Friday, December 31, 2010

What are they saying? Or not...

How many vacant letters of recommendation have you read, or Linkedin endorsements have you received updates about that say nothing? Social media is opening up the floodgates of information about peers, colleagues and employees (notwithstanding my current employer’s social media policy that prohibits such behavior). But judging by the recommendations and referrals I’ve seen lately, it’s not much more than a bigger sea of sameness and genericism.

Now that performance review time is upon us again, I pride myself on taking the time to actually think about the individual whose performance I am charged with reviewing, and to write comments and feedback that could ONLY be for that particular individual. Anything less is a cop out in my opinion and not worth my or their time. Same goes for referrals and recommendations. What is the point of?

Recommender #1

“NAME has tremendous expertise in the sales and marketing of new homes and large-scale master planned communities. NAME’S knowledge of sales and marketing programs is undeniable, and NAME’S reputation within the industry in unparalled.”

Or, for the same individual…

Recommender #2

“NAME’S experience is unsurpassed.”


Undeniable. Unsurpassed. Unparalleled. NAME must be amazing… but I learned nothing new to help inform a decision from these adjective-laden posts. Too bad NAME’S reviewers couldn’t provide one tangible reason why. It seems to me that if you are going to take the time to provide a referral or write a review, your time is best spent going back to basics. What are the specifics about your experience with that particular individual and the tangible examples of their greatness? The proliferation of information channels makes that even more important. If I am reading 12 recommendations about NAME, why not be the one who took the time to actually SAY something?

Maybe it's just a personal pet peeve, but I'm over "Unparalleled, unsurpassed, and undeniable" with no substance behind it. Sigh... we're all marketers at heart I suppose. But even in the world of referrals and recommendations great marketing stands out from the rest of the pack.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hellllllllllloooooo Alaska Airlines????

It's been 4 weeks since my trip from Kelowna-Seattle-San Diego on Alaska Airlines. You remember the trip (AS 482, Sunday Dec. 5th), delayed, then pulled back to the gate and delayed again. And despite the pre-holiday lack of patience many customers showed, the flight attendants were awesome, keeping us up to date and current.

This was the crew that handed out a free 1,000 bonus Alaska MVP Miles. Great gesture, but what about any fellow passengers who don't participate in this program? Thinking my preferred airline would want a suggestion, I reached out. Well, unlike their competitor Continental Airlines, I am saddened to report that after two friendly attempts at contacting their "Customer Care" folks via their website, still no reply. Sure, I can write off this past week due to Santa and festivities, but really? I've been an MVP or MVP Gold for 10+ years with Alaska, and do truly love their service, and for the most part their schedules.

My trusted, admired and preferred brand though - is losing some esteem the longer I go with no reply. New Year's Resolution - no answer by this time next week and I am calling them!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oprah launches "OWN" network with none of her own start-up capital ... really?

I don't know why we watch Entertainment Tonight anyway - the show format just makes me crazy - running previews within the body of the show to the point that by the time the actual 47 second "story" airs you've seen it all, five times minimum, along with the "stories" being followed for tomorrow night's show, also five times each.

Tonight's show featured a story about Oprah's soon-to-be-launched cable TV network, "OWN" (Oprah Winfrey Network) and the ridiculous assertion by some guy whose name I missed that she's launching it "without any start-up capital of her own". Her media partner Discovery apparently put up $189M for their part in the 50-50 joint venture, in addition to proferring their underwhelming Discovery Health channel for OWN's spot on the dial.

Sounds huge right? What's Oprah bringing to the party? No greenback capital perhaps. Her contributions are her brand name, her 25-year Oprah Winfrey Show library and her website Sounds like at least $189M worth to me! Think of the impact her endorsement has had on media properties, authors, movies, health, whatever. Like her or not, she's had a massive impact on popular culture for at least two decades.

And there's value in that brand called Oprah. That's what a brand is all about - a valuable, tangible business asset. In her case, she built hers to the point that it can launch a new TV network. Repeat after me: there's value in a brand...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Social media usurps the Christmas letter

For the past five years, since moving to California, we've written a long and detailed Christmas letter, sharing stories of life in our adopted country, adventures with new friends, complete with pictures of the year's events. Some recipients tell me when our card and letter arrives they brew a pot of tea, or cup of coffee and settle in for a good read, as the stories of our past year unfold. One sitting, one static event, driven by the specific point in time coinciding with the arrival of a hard copy letter. This year we didn't write a letter, and while I can come up with any number of excuses as to why (a serious illness in the family, a busy stressful year at work, the exciting arrival of a new grand baby, the loss of our dear cat Jack, the usual heavy travel schedule, and many other countless complications of daily life) I think there may actually be "game changing" reason why.

Social media has usurped the traditional Christmas letter!

Our year has unfolded and been memorialized in Facebook posts, blog entries, and the occasional Tweet ... Yes, social media has usurped our Christmas letter this year. So, just like so many other things in life that are more immediate, like the 24/7 news cycle, our "Christmas" letter unfolded in real time throughout the year in posts, status updates, tagged photos, and tweets, consumed as and when you wanted it, over a coffee, as you sat in traffic, got your nails done, or waited at the doctor's office. On your time, however and whenever you wanted it. Just like everything else in the world today - there when you want it, and not when you don't.

Far from being a traditionalist, I firmly believe things are never going to be the way they were before so many societal shifts and the world-changing events of the past couple of years. And I'm thankful for that!

But there is a certain art of the letter that gets lost in all this evolution and forward-looking change. Take my 75-year old mother, who for countless years made herself a cup of coffee and sat down to write her sister a letter every Sunday. Aunty Vi passed away last week, and I'm sure at some point today there was a space in my mom's day where she wondered what to do with herself. Perhaps that explains why I received three emails from her! She's hit the real time just like the rest of us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pilot sends me free pens, for my free product opportunity advice.

After my rant about the hard to open packaging of the Pilot pen I bought two weeks ago tomorrow in the Seattle airport, Pilot responded by email (see previous post) and promised to send me some samples for taking the time to write. Well, they made good on their promise and sent not one, but three standard-sized pens, one mini pen and three packages of ink refills. Totally not necessary and unexpected.

What was more meaningful was their commitment to pass the idea along to their marketing team for consideration in new product development. I think they meant it.

It's great to see companies like Pilot (and Continental Airlines, see yesterday's post) who get involved in a two-way dialogue with their customers. I'm reflecting back to 2007 when TIME Magazine chose "YOU" as the person of the year, and Ad Age chose "THE CUSTOMER" as the agency of the year, that same year. It's easy to forget that just a few short years ago companies and brands as big as these typically didn't take the time to respond to most comments. The world has changed, customers really are in control and hats off to those who get that.

I know I will stay on the hunt for it, and will continue to share news and reviews of it here. So go forth and listen to and talk with your customers, the good and the mad!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Continental Airlines Responds ... and I am inclined to believe their promise.

Dear Ms. Slavik-Tsuyuki:

Thank you for including Continental Airlines in your travel plans. We appreciate the time you took to let us know about your experience. It is disappointing to learn of the negative impression we created.

The behavior you described is not reflective of our commitment to providing our customers the highest level of service. I apologize for the negative impression this situation created. We intend to provide a high-quality experience, tailored to meet the individual needs of our passengers.

We work hard to correct both issues brought to our attention. Although we cannot explain the inappropriate behavior, we can work to correct it. This matter will be addressed internally and considered confidential. You will not receive further information; however, your concerns will be taken very seriously, and I am confident necessary corrective action will be taken.

We hope you will not judge us based solely on this experience.


Ms. T. McGlothen
Customer Care Manager

TRACKING NUMBER: A00006426648-00042060327

-----Original Message-----

Sent: 10 Dec 10 10:37:29
Subject: Future Travel

Submitted: 12/9/2010 10:47:08 PM

OnePass Number: DC826164

Subject: Future Travel
Reply: Not applicable

Message: I fly Continental multiple times a year, sometimes multiple times per month. On yesterday's flight the behavior of your flight attendants was horrifying. It's an unfortunate trend I have seen more of, audibly putting down and complaining about other passengers. It's sad and unnecessary and left those around me yesterday feeling like under-appreciated cattle.

Read more here, in my blog post:

I send this to you only to show you the way it unfolded, and because I have to believe an airline as great as this would want to know how people feel while consuming your service.

Flight Number: 739

Flight Date: 12/8/2010

Approximate Departure Time: 9:00 a.m.

Origin: Houston
Destination: San Diego

Airport: None
Date: None

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Flight attendants, please keep your voices down!

2010 hasn’t been as big a year of travel for me as 2009 and I am a little out of practice. This trip I left my iPhone and computer chargers at home. So I conserved phone battery power, and thankfully was travelling with another Mac user, enabling me to borrow juice from her charger.

In the past four days I have been on three different airlines, in two countries, one trip for pleasure and this one for business. And I am noticing something I don’t think I did last year. Or perhaps I was just de-sensitized to it and now it’s all coming back to me. Flight attendants, it seems, make no attempt to hide their impatience and disgust with the quirks and foibles of their passengers. I noticed glimmers of it last weekend on another flight.

This particular crew, Continental 739 (9:25am departure Dec. 8th, Houston – San Diego) is particularly bad.

A woman with two small children, looking frazzled as her children dragged and bumped their kid-sized carry-ons down the aisle asked if it was possible to change seats to sit together. I’d bet the two girls were 4 and 6-years old, maybe. Now admittedly I didn’t hear the whole conversation or witness first-hand how possibly demanding or unreasonable this passenger may have been. But I did get to witness the flight attendants after the fact, in the galley at the front of the cabin bitching and moaning about this woman. I mean bitching and moaning. Followed up by the same antics about the final passenger who boarded the plane when there was no remaining overhead space and he didn’t want to check his bag – for fear of losing it.

How bad could it have been to deal with these two customers, and who really cares? I didn’t want to hear about it, or be left with the feeling … “what do they say and think about the rest of us”? And then I wanted to smile at them and say, “I hope you are having a great day” or, “geez you should be glad to have a job, though you clearly hate it” or the final thought, “as a result of the woman and her children in seats whatever A, D, and F you can actually feed your family”.

I mean seriously. I know the airline business has been pummeled of late. As passengers dealing with reduced schedules, crammed planes, vanishing upgrades and checked baggage fees, we are all living the life. So, from a passenger’s perspective, I say if you hate it so much, get a new job. Have a little courtesy and spare us your whining about those of us who pay your salary. Here’s the deal, I’ll return my seatback to its full upright position, ensure my tray table is locked and stowed, and my seatbelt fastened, provided flight attendants … you please keep your voices down.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Response to a whacky product idea - from the Pilot pen company

Wow - check out this response from Pilot, after receiving an email from me to their customer care section of their company website, recounting my experience in the Seattle airport and resulting new product idea. I'm not sure whether to feel "blown off" or whether to watch the airport nearest me for the next big product innovation from my favorite pen company?

They do get marks though for the speed of the response, for spelling my name correctly, and for identifying the issue that was the subject of my comment (product packaging). Not bad, and a good example of a company engaged with customers.

They could have hit it out of the park for me if they had responded more authentically, like, "Hey, great idea we'll see if it makes sense". Or, "Crazy idea, we don't have enough 'airport"\' volume to support that notion, but thanks for the thought" instead of phrases like, "It brings us great pleasure..." and "for your continued writing pleasure".

Oh well, keep your eyes and ears to the ground to see what their marketing team does with it!

Dear Ms. Slavik-Tsuyuki,
Thank you for reaching out to us about our G2 Pro Gel Ink Pen. It brings us great pleasure knowing that you enjoy using our products. We always appreciate hearing from our satisfied customers and thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your experience with the product packaging. Please be assured that your comments have been forwarded to our Marketing and Quality departments.

We would be pleased to send you a complimentary sample for your continued writing pleasure. This will be sent to the address you have provided.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. If there is anything else we can assist you with please feel free to contact me directly.

Holly Houser
Consumer Advisor

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Service Recovery - the Alaska Airlines way

Flight 482, set to depart Seattle, enroute for San Diego at 3:40pm. All is going well, I even got the last upgrade and am seated comfortably in 1D when (being the first customer in the plane and closest to the flight attendants) I hear rumblings about the "weather radar" and needing to call a mechanic for a part. I pull open my iPad and check FlgihtTracker and it tells me our estimated departure time is now 5:05pm. I know this before the crew it seems.

Turns out not to be that bad, but we endure a 35 minute flight delay as the part is installed and tested. During this time, some of the best flight attendants I've had do their best to apologize and calm these Sunday afternoon travelers. Kim, Amy and Stephanie deserve special mention (I will be sure and include that on my comment card after this flight).

All good, the part tests out, check. Safety demo complete, check. AS482 heads out on the runway at Sea-Tac and I'm calculating the delay in my head to determine if I need to text Pam and ask her to DVR tonight's Dexter episode when we just kind of stop. We've backed up from the gate, flight attendants are seated and we just kind of stop.

And we head back to the gate, this time it seems the in-flight A/C is malfunctioning. Same routine, Kim does her best to make the announcement and avoid passenger mutiny, and we wait. This fix is faster than the first and the mechanic is on and off the plane in less than 10 minutes. Part installed, check. Tested, check. And we enjoy the safety demo for the second time on this flight - because the door was opened. FAA regulation apparently.

Our patience is openly and authentically appreciated (I actually feel this) as expressed in the announcement and as we begin to push back from the gate the flight attendants hand out a card attached to a post card with the header "Our Apology". It entitles everyone inconvenienced on the flight today to 1,000 bonus miles in our Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account. Great! As a member for many years, that will be 1/20th of the way to MVP status next year for me. A gesture very much appreciated for what in the scheme of things is a minor delay.

Then I get to thinking, and listening to those around me. What if I don't collect miles on this airline or have a Mileage Plan account? What if this is the only time I ever fly Alaska? Sure the card gives you an option to sign up, but that makes the conciliatory offer a little less genuine perhaps? There are always cost controls to manage and "breakage" on these kinds of offers, but I wonder if my favorite airline has run the numbers on a "let's make it up to you" offer that gives their customers a choice? Maybe $25 to use on future Alaska Airlines travel? For non-Mileage Plan members that could pay for checked baggage or change fees if plans change, or a cocktail or snack pack. I should, but I don't know the cost per point, but I assume 1,000 points is likely in that range.

Costs aside, I have to believe the benefits of giving their customers a true choice, even if it is for future Alaska travel, would go further than a one-size-fits-all 1,000 points. As we reach our cruising altitude Kim informs us of another benefit on today's flight, free GoGoInflight WIFI, courtesy of Honda. All I had to do was watch an ad for the cool new CR-Z and give them my email address (they did give me the choice right there to opt-out of future offers) and land on a Honda page promoting the car:

I am a loyal Alaska Airlines traveler - they have the best options and the best service up and down the west coast, and I am appreciative of the 1,000 miles. But the lesson here for me today, seen in action, was give customers a choice and the apology is that much more valuable. And the other lesson? GREAT customer service goes a very long way. Kim and her crew have been serving and working with pride and it shows, even on one of the bumpiest rides I've experienced in months.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dear Pilot, I just discovered a new product opportunity for you!

I am at Gate C-12 in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, directly across from the Hudson News store. I had arrived in plenty of time for my connecting flight to Kelowna, BC and was catching up on email. Then I remembered I am actually entering another country, the country of my birth, and it requires that I fill out a Customs Declaration Card.

No biggee - I pick one up from the gate agent to discover I have no pen. Just my trusty mechanical pencil. No dice for filling out an official government form.

Ah ha - Hudson News will have one! And yes indeed, I debate between the plain blue Bics, or the Seattle souvenir types when I spot it - the Pilot G2-Pro, black ink, fine tip just like I like it. And I grab a pack of Rolos for the flight.

Then it hits, I CANNOT get the plastic "impenetrable-by-humans" packaging open. You know the kind I mean, that rips your hands if you even try without scissors. So I ask the gate agent if they have a pair I can borrow. WHAT am I thinking - we are in a secure airport at a boarding gate. No dice x2. I can run to the Guest Services Desk 10 gates away and miss my flight?

So Pilot ... I'm thinking, you probably sell a lot of pens in airports, with Hudson News and others. What a HUGE product opportunity, a package that you can actually open without sharp objects. Airport safe. And I can imagine there are countless other brands too, who could substantially improve their customers' experiences by developing something easy to open, airport safe.

Have no fear, I am now on the plane, seat 12D, with a bandaid on my right thumb.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fear of the new and unknown

Wow this is funny, and yet sad at the same time. Back in the day, with the beginnings of rail transportation, came what some historians have called "extraordinary paranoia". Apparently it was thought that trains would blight the crops with their smoke, terrify livestock with their noise, and that people would suffocate if traveling at more than 20 miles an hour! Some saw the railway as a threat to social order, allowing the lower classes to travel too freely, weakening moral standards and dissolving the traditional bonds of community.

Sound familiar to what has been predicted with constant changes in technology, and the explosion of social media? Or how about the fear and paranoia surrounding same-sex marriage ... "weakening moral standards and dissolving the traditional bonds of the family".

Fear of the new and unknown can stop innovation at best. At worst, it can cause a chasm and huge divide between adopters and dissenters. You know what I'm talking about - and have probably heard some of these refrains... "Facebook is for college kids. It won't catch on for business". "Social media opens us up to our customers' being able to post their discontent with our company for all the world to see". "We don't want to create opportunities for customers and prospects to actually interact in case our customers have a beef with us". "Allowing same-sex marriage threatens the family". Really?

Trains run every day, some upwards of 200+ miles/hour, and no one suffocates as a result. Social media has responded to customers' desire to state their truth and their positions (whether we like them or not). The post-industrial world and all its opportunity has caused lasting changes in the world of work, the role of women and the family, long before the idea of same-sex marriage.

So on this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for all the pioneers who are much smarter than I, and those willing to take great personal and professional risks to expose us to the new. Some of it may not stick. Some of it may not be judged helpful. But change and curiosity is nothing to fear.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Middle Child Syndrome

These 3 poodle girls are living proof that "middle child syndrome" exists in the canine kingdom as it does in the human. From left to right: Tailor (just 6), Olivia (8) and Isabelle (13!) are quite the family. Izzy now stands at the door to the motorhome on her potty breaks and looks at me like, "well are you going to lift me down?" while Tailor pushes her way through, and Olivia hangs in the background.

And meal times? Well, the 2 younger ones eat first, then Izzy's bowl goes down. Middle child Olivia ALWAYS finishes first, while Izzy decides if it's worth the effort, and Tailor ("One Crunch") takes her time. So Olivia goes back and forth between each, hoping for a reaction or better yet that one of them will walk away. If she could speak I swear she would say, "Can't you just let me finish it??".

Snuggle time at night? Tailor, because she's the smallest and "cute" always seems to have a place on my lap - she just makes it so. Izzy, stretched out on her back on HER couch. And so that leaves Olivia, moving from dog bed to dog bed, wandering past me and pushing her nose up under my arm craving a pet. So interesting to watch the dynamics.

So parents be aware - middle child syndrome is still alive and well, even in the canine world.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SHIFT - brands that you join, not just buy

Just finished Peter Arnell's book, "SHIFT" and loved it. I had no idea until I finished it and Googled him looking for more that his agency was the one behind the changing of the Tropicana OJ packaging (referred to as a $35M mistake as consumers revolted) but it was still a great book. Great writing style, simple, pithy and compelling.

Throughout the book, and all the examples given, I was reminded about so many creatives who take the notion of "brand" only so far. For some it's about a look/feel or logo. For others it's about "raising awareness" or helping a company become known for what it does. For others it's about sales. So many in this space don't put the thinking energy into taking their brand to the next level and making it something so much more meaningful than just a marketing construct.

Arnell puts it simply - "In consumer branding, we need to not just have customers buy a product but to join a brand. We need to issue an invitation not push for a transaction."

I think he is so right. Every single one of us, including those who make our lives in the vast array of "marketing" pursuits, are customers too. And I bet most of us despise, some even hate, being treated like a transaction and part of an equation on a sales report. So as "Black Friday" looms just a few days away, the most transactional of all shopping days, I'm making it my personal charge to drink in the whole experience and see if I can find any "transactions" that invite me to join, in a sustainable way (beyond the monthly service contract!).

I'm betting there are few, if any. And yet, as a client once told me when we were launching a new destination resort and trying to tell the story, "I'll know it when I see it". For me, it's beyond just seeing, I know great brands when I feel them, and they invite me in to their community. Let's make it our professional charge to do this on every brand we touch. You in?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Harvest Festivals. Community. Simple pleasures.

Today at the Del Mar Fairgrounds I joined what seemed like thousands of others interested in hand-crafted arts and crafts, artisanal food and baked goods, toys carved out of wood, unique metal jewelry, original music and every other thing like these you can imagine, typically found at the world's best street fairs. I admit, I expected to find a bunch of older ladies, hair done up, looking for quilts, silk flowers, and selling things that had no practical use at all. My mind's stereotype was pleasantly blown.

The vendors were as diverse at the world in which we live - young, old, gay, straight, Americans, immigrants, families and eclectic individuals whom I imagined live in funky outposts in small town Arizona or New Mexico, or coastal California towns no one has ever heard of.

It was packed. And it was cool. There was a happiness and peace in the air. Those of us buying were doing something "good", supporting local artists directly, and those who were selling were clearly proud of their creations, many very in touch with the ebbs and flows of this crazy world we live in, like the silver pendants with motivational sayings designed to make you feel ok about "making it through", or the belt buckle switchblade knife combo that comes with a card quoting the penal code appropriate to a concealed weapon (it is not one ... apparently one inch more and it would be), or the cupcakes made with some famous ingredient used by the native Americans that promote energy and are appropriate for vegans, or every kind of fruit and herb-infused olive oil imaginable.

I have been to many street and craft fairs, and this one was the best. I was struck by the energy, and the fun everyone was having supporting the artisan movement. It didn't feel like a Sunday afternoon for old ladies who drive beat up gold cars too slowly. And it made me reflect again on "community" and what it means.

Two years ago we asked our home shoppers how they spent their free time. Almost 50% said "dining out". Today, that has dropped to just over 10%. Glad I am not in the restaurant business... And in answer to that same question about free time, two years ago just 2% said "spending time visiting friends and neighbors in my community". Today that number has increased more than five times.

Maybe there's a correlation, maybe not, but there's a line in a song somewhere about enjoying what you have, not wanting what you don't. If ever there was a time to just turn it down a notch and enjoy what's right around us, including the creative gifts of others, it's now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is it just a cycle - or has it changed forever?

At the ULI Fall Conference last week there was a lot of talk about things like, "when will it come back?" or "when will it return/recover to what was?".

Understandable questions for so many who spend their time and lives creating communities and building real estate. I think this question though is a moot point. The premise behind it is the real estate business is cyclical, beholden to the ebbs and flows of the economy, the political economy, job creation/retraction. So we are all wondering when these conditions will improve. In my humble opinion, that is the right question. But wondering when it will "come back" and the American consumer will go back to consuming like before is not as relevant as spending our time trying to understand how this American consumer will fulfill the belief in personal attainment, and opportunity, in a world that has forever changed.

The convergence of a number of factors - technological, environmental, demographic, gender roles, and global economics - have all dramatically changed our culture and our society, and forever altered the way we live, relate, consume and express ourselves. I think if we stop looking backwards and look at what is we would mostly all agree with that. AND, what has not changed is the American consumers' belief in opportunity, and their ability to create a future of their own making. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think more can be learned and gained about looking forward to the cues and signs from this new reality than worrying about the loss of old.

It's an exciting and motivating time to be alive!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Changing Customer ...

I'm preparing for a panel presentation at ULI (Urban Land Institute) next month. Our topic is basically about the changing consumer, what trends we are all seeing and how our various businesses are responding. With every new thing we are trying, what's working and what's not, and maybe a little bit about why.

The thought that occurs to me is for at least the past 3 years we have been talking, writing, hearing about the "changing customer". Like it's some kind of new permanent state, or new absolute - this "changing" customer. The changing customer is not the same as s/he was 3 years ago, and will not be the same next month. I think we need a new moniker for this illusive person.

The customer as of September 2010, versus the customer of April 2010. In the residential real estate business those are two different people. And what will they be like in December of this year? Fun to think about. There's no magic pill, other than SPEED of thought, and flexibility in approach. And the need to look outside ourselves, really, and deeply at this customer. I know that to be true - we don't have the answers inside the walls of our offices or boardrooms. They are out there in the marketplace to be observed and participated in.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Web is to Cities What Apple is to Suburbia

I love the Sunday NY Times, not only for my "me" time with a good cup of coffee and some fine writers who make me think, but also for the Book Review and The New York Times Magazine. Today's Magazine did not disappoint, and Virginia Heffernan's feature, "The Medium" drew some thoughtful and thought-provoking parallels between the Web and cities, and Apple and suburbia. Given that much of my life right now is devoted to how people live, what they care about in communities, and working with teams to build these communities, AND yes I am an Apple devotee - this was a must read.

Here's the link for those whose attention in piqued:

The basic gist is the "open" Web is like urban centers, full of the unexpected, the gritty, the sometimes not clean sides of life, and with the advent of the iPhone and now the iPad, Apple is enabling Web users to avoid the urban decay of the big wide open Web and head to the suburbs. The App store lets users self-select their experience, behind walled gardens of better developed "user experiences" where everything is neat, cute and orderly.

Her overall premise? The Web is being "stratified" with pay walls, subscription access and privacy settings and other ways of controlling the experience. This makes users feel safe. The parallel she draws (though not totally stated overtly) is that suburbia is one of society's physically stratified places. Safe, clean and away from what many consider the decay of inner city urban living. Life is never this black and white for sure, but it's an interesting metaphor.

She says 50 million people are on their way to quitting the open Web entirely (the current number of iPhone and iPad users), and warns: "By choosing machines that come to life only when tricked out with Apps from the App Store, users of Apple's radical mobile devices increasingly commit themselves to a more remote and inevitably antagonistic relationship with the Web."

Now, were creating communities NOT my business I hope I would still see this metaphorical stretch a little fatalistic! The parallel here is of course that people who choose to live in the suburbs are committing themselves to an inevitably antagonistic relationship with urban life, or that their suburban life comes alive only when "tricked" by the creations of suburbia - private amenities, walled access, and god forbid a gate to keep out interlopers! I'm probably carrying the link too far (let's hope!) but what I see in suburbia all over the country is new models of community, new styles of home product, and shifts in demographic and lifestyle characteristics of the people who are moving there. It's no longer the traditional families who live here (where "family" means you must have children) and where mom stays home and everyone lives in a single-family house with the garage out front.

Suburban living today is every kind of family you can imagine, and more new ones being created each day. And it's more and more about every kind of home product too, smaller homes, attached homes, townhomes, walk ups, live/work homes, and homes where multiple generations live together. Just like in cities. All these shifts and many more to come are forever changing the character of suburban living.

So maybe the real take away is that the proliferation and accessibility of Apps from the App Store and the growing stratification of the Web will simply be another additive alternative to our online world. Stratification, doesn't always have to divide - sometimes it just gives people more choice and ways to stay in control of their own reality. City or suburban dweller, open Web user or iPhone browser, I am pretty certain that's a desire we all share.

Anyway, it's a great read - she made me think.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


It was Easter Sunday when the latest moderately big earthquake hit Southern California.
And then there were aftershocks for days and days. One on a Monday morning at about 4:15am that was big enough to make a cracking sound in the house and wake me up. Cool. For someone originally from the West Coast of Canada this living on the San Jacinto fault is a new adventure. And now, whenever we're in a building that shakes - maybe a train goes by, or an industrial boiler goes off, or some other thing happens - right away we look at each other and say, "Earthquake?".

Funny. I wonder how long this new context will remain at the front of my brain?

It's the same thing when you buy a new car. For the next few months you see more of the same car on the road than you had noticed before. And when someone does something that puts you out, that's what you remember the next time you see them. No matter what they do differently or better, you have that previous experience stuck in your brain.

So it seems context is a form of memory. That's just it - memory. But remember, it's not the only thing. Not every shake of a building means the earth is rocking and rolling. And that person you formed a singular opinion of, may not be singular at all.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Reason .. or Not to Reason?

I am back on my animal bent again.
Reading a great book called "One Good Dog" as we speak, about a guy who was high up in corporate America, with a life that was all that, including a father-in-law with the last name Carrington and a daughter named Sterling. Well, he falls from grace, as is so often the case and ends up on the street (ok, a little cliche). Cutting to the chase, but not spoiling the story, he adopts a pit bull cross from an animal shelter. The metaphor is obvious - a man and a dog both down on their luck get together and figure out what they may have once had may not have been the true panacea. And they can create a life that really matters together anyway.

Chance (the dog) teaches him, and us, a thing or two about relationships, trust, honesty, dignity and dare I say respect. So much of this seems to be missing today as we are all harried and rushing from A to B to C to Z in the space of a single breath.

It's a good book - worth picking up.

It also spawned a conversation tonight about whether or not dogs have the capacity to reason. I am firmly on the side of yes they do. My youngest of 3 Standard Poodles, Tailor, after only ONE incidence of being invited outside to throw and retrieve a toy while I BBQd has decided now that when I go to the deck door with tongs in hand it is her cue to do what she was bred to do - retrieve!

Ok, so that's memory right? That's reason my friends. Cause and effect. She knows if I go to the door there's a good chance there's some fun in it for her. Just like every other smart dog you know who figures out when you pick up their leash it means a walk.

So yes, I believe our canine friends have the full capacity to reason. They also have the beautiful capacity which we seem to lack, of not over-complicating life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vancouver hosts the world ... again

Only a mere few days from now the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will kick off in Vancouver and Whistler (and surrounding, less well-known areas). Yesterday the torch was passed through my old hometown. Today on Facebook friends who still live there posted about it. Some lamented about the beauty. Others shared euphoria having touched it, and fears they may have dropped it. Sounds like the city is a-buzz! I have my Olympic gear ready and tickets to two hockey games. Now that I live in San Diego it will require a 4-hour plane trip and week's vacation to the old 'hood to experience it.

Totally fine with me. I remember the day, not long ago, when Vanoc won the bid for these games, and 2010 seemed waaaaaaaay far away.

Now, a somewhat ex-pat who by chance has had a cadre of Canadian visitors down the last 3 weekends is watching the moment unfold from two different perspectives. Canuck friends tell me anything "Canadiana" is flying off the shelves. Like the Cowichan sweaters we wore 20 years ago, and probably the famous striped Hudson's Bay blankets too. Anything First Nations. Anything red and white. Probably the odd Mountie or two as well. This just makes me think (yet again) how crazy it is that stereotypes take so long to change. There's so much more to my old country than that (like, no one actually really wears those Cowichan sweaters anymore) - but when the world is watching it seems to get reduced to the traditional signs and symbols.

Oh well, I hope the old town puts on a great show (with or without snow for the snowboarders) and maybe, just maybe, there will be some meanings and memories visitors from around the world take with them back to their hometowns. And I'm not talking steroid use Ben Johnson!

Go Canada. Go world. Go Vancouver!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Eyes wide open

This is 2010. A new decade. A new vibe it seems everywhere, including within me.
Eyes wide open to what matters. What really matters. Not created dramas or stress for no reason.
The world is really a small place. I feel that now more than I have in years, and take comfort from that.
Much around us is noise. I own up to having been trapped in the whirl myself for far too long.

May the events of the end of 2009 that made me adopt "eyes wide open" as my mantra help me keep the vibe where it matters, where it's real, and out of the noise.

Eyes wide open.