. And started making friends.  My freely flowing conscious turned into chatty targeted questions and any real pensiveness went out the window.

I've been doing the running group thing for three solid years.  Running solo turned into a true rareity.

Here is how my discovery came to be.

A few weeks ago, I went out for a run (solo).  I moved to a new neighborhood and had consulted enough Google maps to get a general sense of where homebase was, and what routes were runnable.  I wrote down a few directions on a piece of paper, just in case, and went on my merry way.

About 25% of the way through my run, I started to notice something that I hadn't experienced in a while, making it more apparent.  As I focused on a steady stream of cars, glanced at the grass, turned a corner and darted around a couple pushing a baby in a stroller, I started answering questions to current problems and coming up with new ideas.  Luckily, I ran by a condo complex with a mailbox full of marketing materials.  I looked inside and saw a pen.  I jotted down some of my ideas.

Energized by the experience, the next day I set out for the treadmill.  I brought a pen and paper.   I picked a pace and started thinking. 

After about 12 minutes of looking at the wall right in front of me, I realized my experience was not the same.  The running was good, but my idea flow was not.  At that point I decided pensiveness was to be preserved for the outside.

And so I introduce my accidental discovery of where the ideas are.

I had forgotten about this account until recently when I stumbled upon a new book by Jerry de Jaager and Jim Ericson called See New Now.  Similar to how storytelling can help leaders lead, this book presents 24 examples of how to see the world through different lenses.  It takes inspiration from observing caterpillars and from this taking hints on how "understanding the true experience of transformation is vital for succeeding at deep change."  It looks at the great high-wire artist Karl Wallenda and considers how he "fell to his death because he wouldn’t let go of his balance pole" and what companies and individuals can learn from this ("sometimes needing to let go of their most cherished practices and beliefs"). 

When I consider my running discovery, it is clear to me why when outside, the ideas flowed, and when stuck inside looking at the clock ticking on the wall in front of me - I came up short.  When outside, my thoughts were juxtaposed next to grass, traffic, stop signs; and when inside, slim to nothing.

I highly recommend this read.  When considering your most complex problems or when seeking to come up with a way to try something new - look to the world around you for inspiration.  But don't just look in the obvious places and don't believe just because something has been done a certain way for a long time that it is the best way of doing it.  We have many years of history that can aid us in sorting out problems and sometimes the answers can be found in the most random, and basic places.

Of course this book doesn't come with curiousity included.  That part is up to you. 

"To do things differently, we must learn to see things differently.  Seeing differently means learning to question the conceptual lenses through which we view and frame the world, our businesses, our core competencies, our competitive advantage, and our business models.  It means finding new eyeglasses that will enable us to see strategies and structures taking shape, even if we feel we are on the edge of chaos..." John Seely Brown

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eureka? Just do it.

I just read Rands in Repose's blogpost Hurry. It's an eloquent call-to-action (or maybe call-to-courage) reminding us all that when it comes to our own eureka moments, we can't wait.

It's 8:45 am. You have an idea. You know it's great because you get that slightly exhilarated feeling. First step? Due diligence. You Google it. Anything else out there just like in the marketplace living, breathing, and operating? No. Cool. You have time. You need to think it through, after all, and ping it off your boss, co-worker; fantasy football friends. Your phone rings and your email bleeps and all of sudden it's 3:30 next Wednesday. And along the way, you get validation, do more research; you wait for the the perfect time.

Except...

There is no perfect time. And like Rands says, "Do the math. We are all staring at the same set of data. Yes, there is a lot of data and there is a very low probability that you’re able to surf it all, but here’s the rub: There’s a lot of us. In fact, there’s a shitload of us, and when you combine all of us with the equally huge amount of data, you understand that when I arrive at work and google my great ideas, I’m no longer surprised when my precisely designed drive-to-work business model is already in play."


We've all read the studies on the power of "going with your gut" (Malcom Gladwell's Blink is a pretty obvious example of this). When you have an idea and your intuition hints (or screams) - that it could actually work, it is often because you care about the topic surrounding it. By being naturally tuned into a certain topic or problem, you have been collecting data along. You know more than you think. What are you waiting for?


Sure. Of course. We all know the answer before you say it. As Rands says -"comfort" because "you've got a mortgage and 1.5 kids" or "Do just enough. Don't rock the boat. Make yourself indispensable without being noticeable" or my favorite: "Maybe you're waiting for validation. You're waiting for that someone you respect to say, 'yes, you bright person, you should do that thing.' It was your parents when you were a kid and then it was your first boss, but now it  simply needs to be you."

We have the internet and we have way more access to information than ever before and in turn every possibility to start something - a new product, a new cause, a new tribe.

Of course, not all ideas first to market are successful (Friendster), and not all that wait fail (Facebook).  Some pop up later and take best practices from what already exists and improve concept #1.  However, the marketplace is competitive and sometimes 2nd place is the first loser.

When you get an idea, don't wait. Don't wait because you are afraid you will fail (you very well might as Derek Sivers reminds us) because if you don't ever try you'll never know.  Consider, as Adrian Slywotzky points out in his book The Upside that Toyata might have never developed the Prius if it took its risk-assessment tools to heart - calculating that the car had only a 5% chance of success.

And above all, don't wait because you are afraid you will succeed, or because things are good enough as they as are. BE the one to start your thing.  The world will thank you.

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"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us...Your playing small does not serve the world...As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lesson to be Learned - How are you Really Perceived?


Last night, while sitting on my rooftop, I noticed two things: first, it was getting too dark to read the book in my hand; second, the setting sun was a sight that could rival an impressionist painting. "Must capture," I thought, as I ran downstairs to get my camera.

When I returned to the rooftop and found the best angle to capture the sun, four people stood nearby. I positioned my camera and snapped a few pictures, growing more giddy with nature's little gift as the elongating pink sky intensified, blending yellow into orange into purple.

Suddenly, one of the women in the pack of four noticed my activity and said to her friend nonchalantly, "pretty sky."

What happened next makes me laugh and squirm - the disjoint between intent of perception versus what is actually perceived.

"Well," said the other woman in the pack, standing up straight and looking in my direction, cocking her head to the side with an air of self-importance: "I just got back from Brazil. I saw the sun set every night there."

Now let me comment on the funny connection I made.

Right before I sprinted downstairs to get my camera, the book I had in my hands was the updated version of Groundswell written by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li of Forrester Research. If you haven't read it - it takes a look at how and why marketers are increasingly focusing their time and budgets on social media technologies. And what is so ironic is that the section I had just finished talked about how a company's brand is what its consumers say it is, or quite simply, how it is perceived.

The example given was of a cancer research center called M.D. Anderson that "prides itself on its reputation. If a cancer can can be treated, M.D. Anderson can treat it." Enter next a real-life customer, Lynn Perry, who needs the treatment but has a bad experience with the facility. Each time he goes in, he has to wait for hours. While the center thinks that it is best in class, the reality is Perry just thinks of the M.D. Anderson brand as making him wait (the center's marketing team later worked to change this perception).

Or think about Alaska Airlines, who in the late nineties advertised themselves as the "last great airline" - a perception perhaps not exactly shared by travelers.

"What do your customers think your brand is about?"

Tying this question back to the rooftop Brazil-goer, I am intrigued. This woman made this claim with me in earshot, tossing around her recent experience with myriad perfect sunsets - such that she didn't need to stay to enjoy the one on our rooftop. Who was she impressing?

Yet while M.D. Anderson thought its brand maintained a pristine reputation ringing in 4 stars - Perry's actual perception was of a painful experience. And while the rooftop debutant may have thought she sounded elite, to a listening ear she just sounded pretentious.

If she were a brand, with no real information on how she was externally viewed, she would probably be surprised to hear the reality.

And too bad she didn't stick around to enjoy the sunset. It really was a nice one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Want to Lead? Try Telling a Story


As a wee one, sometimes I would lie in bed and keep myself awake thinking of scenarios I didn't have the answers to, trying to wrap my mind around some concept that was pretty grandiose and pretty difficult to make any real sense of. Like, "what if there was no earth and no planets and no stars and no moon or sun - what would space look like? Just black that goes on forever?" Interestingly, I didn't end up working for NASA...

I guess I haven't stopped this quest to philosophize the amorphous because lately, I've been trying to wrap my head around how the government, the behemoth that it is, communicates change within and to the public and motivates groups or even the masses to take part. In essence, how do leaders within the government or any organization effectively lead?

Along the way of this genre of pondering, I came across this HBR article by Stew Friedman, Professor of Management at Wharton - "How a 2-minute Story Helps you Lead." At large, it discusses how "leaders gain trust and teach people what's important to them by telling stories." It explains that a good leadership story has the "power to engage hearts and minds" and has these 6 essential elements.

1. Draws on your real past and lessons you've learned from it.
2. Resonates emotionally with your audience because it's relevant to them.
3. Inspires your audience because it's fueled by your passion.
4. Shows the struggle between your goal and the obstacles you faced in pursuing it.
5. Illustrates with a vivid example.
6. Teaches an important lesson.

This article reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called "Squirrel, Inc" by Stephen Denning. Maybe akin to delivering a message through the likes of Fraz Kafka's dung beetle in Metamorphosis or George Orwell's pigs, the book is a look at leadership through storytelling. In short, a bunch of squirrels work for a mythical company (no surprise there hopefully) that provides nut burying services. Squirrel, Inc. is having problems because humans are digging up their nuts and more than 50% are lost. The company wants to change its vision to a nut storing business but this has to be communicated within and this poses problems. The book outlines how the squirrels "learn the fine art of change through storytelling in their quest to overcome obstacles, generate enthusiasm, and team-work, share knowledge, and ultimately lead their company into a new era of success and significance."

This idea of leading through storytelling seems to have a compelling truth to it. In our "breakneck speed" society today, "attention is one of the most valuable modern resources." Going back to my childhood tendencies to wrap my mind around amorphous concepts, how do leaders, as Stephen Denning puts it: Persuade people to change? Get people working together? Share knowledge? Tame the grapevine? Communicate who they are? Transit values? Lead people into the future?

Maybe storytelling, and to tailor to our twittering and jittering society today, storytelling in 2-minutes - is something worth trying...

"Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories." Roger C. Shank, cognitive scientist

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nerdism Gone Wild

This morning I read a recent blog post by Casey Coleman, CIO of GSA, called "Innovation Happens." She poses the questions: Have you ever wondered how and when innovation happens? Can managers demand it? Can we put it in our project plans? Can we just re-prioritize it when we get too busy? Is innovation, much like creativity, neither intentional or something we can turn on and off? Does it just happen?

In her blog she references the classic "Google way" in which engineers are granted "20-percent time" to work on projects related to the company but of personal interest. As she notes: "20 percent time is so successful that about half of Google's new product launches originate from what engineers create during their 20-percent time" including Gmail and Google News.

While 20-percent time works for Google, what factors make it a success? Google naturally attracts motivated, curious people and has an open working environment with a substantial infrastructure with technical support - is this type of general culture/environment a prerequisite for success to the degree they have experienced? Certainly, if you are working with a very talented individual and give them some open time to "do their thing" you might get a product of genius - but is this entirely an exception and not any rule that can be replicated to some degree outside of a place like Google?

How about within the government? If Steve Ressler can create Govloop using a Ning platform in his spare time, what would happen if this was implemented even on a small level within agency offices? Does it have to happen after hours? Is it already happening (during the day in an organized way)?

Perhaps this is best answered in Casey Coleman's blog closing: "there's solid evidence that innovation happens when employees have time and opportunity to investigate projects beyond their core duties. That does not mean that managers have lost control, or that employees are not working on behalf of the organization. Not all organizations recognize 20 percent time in their ops plan, but all organizations can create an environment that encourages how and when innovation happens."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Starbucks: Improved Food and Nighttime Coffeehouses


Yesterday, Starbucks gave away free pastries with the purchase of coffee - - if you stopped by from 5:30am - 10:30am and enjoyed this free goodness, wOOt! - if not, next time. The free pastry effort was run in accordance with their "real food, simply delicious" campaign that claims "because we serve the best coffee in the world, we're raising the bar on our food" or so "our coffee cake can sit next to our coffee with pride."

Why does this campaign work?

Food previously = OK. Now, better?


Historically, Starbuck's food has been average to poor in taste and nutritional quality, and certainly for its price. However, often it is purchased out of convenience (you are buying coffee and you are hungry). Yet this type of impulse (or desperate buy) may have been more likely a year ago. Because the economy stinks, and many are saving their pennies, perhaps some are turning their hungry stomachs away from the glass cases and settling for less (food). With this campaign of improved food quality, this self-denial may be out ruled by the dual working forces of a grumbling stomach and a rationalizing mind, some now telling themselves they are getting better quality food for their hard earned dollars and before you know it, voila! a blueberry scone may be on the receipt.

Coffee cake wants to be in the cool club with the coffee!

Starbucks signaling that they are improving the quality of their food to be on par with the quality of their coffee draws attention and reinforces the quality of their...wait for it...coffee - making it more or less the standard to be. In addition, Starbucks admitting that they are aware their food items are less than good calls attention to a weakness, and recognizes that it could be better. This admittance of their flaws in a way humanizes their historically "we do no wrong" corporateness, and in turn potentially makes them more likable. They even go as so far as to openly admit they are listening to their customers and are recognizing and delivering what they want to hear: “it’s great that an industry leader like Starbucks is listening to customers and providing healthier options, while also being transparent about the ingredients in its more indulgent offerings. People want food that tastes delicious, but the definition of ‘healthy snacking’ is changing. People are asking what goes into their food, not just whether it is low-fat or low calorie,” says Keith Ayoob, Ed. D., R.D. at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Taking the "I'm not perfect and want to be better for you" corporate mentality does go a long way. If, of course, it is believed to be true and genuinely benefit the consumer.

What else has Starbucks been up to lately? As this Advertising Age article describes, Starbucks is trying to go back to its roots with a cafe concept, an "inspired by Starbucks coffeehouse" serving alcohol, new food choices, and live entertainment. "Evening revelers can find beer, wine, new food choices, the occasional film screening and a variety of live entertainment, including music, acting and poetry reading."

Here's why I think this could work on a small "test" scale but not across the board...

When Disposable income is down, Disposable income really is down.

Nationwide unemployment rates are high (9.7%). The Starbucks following itself has slowed due to saving pennies so launching a nighttime version of Starbucks with most likely the same expensive stigma doesn't make sense. While many studies have shown that in a recession people like to reward themselves with small luxuries (quality chocolate, movies, even giant Cheetoes), I doubt this should be weighed on too heavily. At the end of the day, people will make choices for their small luxuries and not indulge in everything.

Who is Starbucks aiming these nighttime coffeehouses at? They already have a loyal morning following...

For many Starbucks customers, it is a reliable, friendly place to get coffee on a regular basis. You know the quality you are getting so creativity is not required. Starbucks has noticed that its foot traffic in the evening is considerably slower than the morning or afternoon and in turn is trying to change this with more of a nighttime atmosphere. In the morning and afternoon reliability is usually important because you want a good place to pick something up quickly, or a place to get work done, or meet a potential new employee or a friend, all the while knowing what your experience will be. In the evenings, however, people tend to be more creative, and want to try new things. Getting a regular following who will be willing to wind down every night over a Starbucks glass of wine or beer will probably be more difficult than a crowd who just wants to wind up in the morning without too much thought.

So while Starbucks does have "a core group of consumers for whom the brand is central in their lives" with the budget for it everyday, who else is Starbucks aiming this nighttime coffeehouse at?

As noted in the article, Scott Bedbury, founder of Brandstream and former Starbucks marketing chief, noted that one of the primary benefits of such a concept is maximizing profitability per square foot. Starbucks has been known for its real-estate savvy since day one, but locations generally go dormant after dark. Adding an evening occasion is likely to boost profitability for appropriate locations, particularly if they serve alcohol. He said the concept could be Starbucks' next Frappuccino. Yet what is interesting is that while the Frappuccino opened up a whole new clientele for Starbucks - non coffee drinking adults, adults with a particular sweet tooth, kids, summer travelers, international lovers of the "cool American way" - I am not sure I see the parallel with an alcohol serving nighttime establishment. Serving beer and wine is not innovative in the same way a Frappuccino is.

At the end of the day, if Starbucks is trying to test out a new concept with a small batch of stores - this actually may be a good idea. Most companies try new things all the time to stay cutting edge. And if they can expand themselves and bring in more revenue without a huge amount of output, also, a very smart decision. But if they are trying to do more, and implement this across the board, I doubt the forces will be with them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Passion Required



Some of the simplest things in life provide the greatest, most effortless happiness. I absolutely could not resist posting this video, appropriately called Where the Hell is Matt, which, created back in 2008 has already had 22+ million views. So maybe I am late to the party, but for all who haven't seen it yet, all that is required is to turn up your volume (what the heck, as high as it goes) and a little passion.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Decline of Women in Technology, but Hope Shines Through


Yesterday, I attended the inaugural Mid-Atlantic Women in Technology conference at the Ronald Reagan Building. The morning was kicked off with a keynote by Rebecca Zimmerman, Vice President of Strategic Solutions, @Mind Over Machines. Ms. Zimmerman started off the conversation with the stark reality that there has been an alarming decline in women in technology - both in graduating classes of computer science majors as well as women leaving the IT field.

Hearing these facts made me shift uncomfortably in my chair. I knew the statistics for women in technology were pretty dim. And I have known this for some time (I particularly recall a week long program that was run back in 1996 through the Whitehead Institute at MIT called "Women in Technology" to encourage females in high school with great aptitude to pursue their dreams). But hearing this again, at a Women in Technology conference reminded me that the macro trends are disappointing and seem to be getting only worse.

Luckily this dismal reality was quickly revived with the introduction of two of Washington's most influential leaders in technology, media and government, Katharine Weymouth, CEO of Washington Post Media, and Casey Coleman, CIO of GSA. Katharine discussed the Washington Post and the changes and benefits for the internet age and Casey discussed the rapid transformation of tools to create more efficiency and energy savings within government such as cloud computing (I was shocked to learn that data centers in the U.S. account for 1-2% of our energy consumed).

So yes, while statistically there is a shortage of women leaders in technology, the ones who are in action are doing great things and carry a lot of influence and weight on behalf of others. Casey Coleman and Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA Goddard, for example both regularly share their insights on their blogs, Around the Corner and NASA blogs, respectively.

And if you look hard, there are many more women making great strides in technology. Just as a partial list, consider the following article published in O'Reilly Media.

This conference had a great start. Aside from the outstanding presentations by women who stand as excellent role models, there was an undeniable buzz in the air of women who had just had a "fire lit under their seat." I left feeling extremely optimistic about the passion this group of women has to do great things in formerly more of a man's world and with our current female leaders, we're on the right track. Check out this article on the Most Influential Women in Technology run by Fast Company, if this isn't inspiring, you might have to check if you have a pulse...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ask and You May Receive



Recently, I learned about Mike Honda, Congressman, 15th District California and his initiative to "crowdsource" the redesign of his website. As he explains it himself, "the final design will be chosen based on constituent input, design functionality, usability, and other criteria. I believe that this crowd-sourcing initiative will usher in a new era of government transparency."

This stirred my curiosity as to what design/features the crowd will choose for the winning website and my guessing led me look at my bookmarked list of some of my favorite current government websites whitehouse.gov, utah.gov, army.mil, epa.gov, dtv.gov just to name a few! Take a look and see if you agree.

When I click through this list, I notice that the largest differentiating factor these websites have that others may not at this point is their interactive or "stay connected" element - access to blogs, feedback, flickr, twitter capabilities (even aggregated feeds!), facebook, youtube, subscribe feeds, vimeo, itunes - you name it.

When I consider the reality of these websites having these interactive elements and what this means, I see that in a way, all of these newly created websites were crowdsourced. The government noticed how and where the public was conversing and delivered on these platforms - essentially - they gave us what we voted into popularity by sheer usage.

In this memo Obama issued, he said government should be more transparent, participatory and collaborative. Websites like the ones I mentioned above demonstrate that if you ask (via usage), you may receive. At least it seems so.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"You are Brilliant, and the World is Hiring" - Paul Hawken

As a lover of well-constructed thought, words, and ultimately hope, this is one of the most inspiring commencement speeches I have ever come across.

From the overall theme - YOU ARE BRILLIANT AND THE WORLD IS HIRING - to the concluding paragraph, "the most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it” - I absolutely couldn't resist sharing it.

No concrete solutions or answers here - but maybe instead a big reset on the "perspective" button?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Steve Prefontaine Would be Proud




When there is a need and a leader steps up, good things happen. Such was the case in July of 2006 when Richard Amernick joined a meetup running group and heard that it either needed a new leader or it might go to the ducks. And so the DC Capital Striders came to life.

Now while there is strength in numbers (the group is currently at 1300+ active members), this wasn't always the case with the Striders. In the beginning, through the meetup site, Richard scheduled runs downtown at the Smithsonian metro-stop. Runners of all endurance levels, paces, and strides were encouraged to meet Thursday nights @6:30 sharp for a 4-5 mile run that started on the mall, and took several routes. The Thursday night runs promised to provide good company, sites of the monuments, and some calorie burning activity. And the group grew.

As months went by, Richard started getting requests from current and prospect members to schedule more runs. A Monday night Smithsonian run was added to the calendar and soon "Monday became the new Thursday." Some members decided to run marathons and long runs on Sundays were added to the calendar, often 20+ miles. As more members started to come out, laces tied and carbohydrates ready to be burned, members realized they had more in common than just their Asics. And with this, other events were added to the Capital Striders calendar. In the summer months, tubing outings were planned, pizza dinners were had, and volleyball games were spiked. In the winter, runners made trips to watch the Capitals play at the Verizon center, and touch football games went down, players adorned in sweatshirts and gloves, of course.

500 members, 1000 members... When the number of members began to hit close to 1200 members, Richard realized the group had potential outside of just morning, afternoon and nightly runs and outings. He realized that for all the group gave the runners, there was an opportunity to give back. And so the idea of creating a non-profit, 501(c) was conceived. Incorporating the group of runners would allow the group to work with corporations, donating money to worthy causes. This became a reality on May 15. Shortly thereafter, the Capital Striders had its inaugural 8k race in Georgetown, Washington DC. The race drew over 125 runners, including Michael Wardian, world renowned long-distance runner from Arlington, VA.

Capital Striders schedules fun, casual weekly runs all over the DC Metropolitan area for runners of all endurance levels. Distance runs are scheduled for those training for half, full and ultra marathons. And plans are already in place for the second Capital Striders race, now to be a regular opportunity for all those looking to work on their PR and compete with their friends (and maybe foes too).

In addition to the running, Capital Striders provides non-running related events for members to get to know each other through a variety of activities as well as opportunities for those interested to volunteer at sanctioned races in the area/community.

The Capital Striders Running Group, LLC is a true example of a symbiotic relationship. Runners can meet new friends - "the fastest 200 friends you'll ever make" as said by a long time Strider, get/stay in shape, give back to the community and have something to be proud of. Capital Striders members also get discounts at local running stores and other athletic related businesses.

If you are a crazy runner like the rest of us (or crazy runner wannabe) stop by for a meetup with the Capital Striders. You'll most likely go home with more than just a good workout.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is "Govtube" in Our Future?


In February of 2005, a couple of guys went to a dinner party and shot some videos. After the party they wanted to share the videos and realized there wasn't an easy way to do this (at least this is how the story was said to have started). They guys saw a need and Youtube was founded. The first video that was shot and uploaded to the site was called Me at the zoo.

Now, Youtube is the 3rd most popular website on the internet.

Pretty significant, wouldn't you say?

In terms of social media sharing/transparency within the government, lately I've been thinking about the use of video. Recently I heard Jay Berkowitz, author of 10 Golden Rules, speak and he confirmed my thinking that despite the benefits video can offer in educating an audience or promoting a product, it is the most underutilized channel for information sharing (& not just within the government).

Lately, however, I've been hearing more and more buzz around using video in the government. In fact, today I got an email from Government Computer News for a webinar tomorrow @2pm EDT called "Top 5 Strategies for Using Online Video." The webinar outlines participants will learn:

* 5 Strategies that will help you to make the most of having video on your website
* Real-world examples of how some Government Agencies are already using video on their website both internally
and externally
* The value of viral sharing - enable your constituents to help spread the word and educate the community
* Building a community with online video - Expand your audience for meetings, speeches and announcements
* Educating and informing the community of new programs or laws with online video
* How you can add video to your website quickly and easily

I'm rather curious why video is so underutilized. We blog, twitter, email, photograph...but clearly not as many of us shoot video. Like any public speaker knows, speaking in front of an audience is much more difficult than it looks. Is this one of the roadblocks? Is video simply a format many of us are not accustomed to? Are we concerned about privacy issues? Do we feel for a video to be successful it has to be very well scripted or humorous?

And as the title of my post suggests, I am most interested in finding out if you think there is a real opportunity for video in government? Is Govtube in our future? Do you already use video in your agency or company?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Definitely Delicious


This weekend I indulged in my current read - Setting the Table - The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. The author, Danny Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, or differently put, the brain child of several outstanding restaurants in NYC, Grammery Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park just to name a few.

As I sat on my couch reading, much of his verbiage was as delicious as reading Julia Child's My Life in France, or Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. His description of finocchiona (fennel-flecked salami), eggs daffodil, or spaghetti alla puttanesca is likely to stoke even the most picky of appetites, but for me, there is an element of his book even more delicious than this.

For me, the biggest quintessential yum factor is his observant take on human behavior and what he calls the "51 percent solution" - an individual comprising emotional hospitality. Danny Meyer uses this mindframe when hiring his employees knowing that in hospitality and the restaurant business, his people are his best differentiating factor from other establishments.

5 Core Emotional Skills -> Emotional Hospitality

1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full)
2. Intelligence (not just "smarts" but rather an insatiable curiosity for learning for the sake of learning)
3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done)
4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel)
5. Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgement)

These qualities can aid in the make or break of a fine dining establishment. But Danny Meyer surely doesn't limit the success of this type of individual to the confines of merely "good eats."

(picture compliments of Meghan Petersen, WSJ)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gov 2.0 and Un-marketing - How Far Can it Go?




On the topic of Gov 2.0 and un-marketing, a curious friend of mine, who works within DHS' Customs and Border Control, brings to light some good questions. If Gov 2.0 is to be an example of un-marketing, or even a leader in un-marketing, while solid examples exist already, how much can these examples scale up?

For a company or any entity to demonstrate more of an un-marketing approach, the company/entity has to first listen, engage, and not simply serve up and out. Yet, for this to happen, there first has to be "chatter" around the company/entity - something to be listened to!

With this, I raise two questions/comments.

First, considering the complexity of the entity, how easily do you get the "big picture" via this chatter, and how much chatter does it take to provide helpful insights to he who is listening (the goal of the un-marketing)?

Consider for a moment, how this "chatter" relates to a company with a finite product. Take Nike for example. Nike sells various athletic apparel and sports equipment. While these goods are significant, they are ultimately finite. They serve a purpose and provide the necessary functions to the owner. Not downplaying the significance of a running shoe, for example, it is a fairly straightforward offering and generally elicits fairly straightforward feedback.

To the contrary, the Government is an animal with hundreds of moving parts, the sum of which are extremely complex. In order for the Government to properly "listen" it needs to a) have chatterers with a means to be heard (social media for example) and b) have enough chatterers on a certain subject to get to the "big picture."

Of course, most Americans have some level of opinion on their views of the Government, but historically, there wasn't much of a platform for this openness to occur. In order for the chattering and listening to occur, can the adoption rate get to a level where the un-marketing can result in improved Government offerings and functionality? Hopefully the goal of transparency?

Something I'll be pondering...

And thanks to my friend for his probing questions.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gov 2.0 - An Example of Un-marketing?


Gov 2.0 an example of Un-Marketing?

First, let me recap the notion of un-marketing as it pertains to the commercial marketplace. Historically, corporate marketing has been all about managing the communication of a product or service and dishing it up to an audience that is theoretically listening. Rather than speaking openly, listening to the customer's point of view, or participating in a community, historical marketing aims to carve out a subsection of individuals who are most likely to take to a product or service and become customers. After sufficient data is gathered on customer demographics, consumer behavior, etc, the product/services are positioned and the campaign is launched. Engagement is entertained when the time is right for the company, all with a plan. So, in a sense, everything is controlled and delivered from the "ivory towers." Website content and promotional materials often speak with a purely corporate aura and a nose, eyes, mouth and emotional quotient are no where in sight.

The interesting thing is that a human relationship with a company (as human as a company can be) is often what consumers are yearning for, and is often what turns a consumer into a brand evangelist. If a company only allows for engagement and openness at scheduled times, with a strategy in place, consumers become skeptical. And as Elvis said "we can't go on together with suspicious minds."

Un-marketing on the other hand, is the mind frame of starting with the customer first, and working back towards your product/service. Rather than simply "launching" a product with the "take it or leave it" mentality un-marketing
looks more like this:

- Participate in your community
- Listen to the conversations happening outside of your boardroom (and REALLY listen)
- Allow things to be open and happen as they do, as they will
- Don't try to control everything - relax your grip...

Now, take the Government. The Government, I will add, is an interesting species because not only is it the largest customer in the world, it is also its own entity with different functioning divisions, all marketing themselves. The Government plays the role of customer and provider all the time. Yet consider its past reputation of being vacuum sealed. Information is disseminated and ideas are exchanged, but in reality, considering things at large, an antonym for "open" would be a better description than a synonym. Thankfully, things are changing. Gov 2.0 is opening up channels for discussion within agencies, on social media sites, with the public. For all the naysayers out there - there are solid examples that are hard to dispute. Just consider the conversations going on via GovLoop everyday, the CDC's use of social media tools to disseminate information about the swine flu and peanut recall crisis and their new media website, the EPA's "Take Five" initiative deployed for Earth Day, NASA's spacebook, and hundreds of agency blogs and twitter sites. Also consider the recently launched White House blog page with a Twitter site, and a Facebook page. The Facebook page now has 201,592 fans and re: the launch of the twitter page, 5 minutes after the page went live, it had 585 followers, and within minutes of refreshing had 731 followers...now it has 97,277 followers.

Many are skeptical in considering this notion of Government opening up and social media tools. Yesterday, Andrew Wilson of Health and Human Services presented a webinar titled: Social Media and the H1N1 Flu Virus: Lessons Learned from the Peanut Recall. At one point he mentioned that recently he attended the SXSW conference and described the surprise many from industry exhibited upon learning about all the social media tools the Government is already using!

When it is all boiled down, un-marketing is about listening to your customers, engaging, allowing things to be more open, and quite simply, interacting as a human. The Government is displaying examples of this and I commend the leaders that have this sense of marketing acumen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dont be the Tree that Doesn't Make a Sound


Un-marketing. What? Yes, un-marketing. Or, for the visual among us, consider Company = A, Consumer = B. Now consider this. Traditional marketing? A -> B.
Hope for an entities' success? B -> A.

Lately I've been doing quite a bit of observation and I am noticing some things "going down." With the opening up of information, there is an ever-increasing shift in power from corporations to consumers. Consumers are gaining an ever-increasing voice, and companies better pay attention.

For pretty much the existence of marketing as we know it, there was a flow in place to move a customer from awareness to adoption. A five-step process, including awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, adoption. The AIETA model. Now, also consider the textbook definition of the marketing process, which includes performing each of the following: situational analysis, marketing strategy, marketing mix decision, and implementation & control. There is something very interesting to all of this which Jason Falls, forward-thinking-marketer, catechizes on so nicely: "do you find it disturbing that the customer isn't mentioned in any of the main tenants of marketing thought? The AIETA flow assumes that consumers are just going to follow along. It lends nothing to their needs, just throws the awareness of the product in their faces. And if 'implementation & control' isn't condescending and presumptuous of a company's target consumer, I don't know what is."

Things are changing. In the past, this method of corporate conjuring and creating, tucked up away until the launch of the product like Santa and his elves working all year in anticipation of Christmas eve doesn't fly anymore. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little because companies do perform focus groups and surveys, but still, what kind of opinions are they really getting? Consumers are not senseless lemmings. Consumers want to be listened to, engaged, fed (with information) met where they are, and be respected.

Now consider reality as it exists right now. With the help of social media tools and opening up of data, information, conversation, and truths are becoming increasingly more prevalent (I like how Seth Godin discusses the truths point -"multiple channels of information mean that it's almost impossible to live a lie...authentic stories spread and last"). While in the past, a consumers' voice was left to channels such as word of mouth, the suggestion box, and emails to a company, now consumers have a say. And because consumer A + consumer B + consumer C = consumer ZZZ+, consumers ultimately have more than just a say, they ultimately rule the roost.

Now, of course the shift is gradual. We don't have proletariat consumers rising up against bourgeoisie corporations, but rather with the opening up of information, a more natural shift as consumers find more airtime and start conversing. Perhaps the coolest thing with this is that I believe it helps consumers as they begin to have a voice, and I believe it helps the overall marketplace because for the corporations that have a solid product/service, they will be able to get input from the horse's mouth and improve their offerings based on reality vs. theory. This can be hugely opportunistic for businesses that see things in the right light.

How to implement more un-traditional, un-marketing tactics?

*Put on your listening ears! For too long, businesses have pushed products on consumers without consideration of what they want/need/etc. Take a step back and listen to the buzz. The world won’t stop!

*Make it an A+. The best, most, authentic marketing is when your customers see the value/quality your company or product/service provides. If your customers love you because what you provide is quality, they will spread the word authentically and these stories will be recited again and again...

*Participate (and this doesn't mean create everything and try to control everything). Allow things to grow and reinforce the positives of your brand by consistently incorporating positives into the evolution of your offering. As nicely put by Brian Oberkirch "bake your marketing into the experience of the product, not in discussions of it."

Things are changing. And with the right consideration, there is a surplus of opportunity. But adhering unbudgingly to the old ways of thought may result in a company being tuned out, like a tree in the woods that doesn't make a sound when it falls (because no one is around).

"Marketing, even in its newer, social-media enabled forms, is not about tools or technology, but about the way you look at your customers. That regard for your customers has to be in your DNA, such that you face the hard work of getting out in the trenches and embracing the feedback your customers give you to drive your marketing, customer service, and product development."

-Deb Schultz, Social Media Industry Thought Leader

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Self-Made Twitter


Consider for a moment the self-made man. A man who is given little in terms of concrete opportunities but is introspective about his actions and the paths he chooses to take. He extends himself in ways that germinate results and through positive and negative reinforcement, in turn discovers his own best practices.

I equate Twitter to the self-made man. When Twitter was hatched 3 years ago, like the self-made man, it came into the world without any formal guidance or immediate opportunities. Instead, it was set on its way with the mere question of "what are you doing?" Like the self-made man, Twitter quickly figured out that it would not do particularly well, simply answering the question of "what am I am doing." In other words, Twitter quickly discovered that answering "I am toasting a poptart" wouldn't make the cut. Instead, Twitter evolved with its best practices spurred by its own race for survival of the fittest.

Twitter's platform is nothing more than a couple of rounded edges. Yet because of this, it is constantly churning out do-s and don't-s, chiseling away at its being, defining its features and visualizing its success. Its motivation? Knowing that this is its only hope for success.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Fruitbasket of Opportunity

I haven't heard much of anything good in the news lately - the economy #FAIL, swine flu, Apple raising prices on itunes songs. And I won't even start on the weather as of late. Last time I checked my zip code was in Washington DC, not Seattle.

BUT - being a die-hard half-glass full kind of person I'd thought I'd summarize some of the happy realities I am realizing to be increasingly more true despite all of the dismal doom and gloom we read about everyday in the paper (or maybe more realistically on Twitter).

I've always believed that "good luck" is actually more a matter of "good efforts." Yes, it is true that there is an element of random "right place, right time" with good happenings - indeed, you can be sitting on an airplane at the age of 22 and meet the CEO of your dream job who then recruits you after he registers your value-adding insights and hears examples of your indefatigable work ethic - BUT, this can happen easier, faster, and more repeatedly when constant shock waves of effort are put out there (ie; show up more).

So here's the good stuff in the news right now (at least for me). Indisputably, we live in a world that is becoming flatter, faster, and a place where it is easier to become famous (hello blog-o-maniacs). We are connected from morning till night where you can find out in less than 60 seconds the name of your second-grade teacher's chocolate lab and the last article she read 20 minutes ago - even if you haven't heard a peep from her in 20 years. A few years ago, if you met a cool person at an event and didnt get their number or business card, chances are you'd never be able to hunt them down ever again unless you ran in the same social circles. I remember about 7 years ago Boston.com (the online piece of the Boston Globe where I interned) had a service where you could put messages out on a public forum with hopes that the person you wanted to find would stumble upon your message, look you up, and you'd do great things together, like start dating, or entrepreneur a company, or return the hat they dropped on the train. To me, this sounds like stars colliding. Now, all you have to do to find this person is google them, peruse through their web footprint, and friend them on Facebook.

We now live in an age where opportunity is sent to us in a fruit basket every day, every hour - practically every minute if we're willing to take up the offer. The technologies to connect with people, to express opinions, and to "engage" wait patiently at our fingertips - waiting for us to click return. For people who feel stuck - in anything - there are hardly any excuses. "You miss every shot you don't take." But now there are infinite possibilities with a new definition of "infinite." Want to introduce yourself to a colleague you heard speaking at an event but didn't get a chance to introduce yourself to? Find them on LinkedIn! Want to share ideas with a total stranger whose blog you've been reading but otherwise would never have the chance to meet? Hello GovLoop! Want to put an idea out into the twittersphere and get back ideas otherwise nearly impossible to garner? Tweet away!
Essentially, all that is required here is simply the act of doing so. The technologies are already built and are growing by the nanosecond. Caveat - I guess I am on the side that technology actually does "connect" people vs. leaving them holed up in their house, hunched over their computer, losing basic human interaction skills by the minute.

Social media is re-writing the channels for marketing. For the first time, really ever, customers are voluntarily offering up details about their life, passions, and favorite cereals. And likewise, the channels for opportunity are being re-written. We now have the opportunity to uncover more information than ever before, by simply clicking "Search."

It's like a kid coming from a city of pop. 200 with the only ever before exposed brand being Coca-Cola walking into Walmart for the first time. Technology is opening up infinite channels for conversation, creativity, and curiosity.

The real question is - what will we do with all of it?

PS - of course there are some cons to all of this and obviously nothing is perfect - but I'd rather see good ideas spread than swine flu

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I'm Full of Appreciation on a Rainy Sunday Evening

This morning I woke up before the crow crow-ed to drive to Belle Haven Park in Alexandria, VA. Shortly after 5am, I met my fellow DC Capital Striders Running group teammates to aid at the Belle Haven Marathon. We were stationed along the race course armed to hand out water, power-aid, gel energy-packs and the human touch to the bone-weary runners . When I look back on this morning, in the comfort of my warm apartment, two things are explicitly clear - a) how many people exist "out there" with big hearts who want to "do good" simply for the essence of "doing good" and b) how many people are so appreciative in a fundamental "out-of-themselves" way for those that give of themselves. Both a) and b) provide some light on this gloomy evening because both remind me of the intrinsically good nature of the human spirit.

It was the subtle things that I observed that reminded me of the truths above. I remember seeing a man 65+ at mile 23.8 who stopped at the water station and clenched my hand, salt dried on his temples like war paint and said "thank you volunteer - we can not do this without you" - the man had run 23.8 miles with 2.4 to go and found it in his willowy, exhaustion-tipsy body to make this appreciation known!! And I remember a fellow Capital Strider's volunteer who made it his mission for 6 hours in the rain to get a smile on every runner's face - no matter of the exhaustion - or pain they were in.

While there are acts of "good will" everywhere, at every time, in every capacity, it is extremely refreshing to remember that as long as the human-spirit is, gratitude and the will to repay this gratitude never go out of style.

"One can never pay in gratitude: one can only pay "in kind" somewhere else in life." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Interview with Meghan Harvey of GovLoop.com

1. What do you do exactly at Computech?

Aha - - what do I do exactly at Computech…a solid opening question. First, let me give you a little background on what my company does. Computech is an Information Technology consulting firm serving clients in both the federal and commercial markets. Over the last 30 years, we have provided IT services ranging from development of custom software applications to program management oversight. We’ve worked for a pretty diverse batch of clients – spanning from the Department of Energy to Billy Casper, a premier golf Management Company, to the national telecommunications agency of Mexico (Cofetel). Ultimately, we’re in business to solve the IT challenges of our clients. Now, of course, the IT space is competitive. Large business, small business, the list continues. And all of these companies have something to offer. So how does a company communicate its unique capabilities so it’s not lost in the crowd? This is where my position comes in. I’m the firm’s Marketing Manager, so it’s my responsibility to identify our strongest core competencies and build up a springboard – getting us closer to the right opportunities when they arise. To put this in more concrete terms – on a daily basis I manage our web content highlighting our relevant work, collaborate with sales/BD to produce outreach materials, communicate our initiatives and culture with a quarterly newsletter (fondly called CQ), learn about the needs and pain-points of our potential clients and engage with them where they are, interact in the social media-sphere – listening/creating/responding, and voraciously reading as much as I can about happenings in the news and keep an ear on the water cooler. I love what I do. I consider myself very lucky.

2. What's the best part of your job?

Marketing is my forte and technology is in my DNA (I have what you call a “technology family”). My favorite part of my job is that I work for a technology company in an age where the channels of marketing are being re-written at a pace that is only accelerating. While the core values of marketing (the marketing mix, or four Ps for example), hold steady, new innovation gives new flair to marketing principles, forcing marketers to blaze new territory and get out of the well-worn tracks.

3. What's the worst part?

Technological innovators push the envelope. Yet while this group can “lead a horse to water…”
I just wish everyone loved Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 as much as I do.

4. How has being an active member on GovLoop helped you in your job?

To be more in tune with Government issues from the inside out – the challenges, changing climate, etc. While I find it very helpful to attend industry events, read agency strategic plans, the GovLoop community is an exceptionally concentrated group of individuals dedicated to a common mission. And with the real-time, connected-like-never-before aspect, the opportunity for networking, learning, and collaborating is as blue-skies as it gets. I’ve learned a lot from reading blog posts on GovLoop…and met some pretty cool people…

5. A lot of your GovLoop blogs are related to Twitter, what's the best thing you've gotten from your Twitter experience so far?

Discovering new thought leaders or thoughts in general and having the opportunity to “keep the conversation going” long after an event ends. Also, Twitter allows me to find others near and far interested in the same topics as I am – and Twitter is the best online portal I’ve ever seen with regard to putting something out there and starting a conversation - virally.

6. I see you've used the term, technology anthropologist. Describe that.

As with anthropology being the study of human beings – what are our physical traits…how do we behave…social organization and culture?– I see technology anthropology as the study of how technology evolves over time – and what sticks – and what doesn’t and why, etc. I used the term “technology anthropologist” in my blog about Twitter on its 3rd birthday - Twitter Turns Thwee! – an outline of Twitter’s history from birth to now. By studying the development and behavior of Twitter, perhaps some light will be shed on why and how it grows and morphs and interacts with other technologies and why it survives, doesn’t, etc.

7. If you had ended up in any other profession, what would it have been?

English Professor. Or perhaps a Social Psychologist with a keen interest in technology…

8. Where do you see the immediate future of IT and Government going over the next year?

With the Obama Administration pushing the transparency envelope, and increasingly more agencies picking up blogging, Twitter, Facebook – and seeing the value in making data open – I think the Gov 2.0 frontier will continue to gain momentum slowly but surely. Of course Gov 2.0 and security will have to be balanced and the policies drawn up – but as Sonny Bhagowalia, CIO of the U.S. Department of the Interior said last week at a Bethesda AFCEA Chapter Breakfast – the “law of entropy finds a way,” in that “if you’re not going to provide a solution they will…” (I am not sure of his exact wording, but this was the general message conveyed).

9. I always ask this, what book are you reading right now?

Of the pile of books on my floor, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business – is on top. Written by Danny Meyer, CEO of one of the world's most dynamic restaurant organizations and owner of 11 restaurants (including Gramercy Tavern, my personal favorite), this book is centered on the concept of what he calls “enlightened hospitality.” This is not to be confused with “service” which is “the technical delivery of a product.” He aims to hire people with skills divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. He describes the "Five A-s" for addressing mistakes: awareness, acknowledge, apologize, act, additional generosity. I find this book thought-provoking, especially in light of the economic down-turn and the increasingly competitive landscape companies are facing. As things shake up and out, it seems logical that the firms that have the highest quality product/service with the best delivery/experience weighted as equally important, will be the ones best positioned to weather the waves.

This notion of being customer-oriented vs. product-oriented reminds me of a timeless article titled "Marketing Myopia" by Theodore Levitt, who was then a lecturer in business administration at the Harvard Business School. In this article Levitt introduces the famous question of “what business are you really in?” Quite famously, he uses the U.S. railroads as an example. He expresses that “the railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented.” Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia” won the McKinsey Award in 1960.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Good Things Come in Threes

Good things come in threes. Tic-tac-toe, yada, yada, yada, small, medium, large, blah, blah blah, NBC/CBS/ABC.

Lately I've been thinking about "how best to use Twitter." In considering this, I start to ponder on the basics of "why tweet?" and other slightly existential topics. When I consider this my mind drifts to conjuring up endless possibilities and essentially the absolute abstract. Luckily, good things coming in threes saves me (or brings me back to solid ground).

Consider the framework below (compliments of Ogilvy's 360 Degree Digital Influence group).



What I like most about this framework is the essence of the Follow / Create / Engage. Given this framework, a tweeter can address pretty much any strategy and as long as these basic three elements are paid attention, good results will probably follow. What is interesting is that these three channels through which a tweeter can concentrate his efforts are not too far off from the elements necessary to maintain any strong friendship or relationship with an organization. Hence, while Twitter is incredibly innovative and is proliferating like mosquito larvae in a spring swamp, when considering what the benefits are of twitter, or how best to twitter, or even "why tweet?" the answers are actually quite fundamental.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Birds of a Feather Redefined

Before social media, when transparency was considerably less in vogue, aquiring new customers and serving the needs of loyal already existing customers was not an easy feat and there certainly were not many options for conquering this feat. In order to aid this process, marketers formulated methods such as segementation, and even sub-segmentation to narrow down their target audiences and best utilize resources. In order to best identify segements within the population, different software tools became imperative so a business was not aiming blind-folded. Software tools identifying different geodemographics became a necessity, clustering people with the same zip code or census blocks into a segment. The premise of this segmentation was that people who live near each other are like "birds of a feather" having similar needs and wants. A marketing campaign was devised, and different flocks were targeted.

Consider the following story. Recently, on Twitter, I tweeted that while each morning I have many choices of shampoo to pick from, I continuously keep coming back to Pert Plus. Within 45 minutes, Pert Plus was following me. Now, consider what this means for Pert Plus.

A) they know that I am a loyal consumer of their product
B) they know I am female
C) they know that I am probably in the age range of 20-40 (from my picture, or elsewhere)
D) they know my name (one name down out of that flock! - - surely an improvement from geodemographics)
D) they know whatever else my bio highlights

...the list keeps going on depending on how much mining and interpretation you can do.

The same goes for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

I am the Marketing Manager for Computech, an IT firm. While we do not sell a product targeting consumers, knowing our customer is still just as important (whether it is an agency we are contracting with, or a potential new employee that will make us more robust). As the following grows, learning how to engage with the listening ears, asking questions, responding to questions, and in turn redefining/refining a better service, experience, outcome seems to be a social media path worth forging.