Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the spectrum of positive-negative

I was talking with a friend at work today who is going through a tough time. Heart-wrenching stuff that makes you remember you are alive because the pain is so bad. Earlier this morning I read something in a book I skim every now and then about "negativity". The author's premise was that it is only humans who actually feel and sometimes dwell on the negative. Other living beings just "are". He asserts that negativity is totally unnatural, and no other life form knows it. It's a psychic pollutant. Ever see an unhappy flower? Or a stressed out oak tree? What about a stressed or depressed dog? Maybe in the moment, but I think the author was right - in no other being does it last beyond the immediate situation. It's really just we inferior humans with this developed capacity to dwell on the past, obsess about the future, second guess our decisions, and just generally live anywhere but the present.

This makes me think of my dogs, and their view on the world. One of them has an irritated ear at the moment (Olivia). I needed to treat it with some stuff to help it heal. She's smart enough to know that when I picked up the squeeze bottle containing the medicine and then a paper towel, and called her to come to me, it couldn't be good. But, she came anyway. Sure, a little more slowly, and with her tail at half mast. Once the treatment was complete, she shook her head, looked up at me, and twirled in her characteristic circles that mean some version of "I love you and am really glad I'm yours!".

Two minutes later, in her little world it was all over, and she went back to her happy self, no feeling sorry for herself, or holding a grudge. Just being. Another simple lesson from these four-legged creatures we share the planet with. And another reminder that some of the things that come with being evolved humans may not be so evolved at all. If negativity is unnatural, then I vote for the back to nature approach. Life in this environment and economy is tough enough without piling any more on.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creative entrepreneurship

Walking through the RV park yesterday late afternoon I noticed an older couple sitting outside their rig. He was carving wooden figures and his wife was painting what he carved. Sucking on a cold Corona as the knife glides over the soft wood - schlick, shclick, schlick, he shapes the next wooden figure, no doubt playing out their stories in his mind as each one takes shape.

They are working on what looks to be a nativity scene, appropriate now that it's the day after Thanksgiving. Beneath the table where his wife is painting each figure is a large family of wooden animals, sitting proud. And on the chair next to her, just hanging out, is a fat and happy orange tabby cat, who barely raises her head as the dogs and I walk past.

What I loved about this brief snapshot of their life is not only their ease and comfort with each other, but their shared creations. RV parks are great for this. Life on the road brings out the resourcefulness and creativity in people. I've seen more homemade tools, gadgets and gizmos made by RVers than you find at most street fairs. And I've learned to grab them when I see them, because like the people who make them, they are always one of a kind.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do you ever wonder ... what will be the point?

The Point
What will be when I am gone
That wasn't before I was?
What am I that never was
Before I walked this land?
A feeling, a sense, a smell my own
A symbol to be discovered?
What will be the point to this life I lead
When I am dead and gone?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day - the best day of the year in America

Thanksgiving Day 2009, 7:15am. I'm walking the dogs to the dog run in the RV park and already the festivities have begun. An older couple, in their 70s maybe, walked out from the pool and restroom building just behind the dog run. She has a large measuring bowl in her hand, and what looks to be a small bag of flour. My guess is the makings of her Thanksgiving gravy.

"Good morning," she says, as Isabelle and I pass by on our way to the run, "and Happy Thanksgiving," she follows up with a broad smile, as her husband tips his hat to me. Thanksgiving Day in America is the best day of the year. Less pressure than Christmas and all about family and friends.

The first year were were living here over Thanksgiving we were surprised by how many of our American friends called us throughout the day to wish us Happy Thanksgiving. By year two we had caught on to the tradition, and had our call list all figured out. This is a day full of tradition, and one that truly brings out the best spirit in everyone.

Families do what they can to travel to get together, much more than we do in Canada. And families expand on this day as well, to include neighbors, "orphan" friends and anyone who needs a place to feel loved and cared for. It is something special.

Today in Emerald Desert RV Resort groups of RVers will get together to share tradition and celebrate. They will pull their chairs together in a circle, and others from surrounding sites will pull theirs over. The hosts will likely provide the turkey - I saw a couple deep fryers ready for action outside some big rigs this morning. And the guests will bring yams, salads, vegetable dishes and of course pumpkin pie. There will be wine and laughter and stories.

It's now 7:45am, and Pam is relaxing on the couch, croqueting a scarf for Sarah for Christmas. The dogs have settled in for the morning, on the other couch, the brown donut dog bed, and Olivia, right by my feet. The cats are in their beds on the wide dash, cleaning themselves and watching bugs fly by. I'm enjoying a cup of Thanksgiving Blend coffee.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9:00am, from NYC. Then there will be football games all day long. This year we're told the networks are breaking with tradition and airing a third game in the afternoon. Usually there are only two.

Later this morning we will take a walk through the park and watch people setting up their dinners. There are decorations out at some rigs, and extra chairs put out, evidence of more friends and family expected to arrive throughout the day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's our community - we are ONE, 2, 3 family of riders.

Today was our monthly Star Chapter 123 ride (a group of mainly Yamaha cruiser riders who get together and ride the back country of San Diego and Riverside counties). It was the chapter ride where we needed to nominate candidates to stand for 2010 President. We have the best president ever, in Don Davis, and every year when it's time to nominate candidates for the position our Vice President, Steve Thompson (also the best VP ever) sets the stage with a comment that usually goes something like, "Anyone who wants to nominate someone other than Don for president needs to get by me first". If you knew Steve, you would appreciate what a super friendly, easy going guy he is, even with his strength, size, and position as a police detective. He's only kidding about the threat, but he's not really kidding when it comes to his desire to keep Don where he is.

I didn't ride today, recent surgery meant I followed along in the sports car at the back of the line of 30 bikes. This was an incredible view, watching the harmony and flow of 30 bikes with great riders in formation winding around the twisty roads, and up and down the hills as we crossed canyons. Zen for sure, until I got separated at a light from the string of bikes and had no idea where they'd gone. Our fearless tail gunners Tim and Julie pulled over and waited until I caught up, then we headed on. They have a tough job, along with our other tail gunners Yosi and Maryanne, Roy, and Judy, blocking traffic when we pull out of a gas stop so 30 bikes can head out together safely, and when someone has trouble or falls back, it's their job to stay with them and work things out. Today it was their job to keep their eyes out for a straggling 350Z!

Perhaps it was because I wasn't actually riding today, so I was slightly removed from it all, but I observed a quiet calm leadership, and a rhythm to the unwritten and unspoken rules of our road. Don sets the rules and this large group, family really, follows them with ease. He is calm, firm, and clear. No apologies, it just is. Whether it's who holds other positions like Treasurer, Secretary, and his trusted VP, or who will shepherd first time riders. Our group is so large now that 30 bikes are hard to get out of the city and onto the open country roads. As Don explained his new thinking of splitting us into 2 groups for the first leg of the ride, no one flinched. He made it clear that in Star 123 there are no cliques - we are ONE, 2, 3 - ONE group, ONE family.

And we are.
There could have been jockeying for position, or sideways glances. Not in 123. It's just the way it is going to be, stated calmly and clearly. We have a group as diverse as the human race itself I am sure - police, teachers, fire fighters, a rocket scientist, nurses, business owners, engineers, legal aid workers, custom bike accessory sales managers, military (enlisted and retired) from all branches, including a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marines, but when it comes to leadership everyone is clear about the rules of our road. No one pulls rank. No one throws 'tude or plays politics.

Maybe it's the throaty purr of the engines on the bikes we ride, or maybe it's just that everyone is thankful for each other's friendship and community. Whatever it is, we all know at the start of the day, or after a stop on the way, when Don picks up his helmet and walks toward his bike, not a word spoken, it's time to ride. Tail gunners hold firm in their position, and we pull out in formation and head on down the road.







Thursday, November 12, 2009

The beauty and fear of enthusiasm

Have you noticed there are people in life who just seem to be born enthusiastic? Their energy and passion is on the surface in everything they do. Being in their space is invigorating. They smile a lot, they laugh, and they don't take themselves too seriously, usually. Pure beautiful enthusiasm can seem like a lens they look through to see the world. If they let it be pure.

Enthusiasm never opposes. It is not confrontational. It's activity doesn't create winners and losers. It's based on inclusion not exclusion of others. That's the beauty!

But there is a fear that I've experienced sometimes making itself visible and destructively powerful in the face of enthusiasm. For some maybe it's the fear of being too slow. Or of looking stupid, or of not understanding the source of the enthusiasm. Or the fear of being swept up then left behind in it. Fear is ego, it takes and makes everything personally, which means emotion arises, defensiveness, wanting.

Egoic wanting creates opposition in direct proportion to the intensity of its wanting. Whatever harmed us, whatever we miss, or lack. For some of us its bigger than others. And so is the opposition.

The ego's wanting tries to take from something or someone. Enthusiasm gives of its abundance. Enthusiasm never opposes.

Am I sounding cryptic? Preachy? Metaphysical? Yes.

What I am is really thankful for is the enthusiasm in me. I share this simply to honor that and fill the well back up. And to remind myself to stay alert and aware to the many human foibles we all carry, to have patience, empathy and when things get cloudy ... take out the cleaning cloth and wipe off the lens!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Design is being democtraized


I read a quote from star designer Karim Rasid that went like this: "Design is being democratized. Our entire physical landscape has improved and that makes people more critical as an audience." If that is true, and I believe it is, then how does a car like this one - the Nissan Cube - make it off the production line?

Seriously?

An asymmetrical spin on the "toaster" that is Toyota's Scion, it's as crazy as the juxtaposition of the Eiffel tower with a temple in Kyoto don't you think?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Keep to yourself, or break your "flow"?

Some of you responded to my previous post that you were better able to engage with strangers when in a positive mood. Someone else said they didn't think they were that good at it, and someone said they couldn't do it if they didn't have time. I think that's it - we are perennially out of time, or at least we have convinced ourselves that our time is better spent taking care of business or doing something else.

Again Beth, thank you for the question and the fodder for further discussion:
“Where and when did it become so important to keep to one’s self? When did all strangers become bad?”

When life got busier and more complex for most of us, and we are unaccustomed to the stresses it creates. The promise of technology freeing us and creating more leisure time has not happened. People are impatient, stressed out, forever multi-tasking and left with little time to enjoy others around them. It’s all true, and it’s reality today, but people, turn it off! Flip the switch and give yourself a break and some space to connect with the person beside you.

Today in the grocery store I watched a young mother with her two boys, one was probably three, and his younger brother was maybe just two and having a melt down at the yogurt fridge. As he was melting down she was saying, “Time out. You are having a time out,” and she was sending a text message on her iPhone at the same time, really only 1/3 paying attention to her hysterical son. I arrived too late to see the precipitating incident but I did see him slapping her iPhone and yelling “No Mommy.” Who knows if he was mad because she was ignoring him or some other reason.

Then I got to the check-out stand and the man behind me was having a conversation on his cell phone, ignoring the person behind him who was straining to reach past him to grab the latest issue of Time magazine. Ironic I thought.

There is no down time.
We are on the go constantly. We “short cut” with friends we know well when telling stories, and don’t have the patience for those who can’t keep up. I do it, and I see it everywhere.
If I’m in line at the store on a stop on the way home I don’t want to be “interrupted” by having to converse with the person behind me. I just want to grab my bag of cat litter and head home. God help the slow driver in the parking lot making the 3-point turn to get into a spot if they are behind me when I’m ready to leave!

Strangers have become “bad” perhaps because they get in the way of our flow. And we’ve let our flow become paramount – arrogant almost, and anything that interrupts it is a nuisance to be avoided. I even see it in the coffee room at work and that makes me very sad.

We can learn a lot by interrupting our own flow and getting into someone else’s. I made up a customer service game a couple years back that I named “Walk in their shoes”. I found pictures of tons of different types of shoes, cut them out and laminated them into cards, then challenged members of our front line teams to grab a card blindly and create a story about the person whose shoes they were, then get into character and “live” that story. The other members of the team had to stay open, flexible and accepting, ready to deal with whatever the story was the person “wearing the shoes” brought in that day. It was amazing how hard it was to get outside our own preconceived space, and in this case a “script” to really listen, and engage with another person’s story.

Take a moment, slow down, and connect with each other. I’m thankful for the things I discover when I do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stranger connections - the lost art of being kind for kind's sake alone

My friend Beth posted something on her Facebook page yesterday that went something like, " Why are strangers so surprised when you do something nice?". Great question, but sad. I've started a little experiment of late, I make a point of starting a REAL conversation with people I don't know just because. Not the "how are you?" lame question when you don't really care about the answer. One of my faves is, "How's your day going?". It's revealing to check out the way people respond. Or sometimes, "How's your life?".

I do it when I call restaurants to make reservations, or when I get my coffee at Starbucks. The majority of people have no idea how to answer, and some actually freak a little bit out. But on occasion there will be some who love it, and really want to talk, and engage. From those people I have learned a lot of new things that I would not have otherwise. The sad truth of it is we have lost the art of conversing with people we don't know. I mean real conversing, not the basics that are required to fill an order, reserve a table, or drop off a car for service. Conversation about the world at large, not related to the task at hand.

As the world gets larger, it actually gets smaller if we don't reach out and push our comfort zone, or spend a little extra time connecting with the person next to us. We are losing the opportunity to be exposed to different points of view, or new ways of thinking about life. I do it in line-ups too, and that is the best! The person behind me who I strike up a convo with can't get away. They either love it and we pass the time in ways neither of expected, or they hate it and I am the crazy woman who started talking to them about nothing. Fun!

When I thought about Beth's post yesterday, it took me back to an experience I had earlier this year at a CVS pharmacy, and the collateral damage to people's self esteem this kind of disconnected world we live in can cause. I can't re-create what happened better than just quoting directly from my journal, so here goes:

"Jan. 5, 2009

Tonight at CVS we picked up Pam's Nexium prescription and bought some Christmas ornaments for next year. I saw a security guard that made me sad. She was a white-haired, short, round, overweight woman wearing her jacket with its "American Private Security" with pride. She had on a camo hat, the kind the with fuzzy flaps that come down over the ears. She stood in line in front of us, a one dollar bill in hand to buy a snack pack of fried pork chips.

As she approached the til she spotted a penny on the floor, which she clamped her big boot on and dragged it up to the counter with her. Then she spotted another one, and bent down to pick them both up before heading back outside into the cold night to lean against a lamp post in the parking lot and eat her fried pork chip dinner.

We passed her as we drove away. She dipped her head in a nod to me, then looked away quickly - almost as if she was shielding herself from the painful possibility that I wouldn't acknowledge her back."

How sad. I think it will only continue down this path of disconnectedness, but man oh man it's fun to try and stop the slide.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Your Moral Compass - helping to see the other perspective

I love UTNE Reader. Some will say its pompous and academic. Or that it has a decidedly Liberal view (true). Either way, every month there is a gem in the writings within that makes me think. The Sept/Oct 2009 issue's cover story proclaims the end of attack politics (will never happen), and the story behind it was awesome, only because it is the clearest example of foundational impulses we all have that make up our views on the world - our morals and values if you will.

Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia scholar makes the case that liberals and conservatives inhabit different moral universes, though there is some overlap in belief systems, there are huge differences in emphasis. To make his point, he developed a framework that codifies humankind's morality.

Which way you land on these five moral impulses gives a good indication of where you will fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

HARM/CARE: It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
FAIRNESS/RECIPROCITY: Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.
IN-GROUP LOYALTY: People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
AUTHORITY/RESPECT: People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.
PURITY/SANCTITY: The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

So when the Pope rails against materialism, he's speaking up for the traditional purity/sanctity view. Of all five moral impulses, this one causes the most friction it seems, between cosmopolitan liberals and traditional conservatives. It seems to me to be the root of the gay marriage battle, and before that the abortion rights fight. I can see if someone is hard wired to believe that living a higher more noble life, beyond the more individually focused life of the 21st century, then this compass could tell you the values shifts we see taking place today are wrong. They're not wrong. They're simply evolving with the changing times.

As a Canadian living in the US I can see some differences in how the Canadian social system is based on universally caring for all, versus the more "everyman for himself" values I see here. That is at the root of the differences in our health care systems. No judgment intended here, just observation. "Socialist" gets thrown around a lot in the media right now about the notion of a publicly-funded health care system in the US. To me that's just taking care of each other. Just a different view of true north on the moral compass. Taking the time to understand what's behind how we roll up into our views of the world makes the rhetoric of the polarizing arguments even more pathetic!

Take the test and see where you land, at: www.yourmorals.org

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Turkey day

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family. Today is Thanksgiving Sunday, and tomorrow is a stat holiday in Canada.

Why is the day we celebrate Thanksgiving different in Canada and the US? Did the pilgrims hit land above the 49th parallel then head back out to sea only to hit land again south of the 49th six weeks later? It has never made sense to me.

Anybody out there know why this is?

But I can tell you here in the US of A turkey day signals "the holidays" which amounts to a six week period between turkey day and New Year's Day. The vibration in everyone slows down. And already now (I noticed it last weekend actually) there are Christmas ornaments for sale in the Hallmark store. When I asked the clerk about it she told me they start putting stuff out for Santa's arrival in July. No wonder by the time the end of December arrives I am over it all!

So, anyone know the significance of why Canada and the US eat their celebratory turkey in thanks 6 weeks apart?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reclaiming pieces of you

Ever notice how there are times in every day where someone or some situation from your past creeps forward from the depths of your memory, giving you a gift, or a lesson from that previous moment in time? We are the sum of the parts of our previous experiences and people whose paths have crossed ours and left more than an impression. They have left pieces of them, in each of us.

Some call it deja vu.

I think it's more about the grand connections we all have. I am made up of pieces of those who have left their impressions on me. Good and bad.

Some call it genetics. Like the time I was a 9 year old (I think, not exactly sure of my age) and I was walking down the dusty street in front of my grandmother's house in the small town where my father was raised. An older man walking along the same street approached me and said, "You are Milan Slavik's daughter aren't you? You look just like him. You walk just like him". My dad died when I was a small child so that was a moving moment in my life, one of many similar ones I have had since. That man was referring to the physical pieces of me that came from my father. They are very real.

But there are those other pieces of each of us that have come from others whose lives we have shared. Think about it. Those formative years, or those middle aged crisis years when it feels like you are re-defining who you are. Let's face it, we are social beings and we constantly take from and give to each other.

I just love that. I will be a better person because there are pieces of me from so many incredible sources.

What are your interests? Your gifts? Your loves? Your pet peeves? All developed over time as you relate to the world and the people who share it with you. That's what I am talking about - reclaiming those precious pieces of you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Warmer, fuzzier, friendlier logos a sign of the times?

The image below is the new Walmart logo, in use for the better part of 2009. It's a shift from the previous version in a few dramatic ways. The old one was darker blue, the letters were in all caps (shouting) and there was a star icon separating the Wal from the Mart, like the asterisk does here: Wal*Mart. So what right?




The new logo is softer, lighter, fuzzier and friendlier. Some would say a needed change and a sign of the times. The addition of the tagline, "Save money. Live better" certainly is a sign of the times, just like the PC commercials running, in an attempt (as yet unsuccessful) to steal market share from Apple by showing how a PC can be cool AND cost under $1,000. Bill Marsh wrote a bit about this in his Ideas & Trends column earlier this summer in the New York Times.

Another example he gave is the change in the Kraft Foods logo. I grew up with the Kraft logo of old, dark blue all cap letters, in that thick red outline box with beveled edges around it. It graced the boxes of KD I ate in first year university when food budgets were tight. What a change Kraft has gone to in their new logo, below. Light, airy, open, colorful, friendly. Even the tagline is an opportunity to make the most of the day - "make today delicious".







These astute marketers and the creatives behind the changes are in touch with the times, and in touch with what I believe to be a lasting change in our culture today. One more humanistic, more open, more accessible. We've all heard the adage, "customers are more in control than ever before" and it is true. What these changes in corporate identity tell me is these companies are realizing that control isn't just about media usage and having the ability to Tivo out commercials, or select news feeds to be sent directly to in boxes.

Perhaps this added customer control is also about wanting to not accept all the negative, and to just find a few little ways to feel better. No emblems of distant, cold, standoff-ish behemoths. Give me non-threatening, reassuring, even playful logos. Faces of friends. Those of you on the more traditional side of the spectrum here, please don't misread this. I am not saying we are becoming a bunch of soft, unaccountable, come-as-you-like-do-as-you-pleasers.

I am saying that life can be a whole lot more fun, and I believe ultimately more productive and sustainable long-term if you come at it in a more open, inclusive, inviting way. That's what I read in these logos and the thinking behind the change.



Thursday, August 20, 2009

Speak true. Live free.

I have violated the cardinal rule of blogging - by not posting anything for more than a month. Forgive me, anyone out there who is waiting to see what comes next (all 10 of you and anyone you pass this to). The truth is I have scrawled notes on all shapes and forms of bits of paper, backs of boarding passes, in the margins of my journal and from news bites I read or watch. I have just not had the brain time to pull anything coherent or interesting enough to use this space.

It has been a busy 6 weeks or so, summer friends and family visiting Southern Cal, and a higher vibration at work as we prepare for 2010 business planning, all the while still hoping to live that long.

One thing I learned years ago, first by seeing what NOT to do in my first real big business job, and then by seeing what TO do by learning from an amazing mentor, is that as a leader in any environment your behavior and your energy can really set the stage for how everyone on a team relates, performs and feels.

If you are hierarchical, closed and threatened by another's opinion you will close down, or shut them out. Not only does this wreak havoc on morale, it also eclipses any opportunity for cross-discipline sharing, building and learning - if everything is kept in linear order, in check and in silos. I had a superior (not a direct boss) who led like that and people feared her, disliked her and operated on the premise of only doing the bare essentials. She was miserable, it showed on her face and in her walk. It showed in the way she chain smoked (remember it was 15+ years ago now, so that was a more common event). But she went through her day thinking she was the boss and she had the power, and somehow she thought that meant she could control people and tell them what to do or not. She was the kind of leader who would ask you your opinion, then if you disagreed with her, you were punished or excluded from further discussion. I can write this story now, all these years later as the statute of limitations must for sure be in effect.

Then in another large corporation I experienced the opposite. I worked with an inspiring, inspired leader. He was confident enough in himself that he wanted new ideas to come from anywhere, and it really didn't matter. He worked hard, laughed a lot, always said thank you for a job well done, had a great sense of humor, walked super fast, was always the first one in the office at 7am each day and clearly loved his work and his life. It showed in the respect he gave everyone around him. He loved nothing more than when the team was successful, and that success was defined by innovating a new product or strategy to steal market share from our biggest competitor across the valley, or being first to market with a new idea. More times than not, he stood back and basked in the success and gave the credit to the person who came up with an idea, or built on one to get to the next level. The team succeeded, he succeeded, and none of us ever really cared who got credit. There was no "inner circle" or excluded ones - there was just the work and that's what we focused on. He pushed me to the edge a time or two with his high expectations. When I thought my marketing plan was the most complete ever written, he challenged me to go deeper - not by telling me or inferring I was stupid or doing it wrong, but by telling me I could dig deeper still and learn a lot more. He gave me the personal challenge, and put his faith and confidence in what I could do. And he wasn't threatened or insecure about whatever the results might be. He was right, and I worked the many extra hours and made tons of phone calls to decipher our competitors' strategies.

So why the blather? Because we are in the midst of a tough time right now economically and it is these times that test us all. What kind of leader will you be? I work hard to be the second, and to give to the team members I work with the same gifts David Barry gave to me. I know I am not nearly as focused, grounded or intelligent as he. But when I am pushed off my center these days I just remember the things he taught me. Focus on the work. Support each other. Stay open. Share the credit. Be nice, it's a lot more fun. Have a sense of humor. Appreciate people's gifts and their faults and work with them both. And to paraphrase one of my favorite performers - Speak true. Live free.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

E-mail blunder causes erosion of human decency

I was sitting in my hotel room in Houston this afternoon innocently working away, preparing for a conference call when I received my first UNSUBSCRIBE!!!!!!! message about 3:07 p.m. from someone on a list who wanted off. I ignored it as spam and kept working. Then another arrived, and another and another, until I counted upwards of 50 messages from people involved in a thread, trying to "unsubscribe" from the original email sent out a few hours earlier.

The problem was, the small business who had sent out the original message had inadvertently included (in the CC field for all on the original message to see) the name of their distribution list which therefore went out with their original offer message. So as people tried to unsubscribe by hitting "Reply All" to the message, their message went back to the originator AND all the folks on the dist list in the CC field. And you can imagine the comments as we all then began getting these messages in addition to the first one.

It just got nasty.
Here's an example. I have hidden the name of the person who wrote this, because I can't believe they would be proud of this statement: "You dumbasses. If you're going to spam a bunch of people be smart enough to do a BCC so that assholes don't reply to all of your clients. Now all of your clients have to read my vulgar email. Anyways, take me off this shit hole list as well."

And that is so incredibly sad. First problem was no one actually took the time to READ the unsubscribe instructions, and then when they starting getting re-sent around by people in the e-mail loop those people also saw fit to Reply to All again and kept making the situation worse.

Flames were thrown. Egos were flexed. People threw insults at others they have never and will never meet, and it degenerated into some of the worst examples of nameless faceless online communication I have seen in a long while. Truly, what gives the medium a bad name.

So I calmy decided to assume that it was a mistake, and sent an email to an address I could easily discern was the originator (sales@urbanlighting.net) that went like this:

Hi there;

I am sure someone over there has their tail between their legs after the fiasco of today, since it appears you likely built a building industry list (maybe from PCBC?) and have sent an eblast and CC’d your specific distribution list (friendsofurbanlighting) who are now all sending emails back to get off the list.

Here’s an idea that would make you a great corporate citizen and give you a chance to regain your reputation and apologize for the mishap – send another email to your ENTIRE list, telling them you have UNSUBSCRIBED them all, and that they will NOT need to reply to UNSUBSCRIBE, that you have done that for them.

Then maybe the madness will stop. I have received probably 40+ messages from people on your list in the past 4 hours.

Please really consider this solution – tell them you have taken them off the list, and DON’T cc your distribution list, so if someone decides to reply to you it is only YOU who gets it.
Thank you.

Teri Slavik Tsuyuki
SVP, Chief Marketing Officer


No one but the person I addressed it to had to see it, and I simply took a shot that they would want the advice. Someone wiser than me, when I ran my small business for 10 years, once taught me of the value of just owning up to it when you make a mistake like this in public, and though it is scary at the time (remember the Tylenol scare in the 80s?) it is better in the long run.

Regret. Restitution. Reform.
Not 15 minutes after hitting "send" on my email I had a call on my cell from a guy named Tim at Urban Lighting, who sounded like he was having the worst day of his life. Not only did he PROFUSELY apologize, and explain what happened, but he thanked me for taking the time to give him some advice, and asked me how I thought people on that list would receive it if he sent them an apologetic email. I suggested he might want to get some PR or marketing help in crafting the message, but that if done right, and quickly I hoped it would defuse the situation.

I hope I am right, because the kind of vile and immature comments flying around from folks who received the initial message were unbelievable. The guy made a mistake. Even those who thought they were "helping" left a lot to be desired when it comes to decency, and a little critical thinking to actually solve the problem.

It is an interesting study in the anonymity of online communication, yet again, and it is still unfolding.

For Tim's part, I may not be in the market for lighting in the near future, and yes I was choked by the email onslaught just like everyone else, but the fact he wanted to make reparations, and the tone in his voice when he called made me remember the cardinal rule of life - let's not forget basic human decency. He deserves a little respect and he has mine. So I'm saying a little prayer for a guy running a small business who just tried to embrace the technology and made a little blunder. No one died. No one lost an eye.

And I'm hoping those who saw fit to forget human decency in their responses never get treated the way they treated Tim and his team today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bumper sticker recruits Twitter followers in traffic

If you don't know someone there are still many good reasons why you would follow them on Twitter. I get the obvious reasons, if you are trying to build your business, create a larger network, or start a community based on shared interests.

But just following them because they drive the same route you do everyday and sit in the same traffic seems a bit of a stretch for the online social media "community" don't you think?

That feels like social media loneliness to me, and reminiscent of the "masses of asses" direct marketing approaches of old.

Or maybe it will transform Twitter into another online dating service, allowing drivers to pick people up based on the make, model, year and color of their car?

If you are curious, get your own Tweet My Bumper sticker here. I know I am going to be wathcing for them, if for no other reason than the sociologist wants to see what else forms of it.

http://bit.ly/12NR6h




Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In memory of Lucas, best dog ever 09/24/97 - 06/23/08


Dogs can teach you so many things. My sweet precious boy Lucas, when diagnosed with adeno carcinoma, had just one month left to teach me some of the most important lessons ever. Lucas knew these intimately and lived them every day. I am still his student.

Things you've taught me:

Always show your deep love and devotion when someone you love enters the room.

When there's a crowd, hang back but be near and strong in your commitment.

Forgive quickly, easily and completely so you can love the next moment.

Enjoy absolutely everything you can to the fullest, and show those around you your joy - even at the simplest things.

Be free and giving of your love and support when someone you love is hurting and distressed. Come to them on their terms to help.

Keep playing, even when you may not want to, and show those who love you that it matters to them.

Come when you're called, no matter how you feel - and stay really really close.

Trust the ones you love the most will always return, even if you don't know when or why they left.

When they do return, be open and ready to make a complete fool of yourself showing them your love.
Jump. Dance. Smile. Wiggle. Kiss hard and fast.

Let your eyes show the full depth of your emotions.

Be gracious and accepting when someone tries to help, even if you really don't want it.

When you're scared, come to the ones who love you for comfort and support.

When you just need to "be", and you feel pain or discomfort, let it out, let those who love you stroke your head and love you up.

Approach each day as if it were the first and last day of your life.

When there's anger around you be quick to move in and offer comfort.

Live fully, beautifully and completely in the moment as it happens.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

The things you see in airports

Ever noticed how the TVs in most American airports are always tuned to CNN? I love that, because it gives me snippets of the news as I fly on by. It's great. Except when the Breaking News story is one about a Continental Airlines pilot dying in the cockpit mid-flight. That's a little unnerving, happening right now in the SFO airport.

The plane was landed safely by the co-pilots.

As I was processing that, and thinking about a colleague who told me she was flying on 9/11 and noticed how eerie the DFW airport was, with all the TVs turned off, I heard a woman's voice right behind me, "It's a boy! I told her I thought they would have a boy!".

I turned to see three elderly women, seeming to be heading out on vacation, connecting to another flight through SFO. The woman who spoke had a cell phone pressed to her ear, tears rolling down her cheeks as she likely received the news of a new grand baby entering the world. She asked questions about weight, name, etc. and immediately relayed the answers to her travel buddies. They shared in her joy.

The circle of life continues, there for the observing in every airport in America.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fair Food - A cultural right of passage?






Ok, I have NOT been to a county fair, except as a dog show participant, when I was more worried about grooming space, the right bait and set up space ringside. Until yesterday. The San Diego County Fair is like nothing I have ever experienced in Canada. Not the PNE or the CNE, nope - neither comes close. Sure we have the same animal displays, petting zoos, 4H clubs, pig races, etc. And there's the guy with the super chamois and the kitchen gadget vendors with the microphones on headsets yelling, "It slices, it dices, it make smoothies in the morning!"

But the food here was crazy.

The left image above is the deep fried Snickers and Reese's booth
The middle above is deep fried artichoke.
The right one is Wendy eating the deep fried Snickers - you have to see it to believe it.

Not just hot dogs and burgers, candy floss and kettle corn. No no no - we are talking fair food. Mostly deep fried, and that goes for everything you can imagine. Deep fried artichoke hearts, deep fried Snickers bars and Reese's bars. Corn dogs the size of I don't know what. BBQ turkey legs so massive you feel like you are starring in a Flintstones epsiode. Raw cake dough, fried, then dusted with powdered sugar and called funnel cake. We had to really look hard for the frozen yogurt guy.

Food aside, god love America for figuring out how to do beer and wine gardens every few feet, complete with pretty decent live entertainment. We saw a fabulous tribute band who played Journey like Journey played Journey. Made me feel old - I knew all the words, and the guy on stage singing was probably 24 at best.

It was a total cultural experience. I feel like I've been through a right of passage in some way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Melissa Etheridge - Live and Alone at San Diego County Fair


Saw Melissa Etheridge last night, row 4 in Del Mar. Call us groupies, we have seen her probably 15 times. We saw her first show after 9/11 in Denver, on Oct 4th. She was very emotional, humbled by the events. We saw her last show (in Seattle) before she got the tragic news of her breast cancer diagnosis.

The anthem she wrote, and sings near the end of every concert now, "I Run for Life" has been played at more breast cancer fund raising runs than any other, and was inspired by those events.

Then there is the theme song she wrote for Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"' - the lyrics of which were written and still say "a woman can be president" - because at the time it looked like Hilary would win. Now when she performs it she sings "a Black man could be president".

This soulful rocker, a girl from Kansas, is an inspiration in so many ways. She did the quintessential "pack up and leave", and headed for California. where she sang for years at the Que Sera on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, living on tips. Whatever you think about her politics, and if good solid rock isn't your thing, Melissa is living her dream, made of her own doing. Every time I see her I am reminded of that fact. Last night, in the midst of this crazy (re)depression she thanked her concert goers and reminded us all to start with a little ball of joy right in our center, and see what happens when we feel it expanding out from there, touching others, and if not, making us feel better in the process.

Live free.
Speak true.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Homesick

Ok, but it really DOES rain a lot there right?

This is a great piece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSLpaARIrV8

Nothing more to say than where you are from sticks with you, like a great plate of pasta to your ribs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Law firms forced to shrink

Another Sunday New York Times read and another ton of stuff to think about. This week's issue included a story about the impact the current economic malaise (I refuse to call it a crisis anymore, because someone needs to start heading toward the up and positive side of it) is having on big Wall Street law firms.

It focused on the challenges of making the tough decisions to lay off team members, and in some cases decades-long attorneys with big cases under their belts, second mortgages to pay on vacation properties and kids in ivy league schools.

After a couple rounds of lay offs at White & Case (one big firm) the article talks about "big" as a business model being bound for obsolescence. I think this has been coming for years, and it is perhaps only the current economic situation that has made it more real.

What is interesting is watching how companies deal with it. At White & Case they had three choices (probably the same holds true for any big business now): 1. Do nothing, risking the firm's survival; 2. Couch layoffs as decisions based on poor performance; or 3. Own up to the crisis and bid large numbers of lawyers good bye. They chose the third.

So very very hard, for the leaders and those who lost their jobs. Hugh Verrier, the company Chairman made what might seem a simple point, but for me it cuts right to the heart of company culture: "There were tough judgment calls," he said, adding that he tried as best he could to preserve the firm's culture and that the 'how' of the dismissals was at least as important as the 'why'."

While it was hard to read about the paradigm shift in such a venerable profession, and the loss of jobs for so many, there is a big part of me that thinks the changing the this natural order is a healthy thing. It's not sustainable long-term to have pyramid billings where clients pay for groups of associates to do they job, when some can be said to be training or watching, or back-filling in the event something happens. It's not sustainable to have the padded estimates by type of job, rather than the actual hours spent. This is true in many industries, not just law. Take advertising agencies for example. So the billing structures and client relations probably need to change.

I am down with that.

But what worries me in the midst of this paradigm shift is that as the "bottom line" takes on a greater focus, the kind of guidance, thought consulting and strategic advice given by professionals like these lawyers becomes commoditized. That runs the risk of shifting too far the other way, where the only "accountability" becomes an accounting metric. Equally as dangerous as the outmoded hierarchical big-bonus-jobs-for-life we see evaporating.

You'd think by now, after many of these cycles we would have figured it out - take pride in what you do, deliver great results, work hard, and look for new ways to innovate and add value to your customers, whomever they are. I have to believe that if we could do that, the natural order would win out and it would actually be the right answer.

And, high five to those leaders like Verrier who actually understand and value the importance of culture even in the midst of tough choices.

Read the full article here:

http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/on-wall-street-the-incredible-shrinking-law-firm/?scp=3&sq=alan%20feuer&st=cse








Thursday, June 4, 2009

Laetitia Winery Makes WSJ Top 12 list and Sends Facebook Friends a Special Offer

This week the WSJ released their Top 12 Wine Buys. Check it out at:
https://www.wsjwine.com/mge9/mge9_sub.aspx

One of the wines on the list is a Laetitia Chardonnay, from the Central Coast (CA for all you Canadians), a winery where we are wine club members. Ok so that's cool news enough, except Laetitia has taken this media event and tied it into their Facebook site and promoted it to their friends and fans. When they first joined Facebook in April they had 181 fans within about a week. Now they have over 1,000. And they are a small niche production winery on the Central Coast. Not Target. Or Starbucks. Or the Oprah Winfrey Show. Or (insert name of your fave pro sports team here).

They are a small, superb winery on the Central Coast that in my opinion has done a great job of using Facebook the right way - to share excellent news and to provide a special friends/fans only incentive just for being there.

Check them out on Facebook at:
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=719694825&ref=profile#/album.php?profile=1&id=82067522124

I cut their message only in the off chance some one is not on Facebook so you could see it in action:

WSJ's BEST BUYS offered at FACEBOOK discount

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 8:59am
Each year the Wall Street Journal puts a panel of acclaimed wine critics together to pick the top 12 of “America’s Best Wine Buys.” This year the 2007 Laetitia Estate Chardonnay was selected among the 12 and, while the twelve wines selected didn’t include a sparkling selection, WSJ named the Laetitia Brut Cuvee the “Top Fizz.”

The WSJ/Facebook Offer (while supplies last!):
We are excited to share this accolade and for anyone who mentions Facebook in the tasting room or ordering by phone will receive:
- 20% discount on the WSJ wines AND residual purchases
- 30% extended to any club members when mentioning Facebook!
- Bonus: Buy 6+ bottles and receive complimentary ground shipping

How to Order:
Call in or drop by the tasting room and mention "FACEBOOK." If calling in, please direct your 'Facebook Offer' purchases to Kristin Kate Smith at direct line 805-474-7641.

Pricing:
Laetitia 2007 Chardonnay, normally $18, now $14.40 for Facebook and $12.60 for Laetitia Wine Club Members!
Laetitia Brut Cuvee NV, normally $22, now $17.60 for Facebook and $15.40 for Laetitia Wine Club Members!
If you are a friend or fan you get a great discount on their wine to celebrate their WSJ distinction.
Great strategy.
Authentic answer.
No fake paid bloggers.
No made up personas.
Just a great business connecting with their loyal following. Now isn't that "social media" at its best?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Target® responds - just 18 hours later

Ok so Target® meant what they said in their ad in the Sunday NY Times about getting back to me. I received this response from Julie at Target Guest Relations just 18 hours after sending my suggestion (see last night's post)

Dear Teri,

Thanks for letting us know how you'd like to make Target® even better!

It's exciting to hear the many ideas from guests like you and we appreciate your suggestion about having a "Give Back" day where our guests can help out others in their communities. There have been a lot of families hit hard by these tough economic times so, as part of this initiative, I'll be passing your suggestion along to our Senior Executives.

We work hard to make Target such a fun place to shop. Whether it's our merchandise, services or commitment to communities we serve, we're always looking for ways to improve your shopping experience and new ways to bring you more for less.

Sincerely,
Julie
(800) 440-0680
Target Guest Relations
www.target.com
[THREAD ID:1-6LKGBS]


I made it red, in honor of the Target bull's eye. A couple things to note... the message back to me was personalized and they spelled my name right. Very awesome in my world. Julie actually read my request because she expressly referred to it in her reply. And the last paragraph (and likely part of the first) is a canned reply that I am certain everyone got. Oh well, they've got to get their corporate message out somehow I guess.

Cool though. The original ad with this offer to send them my thoughts was likely seen by millions in Sunday's NY Times, and they took it seriously. It makes me say it again - I can't imagine a good old fashioned department store even 10 years ago doing this. It's the age of customer control in fine form.

Score one for Target, staying true to being customer responsive, even if partially canned.
Now everyone keep your eyes open for "Give Back" day at the Target in your neighborhood.

Someone else try this and see what you get back from them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sent to Target June 1, 2009 at 9:04 p.m. PST

Following up on yesterday's post, here's the message I sent to Target today (more@Target.com). I will keep you posted on any response I receive, and when I receive it.


Hi Target types;
I loved the ad you ran in the NY Times yesterday. I hope you are sincere about wanting ideas for more things you can do for your loyal customers today, because I think it is in times like this when you can make a difference the most.

Here's my thought. It involves giving back to those who need it most. I know you already donate 5% of profits to local community efforts, which is awesome, but how about if you encouraged people to come to Target stores to donate clothing, household items in good order, etc. on one day each month and on that day they could receive a store credit of whatever amount made sense based on their donation to spend in your store that day? There are more people than ever losing their jobs, or getting their pay cut back, I think this could have a real impact. Target stores are a much more public place than say the local Goodwill drops, and you know as well as I that more people than ever, from all stripes, are coming to your stores looking to buy essentials at great prices. Why not make it easy to do 2 things - shop for those things you need, and give back to others all in one trip? You could control the cost to you by selecting one "Give Back Day" per month - make noise about it on Twitter and elsewhere, and there would be no way Wal-Mart or any other retailer could copy it.
What do you think?
-teri-

In the meantime, Koose, great comment on yesterday's post. I can ALWAYS rely on you to dig up the source, no matter what the issue. For those of you who don't know him, meet David Kusumoto, well read, great writer and funny too.

http://davidkusumoto.blogspot.com/

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What can WE do for YOU?

Today's Sunday NY Times had a great ad in the front section that is such a sign of the times - not the "bad economic times" you hear about everywhere, but the consumer-controlled times.

It went like this:

HEADLINE:
Tell us what more we can do for you.

BODY COPY:
We're always looking for new ways to bring you more for less. Have a suggestion for making your Target experience even better? We're all ears.

E-mail us at more@Target.com and we'll get back to you shortly

{Target logo}

It's been true for many years that consumers are more in charge than ever. But I loved this ad because Target had the guts to actually state it out loud. Can you ever remember a time (for those Canadians out there) when the Bay or Eaton's would run an ad like that in a paper with millions of readers? Not a chance. I can barely remember a time when I called either department store and actually got a human on the phone in whatever department I was calling.

And Nordstrom became world famous, or at least famous in business schools for their customer-centric manifesto, "The Nordstrom Way" - which now seems so old hat and commonplace. Everyone's heard the story about the woman who brought back the snow tires, but Nordy's doesn't sell snow tires... they gave her a refund anyway.

Our expectations have certainly changed. I am going to try a little experiment and send Target an e-mail, then see if I get a response. Maybe I'll ask for longer store hours, or a latte machine with freebies for early morning weekend shoppers. Or maybe something more beneficial to others like a "Target makes a difference" donation box for clothing or household goods for people who have lost their jobs/homes, whereby shoppers who donate get a credit to spend that day in the store. I'll keep you posted. You may want to try the same thing and share any results you get.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's a brand jungle

I've been really busy this week, with lots going on everywhere it seems. The economy being what it is, the teams I work with have gotten even smarter and more innovative than ever. New ideas are flowing, new ways of segmenting customers into groups to communicate with about things that matter to them seem to be born each day. It is really invigorating. And a heck of a lot of work for everyone. We have web designers, print designers, developers, and production directors working night and day to make the most of every opportunity that anyone dreams up.

Somehow the "slow" times don't seem so slow right now. The "down" economy is not resulting in less work to do. All this is very good news to me, and to everyone I work with.

One thing I have noticed is the proliferation of new small consultancies and companies setting up shop in the marketing space. Social media experts are everywhere. Web 2.0 is becoming Web 3.0 ... or is that 3G? ... There are new formulas for measuring marketing ROI, new CMS systems for the next generation of Web design. New digital printing and print-on-demand technologies. New "world changing" case studies of how Twitter can save your business or make you a billion dollars and thousands of followers trying. Evolving copyright rules and regs. New must have systems and processes.

Everywhere you look people are reinventing themselves. That seems to go for brand companies too. Just a quick google search and you will find a miriad of purported experts, with decades of experience. Some in packaged goods, others in the service business, some in commercial sales, or ad agencies.

Every one of them seems to have their own formula for getting to the heart of defining and giving meaning to a brand. I pity the poor small business owner out there looking for a solution online and having to decipher process A from process B and all the rhetoric that surrounds it.

Whatever you call it, at the heart of it all isn't brand really about:
- who are you?
- what do you do?
- why does that matter?
- how do you deliver?

And then what does your customer think about it after they've had the chance to taste your wares, kick your tires, experience a stay in your shop? Does that at all come close to connecting with what you said you what to be? If so, I'd say whatever road you followed to get there and whomever's process you used - it worked.

My advice to anyone trying to figure out this space - it's not as complicated as we sometimes like to make it. Follow the few simple questions and be honest about every moment of truth.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gratuitous Cat Loves Poodle Shot

Jack the cat and his personal poodle, Tailor.

Tailor the poodle and her live squeaky toy Jack.

Whatever you call it, it's love.

No purpose here but to make you smile and remind us that even the most diverse creatures can live side-by-side lovingly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Push or pull - who decides what gets produced, "We the consumer" or the teams producing?

This video monologue by Joseph Jaffe takes me way back to a question a prof in first year posed on a Media Communciations exam. Who controls the media? Do we, as consumers of it - viewers, listeners, readers? Or the media themselves? Do they make stuff that then gets picked up as cool? Or do we as consumers signal what we will accept and they follow?

The classic active vs. passive consumer question.

It's fun to know this question is still being asked. I don't know the answer. I'd like to believe we are all active consumers.

It's even more fun to think about it in light of consumer generated content online.

Check out his post from Jaffe Juice here:

http://www.jaffejuice.com/2009/05/jjtv-14-the-king-acts-like-a-clown.html

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Building a Brand Community

Guy Kawasaki posted this story, in which he talks about building brand communities. He means online brand communities, places where people converse, engage, connect. The whole article is short and great. Find the link at the end of this post.

What I think is interesting is how much these truths hold true for any branded experience. Whether it's a retail store, a hotel, a product or service brand, Kawasaki's 1o tips are another way of discussing branded customer experience.

  1. Focus on your customer’s needs.
  2. Foster many-to-many relationships.
  3. Think local.
  4. Don’t create “more.”
  5. Foster peer celebrity.
  6. Say “hey.”
  7. Let your advocates advocate.
  8. Don’t merely moderate.
  9. Keep it simple. J
  10. Observe the 1-9-90 rule.
The last rule on his list "Observe the 1-9-90 Rule" relates to creators, readers and browsers of online content. Think about that in terms of fans, regulars, and passersby of your physical brand location and it's the same thing. 1% will be fans and they will be vociferous in their support, 9% may become regulars, coming and going as it fits their schedule and the other 90% may just pass by, but they may have heard what you are all about if your brand is clear and you take care to be intentional about how it is delivered at every moment of truth.

I love #4 too - "Don't create more". Just because it's out there doesn't mean you need to add it to your brand experience. What does your customer want? How will you provide that better than anyone else, and in a more memorable way?

http://blogs.openforum.com/2009/05/18/10-tips-for-building-brand-communities/


Friday, May 15, 2009

The new "weisure" class

I saw something this week on CNN.com about the blurring or work and leisure time and a new(ish) term that has been coined to describe it – “weisure”. Beyond the kind of clever word it is, I know this concept to not be a new one. How many folks do you know, and maybe you’re one of them, who can’t go a weekend without checking the Blackberry or i-phone for a look at your work e-mail?

The CNN piece talked about the pendulum swing with big changes in cultures, like the blurring of work/play, and they suggest that “There’s no turning back the clock on the spread of weisure.” Dalton Conley, who coined the term is quoted as saying, “Every culture creates its antithesis. Eventually the weisure class could merge into a ‘getting back to basics’ movement and form something new.” {with thanks to CNN.com}.

I have spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about the pendulum swing in how homebuyers are shopping for homes today. Do more of them want smaller homes because of the cost to purchase and the cost to run (not to mention the green and sustainable issue)? Yes, some of our research shows that to be the case, in some parts of the country, and in some family formations. Will that be a temporary thing that will shift when the economy improves and we all go back to spending more freely?

Will there be a back to basics, or back to core values movement that really lasts? I keep hearing the economy, which must mean you and I who spend money to keep it moving, is “re-sizing”.

How far will the pendulum swing? Anybody got a thought on if this will last or be a temporary adjustment?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Connections and context

A quick trip last weekend up to Vancouver.
A chance to see family - and we spent some great times together - coffee at fave places, dinners that lasted into the night, and Mom's Day brunch.

All good times.

But the highlight for me was seeing - IN PERSON - 2 of my dearest friends, one whom I hadn't seen in 4 years, the other probably 2 years.

On the theme of "community" and therefore connections, the meet up we had made me think about how the deep connections you can share with someone, no matter the context, survive and thrive over time. I am thinking a lot about community these days, in the purest sense, as I watch it grow and in some cases erode around me daily.

The three of us have all made different choices in life, and had very different experiences, even have very different family formations, but there is this thing about a connection that never dies.

What a trip, what a time.
The "comforts of home" were great. Kimmers and HAB both know enough about me that I can shortcut the background, skip over the back story and we're all caught up. And those comforts carried over to our very different hits and misses - the things we've each experienced in our own unique ways. Some successes, some failures, but all ours. Comforts of old friends and the connections they bring, even in our very different contexts.

Now that's community - and I love mine!


Friday, May 1, 2009

Community in many places

I am in the Portland airport, waiting for a flight back to San Diego, which is only slightly delayed, 10 minutes or so. Much better than the 3.5 hour daily last Friday from Houston!

I've been thinking a lot about community this week, not the physical sense but just the connection of it all.

Last night in Spokane our team took me to a place called "Chaps" for dinner. What an experience! The visionary and owners, Celeste, opened the place 2 years ago in a home she moved from Montana. The old farmhouse had belonged to her grandmother who raised her. Her grandmother had a major impact on her life and she wanted to share it.

Celeste joined us for a glass of wine and told us her story. She talked about creating a place where you could come as you are, no airs, no need to impress others, just a place to be. she talked about a place where kids can be kids and just hang out, run around and enjoy the nooks and crannies of the place, the antiques, the chaps, cowboy hats and old books.

It was an adventure in discovery, in dining and in sharing stories about heroes we've all had and why.

The food was awesome, with old faves like home made mac and cheese, yummy oatmeal gooey cookies, and all portioned to make you literally roll out the door when finished.

Her clientele include the mom's group from our community Eagle Ridge. the local police officers' at the end of the shift, school board members, and more. I could see it. In fact, I could feel it.

That is community baby!
Check it out online or visit if you are in the area.

Anybody got any stories of these kind of special, treasured communities?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Community of nomads

This past weekend we experienced the Encinitas Street Fair. It had a profound affect on me, a group of artisans, creators, photographers, and more - all selling their wares in the street on Hwy 101 along the coast.

It made me think hard about "community" and whether it is necessarily tied to a physical place. I believe more than ever now that place isn't a required ingredient.

Sure there are lots of street fairs I've been to before, and you have too.

But there was something about this one that said community, and has made me think of all the other nomadic communities out there.

What is "belonging" in a community of nomads?
What are the rights of membership?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you lonely out there?

I picked up this month's issue of UTNE Reader, the first time I've read this mag in about 5 years because I was drawn to the cover article called "The Golden Age of Re-engagement". A short article, and the usual UTNE list of books for further reading and exploration at the back, it made me think. And wonder if there is a balance or a solution in here somewhere?

The premise is this - we devote more technology and devices to staying connected today than any other society in history, yet somehow studies are telling us (in case we haven't noticed it in ourselves) that we feel more alone than ever. The article cites a recent study from Duke University, the General Social Survey (GSS) where Duke researchers found that between 1985 and 2004 the number of of people with whom the average American felt they could discuss "important matters" dropped in half.

Then I got to thinking about being "neighborly" and what that means. I lived on the same street in Surrey, BC for 14 years, and I didn't know the names of more than 3 of my neighbors. Sad. We all got in our cars, drove to work (ironic though it is, for 10 of those years I worked out of my home!), spent the day doing whatever we do, drove home, closed the garage door (fortress of privacy) and did whatever we did.

We are just all too busy. It's easier to send a quick text message than it is to call someone. Though I was attempting to do that last night, to make dinner plans with friends and by the fourth text exchange it all seemed really stupid - we could have just talked. There's this feeling that a phone call might interrupt something. So what? Interrupt me already! Being neighborly or being a good friend used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbors means not bothering them (this according to the article again). I'm not so sure I buy that.

So where's the balance between the technology-mediated world and human contact?
How do we conserve energy in our over busy lives so we have something left for those random neighborly encounters mid-week when Paul and Julieann next door walk over with a bottle of wine and some good conversation?




Monday, April 13, 2009

Will work for food - entreprenuership in a bad economy

Did anybody see Rob Walker's piece in the NY Times Magazine yesterday? He writes a column called Consumed, every Sunday in the NY Times Magainze. Here's a post from last summer about bottled water and the environment:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/magazine/01wwln-consumed-t.html

He also published a book a few months back, still relatively new, called Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. It is a great read, and will give you lots to think about and talk in your communities at work and play about.

Anyway, yesterday's column was great because it was about being an entrepreneur during tough economic times. He focused on a company called GarmentValet.com, started by a couple of college guys a few years back, and now built into a $950k/year gross revenue business. Like the name suggests, these guys will pick up your laundry and bring it back clean. Their core differentiator is service. They realized the market for such a service in downtown buildings without doorman and therefore hard to get in to. To overcome this, and not just do what so many others had done, which was walk away from a captive, busy audience ripe for their service, they developed a "virtual concierge" and locker system in some of these buildings where customers could drop and pick up on-site at their building, but in a location that didn't need a doorman.

So what right? Well, read the article if you can and you may be struck as I was by this simple truth, "The story of the young company is a reminder that entrepreneurship often depends more on successful execution than radical reinvention. Now is the time to show people that you can kick service up and give them what they deserve. The economy is what you make it."

So true, and so totally rewarding, to take the chance, do your own thing, and realize you are in charge of every response your actions create. It doesn't take a complicated "save the planet" kind of idea that you may be paralyzed looking for, convinced that every other good business idea is taken. It just takes a focus on the customer's needs, and attention to detail to ask yourself how you might meet them. We all want clean clothes right? Then it takes discipline to deliver.



Thursday, April 9, 2009

Like follows like?

This question has been on my mind for a long time. Does like really follow like? And if so, are we doomed forever to homogeneity? The old systems of order, around land, family, faith, class, tradition have given way. They've been replaced, some would say, by a new order based on individual choice. While we may have created our own "individual" categories or subcultures to belong to, these like-minded homogeneous groups are very strong, and can grow more extreme in their thinking, discouraging dissent and open dialogue.

When I was in elementary school, Grade 4 I think, I remember our teacher showing us a film about a group of students in California who couldn't understand how Nazi Germany flourished in WWII. The film was horrifying and illuminating. It showed how something as simple as a secret handshake can grow into an almost impenetrable subculture. It becomes a giant feedback loop, where we hear our own thoughts bounced back to us about what is right and wrong.

Perhaps naively, I really hope these individual categories and subcultures that we are all creating can develop ways to look across the lines and through various lens at each other's perspectives. If we can do that I believe a whole world will open up for each of us.

On tonight's news there was shock and horror that President Obama would even consider bowing upon meeting the Saudi King. I failed to see what the fuss was all about. So what if they are actually peers on the world stage? His gesture, which I am saddened to see his team now backpedaling to deflect, was one of a person showing up in another country and showing respect to that country's culture. Big deal. Does that make him weak? Or less of a leader? I can't see why. But if we come from the perspective that he is the leader of the free world, and that said free world is predominant over all, then you can see why many folks are horrified.

Like follows like.

Maybe the deal is we need to drop "like" all together, and just "be"?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eyes for observation

With so much around us to observe how might we break out of the routines we are all in to really see what the inspiration this observation can hold? I try and stay fresh by asking "why" and then "why" again.

Again, credit goes to IDEO's Jane Fulton Suri for making me think about this.

Take any simple example of people and place. How do people and the built environment interact with each other in the simplest places? Why does it work the way it does? Why really?

Innovation and change comes from seeing what is, and then creating new ways it could be.

So why is the key pad on the outside entrance to our building placed just far enough away from the door that I have to stretch to zip my key card over it fast, then reach to yank to door open before the sensor expires? Why is that? I am NOT an architect, in fact, am far from it, but I ask myself that question every morning when I spill my juice trying to balance and juggle my bag and key card.

If someone walked it, lived it, observed it, then built it I wouldn't be asking "why" and "why" again.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Observing the everyday

I came upon Jane Fulton Suri's book again tonight, "Thoughtless Acts" and it made me think about the physical world around us and how we've all become such pros and masters at coping within it.

Have you ever noticed how so many things in the day to day world you live in don't work, or aren't convenient? Like getting luggage on and off the rental car shuttle bus. Or signage on most freeways in most major cities that lead nowhere. Or the chair in the salon when you get your hair cut, and you need to lean back just so to get your head in the sink, but it just never seems to fit quite right.

Suri's point, and I agree with her, is there is a lot of inspiration to be sought from real life and the mundane day to day. It is easily overlooked when we become preoccupied with our routines, roles, and traditional domains, and their established processes.

There's a lot of inertia to be overcome by breaking out of these habitual ways of working and thinking, and even getting out and just observing directly the world around you. It's in this observation of routine things, places, processes, that innovative ideas for attending to things that may be broken that we have learned to take for granted can occur.

Try it sometime and see what you see.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Disciplined, long-term really good marketing

This post appeared on Seth Godin's blog this morning.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/04/poisoning-the-well.html

He is great by the way, if you don't subscribe, or cruise by once in a while you are missing out on some honest real discussion. Read his post, then meet me back at the bottom for something that occurred to me, then really irked me on a plane home from Houston last night...

Seth says: "Judith comments on her frustration in joining a new website, "Sorry I do not provide passwords or birthdate. I would have like to have joined otherwise." Obviously, there's a trust problem here.

Frank won't read the instructions that come in an email from a trusted company, because there's always so much noise and clutter and legal garbage in the text that it doesn't pay to read it anyway.

Tim is in a bad mood the moment he arrives at the airport, because every other time he's been there, a marketer tries to rip him off, a security guard treats him like a criminal or an airline doesn't keep its promises.

Sarah won't give money to charity because the last two times she discovered that it was a false front for a high-overhead scam operation.

Emily got the three thousandth automated call giving her a second notice that her factory warranty had just expired... and she doesn't have a car.

Marketers have spammed, lied, deceived, cluttered and ripped us off for so long, we're sick of it.

Which means that even if you have a really good reason, no, you can't call me on the phone. Which means that even if it's really important, no, I'm not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn't ask for... you're trashed. It's so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again."

Ok, this is tst again, let's pick it up here. He is so right. We have a responsibility to think about the consequences to people of our latest greatest marketing effort. And to think outside-in, not inside-out. It's the customer stupid. And it's more than just you who has a latest greatest marketing idea, so how will they all play out and play together when people are fed up, distrustful and taking back the media communications channels faster than ever?

So often I see folks who dream up their idea, or promotion, take it to market, and then forget to check back with it, letting this thing run on and on on auto-pilot.

Last night, flying home from Houston to San Diego after a week on the road (Tampa - Houston - San Diego) on Continental 1689 I'm sitting in the bulkhead seat, the light above my head doesn't work so I am forced to read my book by the light emanating from the "Lavatory" sign above the bathroom beside me. No biggee, I can improvise. The movie was "Yes Man", which was perfect mindless fare after a busy week. All good so far right? Typical airline experience.

That's just it - typical airline experiene - one with some nutty outdated things that would be simple and cost nothing to update. Let's start with the lexicon of the announcements you hear on every flight on any airline:

"The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign indicating our initial descent into San Diego, please ensure your seatbacks are in the upright and locked position, and your tray tables are stowed and locked. Please fasten your seatbelts and remain seated for the duration of the flight"

Ok, do you know anyone who actually speaks like this? C'mon! Someone, 40 years ago, wrote that script that every flight attendant reads multiple times on every flight. How hard would it be to update it? SWA took it one step further, and somehow still managed to meet TSA regulations while allowing their team to actually share a personality with the passengers trapped in the steel sausages as they fly around the planet.

How about: "We're about to land in San Diego. Please take your seats if you are up and about, and buckle your seat belt for landing. Make sure your seat is upright and your tables are put away."

Really. Who uses "descent", "stowed", "locked", "fasten", "duration". I could go on. When I recounted this to my travelling companion last night she told me it was proof I had lost my mind.

But seriously, it's the little things that matter to the customer, stupid. There's space to be had for every airline to differentiate themselves, and offer that little better, customer-focused experience by upgrading their lexicon. Better yet, create one that relates to the experiene their particular brand strives to deliver. Or is that the collosal oversight, that maybe they don't really have a particular experience in mind? Just ticket and cargo revenue? Remember, at the end of every wallet is a customer whose experience matters more than ever today. Take the time to focus on the details, and think deeper about what you do.


Monday, March 30, 2009

No time like the present to kill ideology

Wow, what a day. The President of the United States removes the CEO of General Motors. Not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, isn't that government interfering in private enterprise? On the other, this man is serious - he means change.

I sat and watched the story unfold and I could predict with what I would bet utmost precision what the reaction of certain people I know would be. Based solely on their ideological beliefs. I submit that we are in a very pivotal time, where ideology is a crutch and one that we need to leave at the side of the road. It is the easiest filter of all. If you are for free enterprise then the events of today will be horrific in their own right, and you will be blinded from any other causes or effects. If you are into taking care of the people, you may see this through the lens of not wanting to let a giant employer like this fail.

I submit that this is the time to try and cast aside the lenses we all tend to look through, no matter their tint or color, and see that to get out of this mess we are in we need to evaluate the issues of the day from a deeper perspective than just pure ideology. There can be no black and white - it is far too complex, and no one is right or wrong.

We are in a state of ideological flux, and with it comes the unusual freedom to improvise a fresh course forward. America can have universal health care and public schools unbound by the teachers unions of old. We can impose sensible regulatory mechanisms and enthusiastically promote free markets and free trade. With the economy in such a complicated mess we should recognize that towing the ideological party line and adhering to old political convictions won't pull us out of this.

We need deeper thinking, open ears and a commonsense approach to our future.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding people in the data

So today we had some great presentations from market research firms about the US economy, and specifically the housing market. When will it recover? Will it recover? What does the data say?

One in particular (you know who you are) reduced the tale, and their predictions into a mathematical equation - vacant developed lot supply and housing starts. The theory being that the housing market and all its resulting impacts on the economy will not bounce back until the number of closings surpasses the number of starts - thus working off the excess inventory. Perfectly logical, and there is data back as far as 1977 to prove this is true.

But what about the people? Where do their preferences and their hopes and fears factor into this formula? For some, that's the squishy part. And we had good conversation among our team about what each of us think is going on in the consumer's mind today. Because we are all consumers ourselves the tendency sometimes is to interpret the data based upon our own behavior and project that to the market at large. Oh to have that crystal ball.

I love all the data, and the analysis of it. I love trying to determine what it tells us the best action should be.

And at the end of it all, it's my simple mind that takes me back to the most basic questions:
Who is our customer?
What do they want?
How and when do they want to buy it (this one is more complex than it sounds)?
What can we do to give it to them?

Tackling these questions is risky. It means stepping outside of ourselves, and our sometimes long-held beliefs about what matters to customers and why. And getting to that answer takes listening to your customers. Sometimes not an easy task for folks who have done the same thing for a long time and done it quite successfully in many cases.

Is the buyer really different today? Any different than the last major economic hurdle? I believe so, and not just because of pure demographics. The very fact we can have conversations like this, and that millions of others are doing the same thing everywhere has changed things forever.

That changed consumer today has different needs than they did last year.

So how do we find that consumer in among the data?







Thursday, March 19, 2009

Marketing - an unnecesssary expense or a needed investment?

So the economy continues to twist and turn in the wind, and every responsible business, large or small, is looking for ways to conserve cash, do more with less, combine efforts, put things off, invest in only what matters. The title of today's post is provactive at best, and dangerous when you are sitting in my seat at worst.

One of the first areas to often be "cut" when things get tough is marketing. Proclamations get made like, "we don't need to be advertising right now because nobody's buying XYZ." or "Our competitors all cut back their media spend months ago, we don't need to be out there so much."

If marketing is seen as advertising, or promotion, this can be a logical argument. Though, when times are tough it's the right time to go after market share so when they are back your company is positioned to win.

This is the time, and the opportunity, for marketers everywhere to remember what their job really is, and to start practicing it with more conviction if they have gotten fat and lazy and spent time during the good years chasing the latest greatest creative application of their brand, or the newest media seen as the panacea.

When you are pushed to cut marketing, think of it this way...

Upstream marketing is the business of marketing that entails analyzing customers, competitors, and company characteristics; identifying strengths and opportunities as well as weaknesses and threats; and targeting the most profitable segments - thereby identifying potential sources of cash flow. Magic to every CFO's ears right?

Downstream marketing involves differentiating your company's products and services in consumers' minds and delivering the unique value promised by those offerings - thereby harvesting cash flow. More magic right? Sometimes this is reduced to the pretty pictures stuff that is seen as the discretionary expense. If you don't do this "on purpose" that's a relegation you probably deserve.

So, for the few marketers who are giving me the pleasure of writing this post, and reading this perspective, think about it. Do what you can to contribute to these areas now, and show marketing to be the business discipline it is - beyond all the "expense" associated with advertising and promotion. This is about your best thinking, and using what you know about your customers, competitors and business to contribute to positive cash flow.

It's a fun time to try some new stuff, take some risks, and see just how much you know and can learn by thinking deeper.