Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In my TrendCentral newsletter this morning, I discovered a site that I love! A community for people just like me - PANKs (Professional Aunt, No Kids). FINALLY someone figured out how awesome it is to be an aunt, figured out that there are other women who love being aunts, and developed a platform to bring them all together.

The site has all kinds of cool features, tips, ways to contribute, advice, and it is stylishly designed. I love the site because it recognizes that there are many women out there who either love kids and don't want any of their own or aren't ready for kids of their own. On occasion I read mom blogs, but a lot of that information doesn't pertain to me as an aunt and many of them love being a mom so much that they don't understand why any women would choose not to have children, or delay the decision to have them. (Even when I was at the BlogHer Conference, which I found incredibly useful from a professional stand-point, I felt outside the circle many times because I wasn't a Mommy blogger.) Melanie Notkin, the site's founder, CEO, and editor, appreciates the p.o.v. of aunts and caters to it.

The other feature that I love about is Melanie's willingness to share how she started this business. She's passionate about entrepreneurship and wants to help other people on that journey if they're so inclined. You can read all about her journey to building her own company at With all the recognition and traffic she's getting while the site is still in Beta, is going to have a long, happy, and healthy life. And the aunts of the world will be better for it!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Now I really love those folks at Apple

I received a survey from Apple today about my experience at the Genius Bar. They wanted me to rate my experience and give them feedback. Perfect -- I had called the store and tried to find an email address but to no avail. So I filled out the survey and one hour later, a Genius called me to follow-up, capture the info from my survey, and then is going to get the info to the stores so they can better service the next customer that comes along that has the same issue with iWeb that I had. How incredible is that?

It's this kind of customer service that keeps people converting to Macs, iPhones, iPods. While a lot of companies are trying to copy the design and slick details of the devices themselves, what's winning people over is the friendly, helpful service - a much more difficult business to copy. I like that I'm treated humanely with a sympathetic ear, that they go out of their way to help me, see if I'm satisfied once I've left the building, and if it turns out I'm in any way disappointed, they want to mend their ways.

Imagine if every business, big or small, regardless of industry, was striving to be the Apple among their competitors? Apple would be well within its right to set up a consulting arm to teach companies how to do business the Apple-way. And we'd all live in a better world thanks to their efforts.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds on Apple Forums

At the outset, I would like to be honest that I love the Apple Store and the Geniuses that work there. Truly. I'd be interseted in marrying one. I get fantastic service every time I walk in the door, they're kind, understanding, and go out of their way to be helpful. Plus, they have t-shirts with funny sayings on them.

I took my Macbook into the store on 5th Avenue on Sunday because I couldn't get my iWeb-designed website to open on Internet Explorer. At the Genius Bar, I was told that's just the way it goes - Internet Explorer can't read iWeb properly; it's iWeb illiterate. I walked away feeling very frustrated and upset by all of this - I bought my Macbook expressly for the purpose of easily creating a website in iWeb and uploading it to my own URL. Now, it appeared my efforts were for naught.

My friend, Ken, a fellow Mac lover, suggested I try the on-line forums. I was hesitant. I mean, who knows more than one of Apple's Geniuses at one of their premiere stores? Well, it turns out that a lot of people are Geniuses in their own right, and they love posting advice and tips to those forums. One in particular had the exact same problem I was having and after much fiddling found an easy fix for it. My pictures had a reflection and shadow that I chose for stylistic purposes. Turns out that the code that creates those edits in iWeb makes Internet Explorer choke. I removed the reflection and shadow from each picture and now the pages load perfectly. My website was saved! All by the kindness of a stranger who posted to one of the forums.

Geniuses are everywhere...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cash for Trash

Who doesn't need a little extra money these days? Pretty soon you may need to look no further than your trash can. This week, Business Week ran an article on the recycling and waste - an area of our economy that is booming despite the loses being felt in many other industries. Green collar jobs and green collar crime are on the rise, mostly in the area of how to use trash. VC and PE firms are tripping over themselves to invest in new trash technologies, throwing a million ideas at the wall and hoping that a couple of them stick. 

You really want to make some money in trash? Figure out the most efficient way to sort it. As with so many other projects that require a clear, concise reason for being, the value of trash is in the edit. And there isn't a top of the line sorting system out there that does away with ever form of human sorting. What we need is a WALL-E. Actually, we need thousands of them. And some people still think that cartoons are only for entertaining kids! Who knew those folks over at Pixar were moonlighting environmental engineers? 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Randy Pausch after seeing The Last Lecture on YouTube. I followed his blog, read his book, and thought a lot about my childhood dreams. At 47, Randy passed away on Friday leaving us inspired to have as much courage to live our dreams as he did living his. Even as he was dying from pancreatic cancer, he was still having a blast, still living out dreams. 

As adults we sometimes forget about those dreams we has as children. We become too realistic, too practical. We box up our dreams, tape that box shut, and shelve it under the title "nostalgia". We can lose sight of ourselves, living out lives that we never intended to have. Who we really are is housed in that little box, and it's worth re-opening. 

One New Year's Eve, I made a little list of the dreams I had for myself. I've lost track of the paper in all of my moves but I remember some of the dreams I had. Of the 7 I can remember, I've done 3, and I'm working on a 4th:

To travel to a foreign country
To go on an archeological dig
To be fluent in a second language   
To make an artistic contribution to a film
To go on a safari in Africa
To publish a book of my own writing
To run a marathon

A lot left to do, and I need some new dreams, too. It's easy to let a list like this fall by the wayside because we're too busy, too consumed with being an adult to remember how to dream like a kid. The greatest thing that Randy Pausch taught me is that it's possible to do both at the same time. He had a career, a family, and many demands on his time. And he still made it a focus of his life to live those childhood dreams with equal parts of gusto and grace. He knew what he wanted and he went after it. 

For sure, his life was cut short. With his imagination and talents, he would have been able to usher in more sweeping advances in our technological world. He still had so much to teach us. The best way to honor him and the incredible life he lived is take that box of dreams down from the shelf, dust it off, and rediscover ourselves. At the very least, it's worth the trip down memory lane, and we may just find a new road take. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

Advice for Young People in Tough Economic Times

Money concerns and economic worries are top of mind for nearly everyone in my life at the moment. Front page news, top of the evening nightly news broadcasts, and the subject of blog post after blog post. As an econ major and MBA, I'm fascinated by the psychology of money and it's ability to shape the quality of our lives just by the very perception we have of it. Feelings and emotions move markets at a mad pace.

For young people, these tough economic times are particularly worrisome. High debt from school, fewer job prospects, trepidation about their very lengthy futures. It can be discouraging, though I think there is reason for hope. This week, CNN Money offered up advice from a variety of people from money managers to authors. I didn't agree with all of the advice, but wanted to add my own anecdote and advice about money in the hopes that it's helpful in these troubled times. 

1.) Regardless of the economic situations, there are jobs out there for people who are diligent, ambitious, and optimistic. In a bad economy, many people assume they can't find a job and don't even bother to look. Take advantage of that and cast a wide net. 

2.) Use new technology to control your spending, especially on your credit cards. Sites like and offer text messaging and emails of balances to help you keep tabs of where you are in your spending so you aren't surprised at the end of the month when you receive your bills. American Express also offers a myriad of on-line consumer resources with tips and advice to help you manage your financial life.

3.) Stay diversified - and not just in your portfolio, but in your career, too! Most people I know work hard at their day job without having anything other source of income. As you get further in your career, think about how your skills can be utilized in a freelance capacity that you enjoy. It gives you extra money to sock away when times get tough or unexpected expenses arise (case in point - my recent car troubles), you'll be more in control of your career and finances as opposed to the company you work for having all of that control, you'll build your network, and if you are the subject of a layoff, cut in salary, etc. during a downturn in the economy, you'll have a bit of a cushion to tide you through a job search or switch. You're the CEO of your career - make sure you're watching out for it. 

Would welcome any comments an other suggestions. Times like this require group action and efforts - a rising tide lifts all boats. 

The picture of above is from

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Finding Purpose in Africa

Running off to the developing world to make a difference and contribute to humanity used to be the realm of young college graduates. Now, more and more professionals, solo or with family in tow, are finding themselves drawn to areas of the world where they can see the direct impact of their work improving the lot of those who cannot improve the quality of life on their own. 

This week, USA Today ran an article about Americans finding purpose in Africa, specifically Rwanda. For me, that country conjures up images of the gentle mountain gorillas juxtaposed to the images from CNN and MSNBC of the brutal genocide that the country endured. Today, there are ex-pats living and working Rwanda who think that the country is poised to be the next Singapore. After years of unrest and violence beyond measure, the country is fighting its way back to peace and prosperity. And Americans looking for purpose are flocking to lend their expertise, time, and energy. And while Rwandans are reaping the benefits of lower infant mortality, higher education rates, and greater economic opportunities, Americans are gaining a sense of self and purpose, empathy, acceptance, and faith in the goodness that we can create for one another.  

As someone who's always thought that my time for the Peace Corp had passed me by, this article left me encouraged by all of the future opportunities that exist for me to lend a hand, my heart, and my spirit. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No funds for a vacation? How about a staycation?

A few weeks ago I wrote about a family who sought advice on how to wrestle with the problem of not having funds to go on their annual summer vacation. They opted to create a fun summer vacation at home. I read some more evidence today that the trend is catching on quickly, and even being embraced both by families and by companies looking to aid families in this pursuit while making some money in tough times. While at dinner with my friend, Rob, last night, we talked about the possibility of road trips becoming a luxury, not something that people will be able to do at the drop of a hat. It seems that idea has moved beyond a possibilty into a full-blown reality.

The clever folks over at DK Publishing have put together a set of ideas and books to help people have a blast on summer staycation. The website they built around the effort offers all kinds of ideas for enjoying your summer without leaving your city, or even your own four walls. From armchair travel to cooking to group and solo activities to movies to stargazing, they make vacation at home so appealing that you might wonder why you didn't think of taking a staycation even when travel was cheap. And with all the hassle involved today in getting on a plane, train, or driving on the highway, the idea of making your home your haven is heavenly. Staying home for vacation may just be a blessing in disguise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Hachette Book Group USA has put out another book that I fell in love with. (The first set of books from Hachette that caught my attention were those by Stephenie Meyer. I was thrilled to learn that Twilight is being made into a movie set to open on December 12, 2008!) This latest book, Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, was a more difficult read, though a call to action that is timely and necessary. The book is a collection of 5 short stories by Akpan, a Jesuit priest originally from Nigeria who is now living and teaching in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Akpan's is certainly not the first set of stories to chronicle the trouble life of people across Africa. What is unique about the collection is that it is told entirely from the perspective of children. Because of their resiliency, children are able to see the light and dark, simultaneously, in many situations where adults see only one aspect or the other. Children are on a quest for joy, for resolution, and most certainly for peace. As Frank McCourt said in the trilogy of books about his own life, children keep moving forward because it's the only thing they know how to do. Akpan's characters embrace that philosophy and take us along with them for the journey.

To be sure, the circumstances are horrifying - tribal wars, destruction, rape, poverty, starvation. I sometimes had to put the book down because each page is so densely packed with raw emotion and brutally honest storytelling. There is no sugar-coating here. What kept me coming back and reading late into the night was Akpan's intensely visual story telling that has us bear witness to what's happening in countries all across Africa. We are unable to turn away as we make our way through the book and we feel compelled, even obligated, to do something, to say something, to change something. Through literature, he found his voice while also giving a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.

Say You're One of Them was recently reviewed in USA Today. And today, there is a front page article in USA Today on Americans who are finding purpose in Africa.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Good PR for Twitter

"What are you doing?" is the only question that Twitter, the microblogging site, asks you to answer. In 140 characters or less, please. I had heard of the site a while ago though didn't really get into it until March when I attended the BlogHer Business Conference in NYC. There, nearly all the attendees were twittering away, giving their feedback on what was happening at the conference in bite-size "tweets". Four months later, I'm twittering several times a day!

USA today ran an article today about the phenomenon that is Twitter. Its popularity has grown exponentially, and much, MUCH faster than the founders could have predicted. As a result, the site crashes fairly often, though is usually back up and running quickly. Still, the need for reliability is strong, and growing stronger by the hour, in this increasingly interconnected world. This reliability is particularly an issue when companies want to get in on the act and figure out how to leverage the conversations that are going on out there. As Bob Davis said, "Speed is Life." And to have speed, we need reliable connections.

I follow a few companies on Twitter - one being the March of Dimes. I met a small group of their Team Members and these women were light years ahead of many companies when it comes to social media. And it's amazing how often I have been contacted by others who read my writing in one media channel or another, and then decided to "follow" me.

And the most amazing feature I find with Twitter: most of my followers I've never even met in person. Unlike other spaces on line where I spend time like this blog, my website, or Facebook, Twitter is a place where I can leave a short snippet, a passing thought, and then spend the majority of time checking out what others are doing. And there is a load of fantastic information, research, and insight in those 140 characters. For the overwhelmed, people or businesses, Twitter is a great place to get in on the conversation with minimal effort and heartache. Twitter is the art of brevity at its best.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

10 little things

My friend, Julie, is in Tanzania for about 2 months. She's on assignment with the Peace Corp and has started a blog to track her experiences

On one of her posts, she takes a cue from her blogging sister and lists 10 little known things about her that are interesting and unique. I love the idea so much that I'm stealing it. Thanks for the inspiration, Jules :)

1.) The first profession I ever had an interest in was paleontology because I loved dinosaurs.
2.) When I was little, I memorized every fact about Africa that I could get my hands on and my mother would patiently listen to me go on for hours - if only we had the internet then.
3.) I was a Girl Scout until I was 12.
4.) I learned how to swim when I was 30.
5.) This is the first year I have ever been registered with a political party. My mother gave me a voter registration form when I turned 18 and until this year have always been an Independent.
6.) There is a tractor crossing sign on the road I grew up on. 
7.) The two countries I must visit some time in my life are Rwanda, to see the mountain gorillas, and Cuba because of the movie For Love or Country.
8.) I hate talking on the phone - it's my least favorite form of communication
9.) My favorite charitable cause is environmental protection
10.) Mary Lou Retton was my childhood idol  
and a bonus fact:
11.) My sister and I have two common obsessions: The Gilmore Girls (my baby niece is named after Lorelei Gilmore!) and Dunkin' Donuts (which we affectionately refer to as "Dunks")

My new website is up and running!

Hooray! After a steep learning curve and months of agonizing over every word, photo, and design decision, my personal website is up and running. I created the website to drum-up freelance writing work and to grow my practice of helping small business effectively use new and emerging media to augment their marketing strategies. Launching my website today was the first step down the road to this new and exciting venture. The website links heavily to this blog and I will continue to maintain this blog with near-daily writing. I'd love your feedback on the website!

It is a scary thing to put myself out there alone. While secretly I consider myself an expert in communications, now that sentiment is out there in the world. While I've contributed to efforts via a company I work for, this is the first time I am putting my own talent and ambition out there, entirely on my own. That website in a very real sense says who I am, what I do, and what I believe. While there's a tremendous freedom that comes with that kind of action, there is also a fair amount of fear and trepidation. "One step at a time," I keep telling myself.

I must recommend the kind people over at, where I registered my domain name and purchased their hosting service. Their website, while very cluttered, is fairly easy to navigate after a bit of practice. What won me over is their fantastic phone support. I talked to a real person (!) three times this morning, no waiting, and very few menus. Great customer service!

I bought my new Mac earlier this year for its web design capability with the iWeb program. Love it! They saved me the pain of learning anything beyond my rudimentary html knowledge. I applaud people who can write code elegantly - I just have no desire to do it myself and Mac understands that.

I must especially thank my dear friend Dan for his wonderful photography and all of the advice he gave me when I was considering the design of the site. 

I have so many friends who gave me ideas and encouragement as I've considered free-lance writing and this small consulting practice. In brief: Alex, Kelly, Steve, Monika, Katie, Amy, Lisa, Trevin, Brooke, Ken, Heather, and Richard. And to my great family who always believes in me.  

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's the difference between being preachy and passionate?

I understand that there can be a thin line between preaching and speaking passionately. Barack Obama is a brilliant example of someone who has mastered the art of speaking passionately without becoming preachy. A friend of mine was just telling me about a meeting he was recently asked to join because of his expertise on humanitarian relief work. Mind you, this topic was the topic of discussion. He is marvelously articulate and speaks with such authority and passion that it is fully understandable how people will walk to the ends of the Earth for him. 

After he finished his two minute discussion on the role of humanitarian relief work in several hot-button areas of the world right now, there was dead silence from his boss. I should interject here that he is far more educated and personally vested in this cause than she is, despite the fact that she has seniority. He makes her look good without fail, on every project, and she has often publicly taken credit for work he has done. 

At this meeting, rather than thanking him for his point of view, she responded by addressing the group with, "well, not that that information has anything to do with the issue at hand..." Actually, it had everything to do with the issue at hand. His boss was irritated that he had a more articulate, and opposing view, than the surface comments she was making. What's more my friend is far more genuine than his boss, she knows this, and is unable to level the playing field with him. She closed the conversation saying, "well, I think we've had enough preaching for one day." So ludicrous, it's laughable...

And that started me thinking about the difference between preaching, which often has a negative connotation, and articulately addressing an issue with passion. It comes down to whether the person speaking is talking to hear himself talk and or if he is educating and sharing his point-of-view with his audience. Preaching has a lot of shallow dazzle and speaking with passion has dazzle plus substance. With all of my friend's energy and enthusiasm, my advice to him was to move on to someplace that appreciates and rewards him for everything he has to offer. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Winning by Jack Welch

Today, my boss showed an interview of Jack Welch when he was on his book tour for his then-new book, Winning. The interview contained all of the Welch-like outlooks that anyone in business has come to know well; f nothing else, he is remarkably persistent and consistent. Though I disagree with some fundamental beliefs he has about managing a company, I do think he provides excellent food for thought for today's business leaders.

Off the bat, I have to admit that I have experienced Welch-style management first hand. I interned at The Home Depot for my summer between my years of business school. And though Welch never worked there himself, one of his proteges, Bob Nardelli, was the CEO for over 6 years. We all know how that played out, and there are numerous articles that have been written about the damaging culture of that place.

Many of the troubles that The Home Depot is facing now have nothing to do with the housing market. They have everything to do with the fact that in 6 years Nardelli decimated the culture that made that company great. People were afraid of him. He had dirty stores with low service levels and focused on the large professional contractor, a customer who was never all that interested in The Home Depot. They consequently sold the business after Nardelli's termination. While Nardelli tried very hard to play hardball the way Mr. Welch taught him to, he forgot the lessons of shedding what is not essential, focusing on others when you are in a leadership position (as opposed to oneself), and realizing that a great company never believes they are best so they continually seek to learn and improve.

Where I strongly disagree with Welch is in his philosophy that is the namesake of his book: winning. He says a company's job, its only job, is to win. He goes on to say that from winning, all good things come. My question to him would be, "Do you win at all costs, by any means necessary?" There are a lot of companies that got very large, fantastically wealthy, by completely disregarding the environment, by squeezing every last drop of margin out of their suppliers, and treating their people with less than respect. Wal-Mart is a great example of all of these operating principles. Now they're working hard to reverse their ways. They certainly won by Welch's definition. But was it worth it?

I would amend the mission statement of a company by saying that it's job is to win with integrity. And by integrity I mean that it must consider that the communities in which its employees, suppliers, and customers live and do business are also stakeholders in their business decisions, as much as its stockholders. If a company wins and puts the health and well-being of its communities at risk, then in the long-run we all lose.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vandalism: a sign of the times?

Theft is a common topic on the news, in newspapers, magazine, we hear about it on the streets. I never realized how depressing and violating it is until it happened to me, today. I walked to my car, parked in my lovely neighborhood, this morning and started it up. You'd think the muffler was missing it was so loud. I turned the car off, took a peek under the car and saw that a very large pipe was dragging on the ground. Didn't look good.

I called my boss to get his advice and he said it sounded like a clamp had come off and that I should just take it to a repair shop and get it fixed. Didn't sound like too big a deal. My mom and step-father said the same thing. I called my wonderful insurance company who arranged and paid for a tow to a nearby station about five miles away. 

When the tow truck arrived, the tow man looked under the car once it was up on the truck. Once elevated, it was clear to see that a clamp hadn't fallen off. Someone had taken a saw to my exhaust system and cut out the catalytic converter.

I had held it together pretty well all morning, but when I saw my car bring put up on the truck and carted away, I got a little teary. I just can't understand how anyone, no matter how desperate, could literally harm someone else's property, inconvenience them financially and logistically. As it turns out, with this particular kind of violation, I am not alone. 

I called my friend, Steve, once I returned from the auto repair shop, and he said to me that he saw some article about this recently. After a quick search on Google, I found a New York Times article which ran in March that discusses the increase in this type of theft. CATs are a hot item because they contain so many precious metals that can be stripped out and sold. A thief can get about $200 per CAT from a chop shop and it takes about two minutes to take one from a car like mine. No doubt that same thief hit several other cars in my neighborhood on the same night. To replace it costs anywhere from $450 - $1000 and that's just the part, not the labor. Thankfully, my car insurance covers vandalism so I'm getting off with a $500 deductible and they'll pay the rest, including a good portion of a rental car I'll need to get back and forth to work. Certainly not what I want to spend my money on, but I'm grateful for any help I can get in this situation. 

For me, this is just one more reason to urge me to make the switch to a public transportation life.   

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reaching consumers where they are

"Build it and they will come" is a business mantra that I wish would die a quick death. I am amazed by how often retailers and service providers believe that the customer needs to seek them out. With so many choices and so little time, companies need to be proactively tracking their customers to find out where they are, and then doing whatever they can to get their products and services in front of them in compelling ways.

I read a post on one of the blogs today that was written by Rich Sloan, of the founders of StartUpNation. In the post, he describes a recent outing to Costco where he found AMC movie tickets available at a slight discount. He and his wife weren't even considering seeing a movie, but it was clearly saving a bit of money for them and would provide them with an experience later on that they'd both enjoy. If not for that display, the couple would have had to decide to see a movie, then look up the times, dates, location, etc. of the closest movie showing a movie they were interested in. With a slight discount in a store where the couple was already shopping, AMC reached out to them and gave them an idea for a night out.

Well played, AMC. And a lesson for all of us in business. The rules of the game have changed: we must do everything we can to offer differentiated, timely benefits to consumers in a convenient package.

Smoothing ruffled minds

Last night, I went to listen to my friend, Dan's, DJ mix at the Time Out New York Lounge at New World Stages. His show, Lush & Lively, features a fabulous mix of groovy re-creations of old standards. The music really just makes me smile. I hadn't seen Dan in over a month - a travesty as I am used to seeing about once a week. Times gets away from us too easily. This started me down the road to thinking about how much our busy lives actually effect the state of our minds.

I came across a quote today by Charlotte Bronte that could be the mantra for all of us that suffer from time to time, or all the time as the case may be, from insomnia. "A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow." A large part of my sleeping problems are self-induced. My mind is working so fast so often that it has a hard time going to sleep. It is stubborn about turning off.

Meditation helps. Yoga helps even more because it pairs meditation with physical activity. I've been known to run simply to exhaust myself as much as possible. What really helps is slowing down and I am growing more conscious of my ability to slow down my life despite the world's efforts to continuously speed it up.

Yesterday, I was meeting Dan at 6, precisely, so that way I could get somewhere else by 7:30, and be home by exactly 10 to finish up some work before going to bed. Fine to do on occasion. Ludicrous to think that kind of rigid planning in my social life is sustainable. So I moved my 7:30 back half an hour, and lengthened by then-8:00 by half an hour. I gave myself some room to breathe, and I was able to get a better night's sleep because I hadn't felt rushed all evening long to get here, there, and everywhere.

To be sure, valuing your time as the most precious resource on the planet is a difficult task because demands are placed upon you by external sources. However, giving myself the permission to control the impact of those outside sources, even if just for one evening, yields such good results that I'm having difficulty valuing my time as anything less than precious. Could that one decision be the key to calming down our ruffled minds?

The image above can be found at:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing from the heart, or at least from real life

Week three of Sketch Comedy 101 at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Conversation between class members seemed easier. And then someone blurts out to our teacher, Charlie, "See, we're talking." This of course killed the whole good buzz that was happening. Luckily we got it back as the sketches again this week were very good.

This week's assignment involved creating a character sketch. There are a lot of interesting folks in this world - so many that at some points in my life I've begun to wonder if those people are normal and I'm a bit left of center. Unfortunately, my memory was failing me badly this weekend. I couldn't think of a single funny character to write about. Last week the other sketches were so good, and mine was certainly not, that I felt an intense pressure to write something hilarious. I wracked my brain for ideas, started to go down a path, and realized all roads were heading toward decidedly un-funny destinations. I was explaining the situation to my friend, Kelly, whom I was visiting in Buffalo over the July 4th weekend.

I threw out an idea of a Brain Storming Session Gone Wrong. I'm intrigued by how often that term is thrown around in some companies by senior management. I thought it might be funny to have a CEO who's the least creative person on the planet running a session with his highly creative direct reports, and then shoot down all of their ideas in favor of his own lunatic suggestions. Kelly agreed that that could be a fun sketch, that it probably happens to people more often than not, and I could make a go of it.

So I did and it was funny. Very funny. So funny in fact that the man reading the CEO character was laughing too hard to get the lines out. This was a good sign for my writing and a vast improvement over last week. And then other people in the class were joining in with new ideas to heighten the comedy even more. Now I know why writers enjoy this form.

Here's the learning: Take a cue from the very idea of brainstorming sessions and put every idea out there. I've suggested many ideas that fell flat once I put them out into the world. I've kept my suggestions to myself only to have someone else say the same exact idea and get a big laugh. And I've made some suggestions that don't sound all that funny to me though once I get them out into the world, they go over well.

Comedy, more than any other art form I've experience, is a living, breathing entity. You know immediately whether or not it's good because laughter, in the best possible case, is uncontrollable by our conscious minds. We have no idea if something is funny until we act it out for others and gauge their response. It requires that we ban together with other people to create something valuable; a good lesson to consider, with far deeper impact on our lives than just the act of writing sketch comedy.

Next week, we're scheduled to present commercial parodies. With all of the good fodder out there on the airwaves now, the trouble will be deciding among dozens of choices which one will be most likely to get the biggest laughs.

What does Dr. Helen Fischer have to say about love?

Good question! I'll find out tonight at the taping of an ABC News Special that Barbara Walters and Dr. Helen Fischer are co-hosting with The event will take place at Mansion, a new venue in Chelsea. 50 men / 50 women - all from similar backgrounds and looking for love. This sounded a touch wacky at first but the opportunity seems so intriguing that I couldn't possibly let it pass by.

Dr. Fischer is an anthropologist at Rutgers University, and she studies the brain in love. I figure if she has made her life's work to find out how and why people fall for one another, the least I can do is add myself as a data point to her research. In January, Barbara Walters will present an hour long ABC News Special on Dr. Fisher's forthcoming book, WHY HIM? WHY HER? Understanding Your Personality Type and Finding Your Soul Mate.

Maybe I'll find the love of my life, or even just get a few good dates out of the evening, and at the very least I'll collect some good stories.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nothing Worse Than Silence

I started a Sketch Comedy Writing class knowing I'd be the least funny of the students. Part of my motivation was to meet writers, and I figured all of us could use a little more humor in our lives and in our writing. We write every week and then read our work out loud for everyone to hear. 

My first piece was too short and not at all as funny as I had hoped it would be. I got a few polite smiles, and maybe one line that got a true laugh. Otherwise, it fell flat. To be fair, the class is relatively quiet - I'm assured by our instructor that ALL sketch writing classes are quiet. But if that's the case then I'm having a hard time understanding why he brings that fact to our attention several times per class. Every other sketch piece was far funnier than mine. 

Part of me just wanted to throw in the towel. And then I thought of my friend, Brooke, who has recently transitioned from stage acting to TV / film. She's studied TV and film with conviction for nearly a year. And she goes to auditions not with the intention to book a job, but to improve, to feel that her investment of time in learning this new art form is worthwhile. Some people are naturally funny in that Saturday Night Live sort of way. I'm not -- I'm going to have to work at it. And the good news is, well, I really have nowhere else to go but up. 

I'm in the middle of preparing my next piece - a character sketch. Time to dig out the memories of all those weirdos I've had the privilege to meet...they're finally coming in handy.     

Dancing Around the World

In graduate school, my friend, Eric, showed me a video of a guy named Matt who was making a living dancing around the world. I loved the video when I first saw it, and had tucked it away into the recesses of my brain. Just recently, the cobwebs were dusted off when I received a post on my Facebook account application, Fun Wall. My friend, Jules, sent it to me, and I passed it on to all my friends.

"Where in the Hell is Matt" is a series of videos set to inspirational music that chronicle Matt's own little dance around the world. There's so much joy and community in this series of videos that they make you smile and reach for your passport. It just goes to show that individuals with passion and open-hearts can accomplish whatever they set their minds to.

To see all of Matt's videos and learn more about him, visit

Waking the Dead - Reviving "Has-Been" Brands

In college, I had a boyfriend who loved Herbal Essence Shampoo. He wasn't part of the target demographic, but he loved one of the scents so much that he just couldn't imagine his morning shower without it. Despite this kind of following, every brand eventually grows old and stale if left untended. A.G. Lafley, CEO of P&G, says there are three routes for a dying brand: Abandon, Divest, or Re-invent. In the case of Herbal Essence, he chose the third option. I'm sure my former boyfriend is thrilled!

The P&G team didn't perform any miraculous feats - they tightened up the demographic, modernized the packaging to stand out on the shelf and encourage the dual-purchase of shampoo and conditioner, and re-vamped the language with more current vocabulary and inuendos. This easy-to-understand process is allowing the fledgling brand to gain sales growth in the high single digits. Not bad, and certainly something not common in the current economy.

Process aside, I think A.G. Lafley is saying something much richer about product re-invention. It's easy for product developers to fall in love with their product as is, for marketers to admire their own catchy phrasing and campaign themes so much that they can't imagine anything more brilliant coming down the pike. For example, let's consider the highly creative and relevant campaign by the Dove Brand - Campaign for Real Beauty. The simplicity and power of that statement resonated with a wide audience. That campaign has been around for a while, so much so that it's beginning to become old news, especially in the wake of the touch-up work done on some of the campaign photographs. Those marketers need to be thinking about a re-invention now!

This is the trouble with brilliance that explains why we have so many one-hit wonders in this world. You have to let go of past successes as much as you have to let go of past failures in order to move forward. Product re-invention requires a constant, fervent belief that our best work is yet to be created. It requires that we push the envelope and challenge ourselves continuously. To take away that challenge and rest on our past success is to go the way of Sharper Image, Brim, and Tab.

For a look at the interactive case study on Herbal Essence's re-invention, visit

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Working alone, together

With the ever rising cost of commuting and increased pressures on our time, more and more companies are open to team members spending one or more days per week at home. I'm very lucky to have this type of deal - whenever we have a half day at work, I work from home provided there isn't some pressing reason that I must be in the office. I've often spent that time at home, alone, in my studio apartment in front of my laptop. 

Recently, I've found myself seeking outdoor areas, cafes, even the occasional bar (only after 12 noon of course) that lets me set up shop. At first, my motivation was that a new setting would inspire some creativity, would afford me a different outlook. Then, I chalked it up to craving the nice weather or air conditioning. After a conversation with my friend, Moya, I know what's going on. I want to work independently, but I also want to feel some sense of community while I work. Luckily, I am not alone in this pursuit. 

Last week, the New York Times ran an article entitled "Working Alone in a Group". It spelled out this situation of telecommuters - grateful for the opportunity to not have to commute to work, but wanting a space other than home to get their jobs done. Telecommuters want a little company, a wi-fi connection, and a comfy chair. They don't want distractions. And they're willing to pay a little for it. The article provides a website that allows you to search for co-working spaces by zip code. 

The article goes on to detail a couple of the key areas in the Bay Area that offer this type of space, and then notes that what it all comes down to is moderating the distraction level. I think there's something more though - having other people around us, even if we interact with them minimally, drives our creative pursuits. We are social beings, and while we may enjoy some degree of solitude, we also need to balance that solitude with a sense of community. Give this idea a couple years, and we'll see co-working spaces popping up in every neighborhood.  

Innovation is an investment, not a cost, not a luxury

In case no one else has told you, the sky is falling. According to an article in the New York Times today, we're going to hell in a hand basket, at least for the time being. This puts people like me who work in the innovation field into a bit of a bind. I whole-heartedly support (actually vehemently encourage) employers to consider how and how much each member of a team adds value. I've seen too many companies burn money in the street because they're uncomfortable with asking every team member to articulate how they add value. And companies are worse off for it.

What I do object to is the idea that areas such as innovation, product development, and research are luxuries. Prada shoes are a luxury. Gourmet meals at 5-star restaurants are luxuries. Innovation, product development, and research are a company's lifeline to the future.

Paull Young from Converseon sent me a blog post yesterday that is so good, I have to pass it on.
In the post, James Gardner, who works in innovation at a UK bank, talks about the five ways that innovators within companies add value. And suggests that if we wants to preserve our place within our companies, we should develop each of these five areas: invention, influence, entrepreneurship, thought leadership, and sponsorship.

The trouble I see is that areas like innovation are viewed purely as a cost - a nice to have if you can get it for $0. Bad idea. Innovation is an investment. Over time, it generates cash flow and does wonders for getting the best and brightest minds to beat down your door to play a part. And with tough times ahead, that talent is the only way a company is going to save itself from going under.

Picture above can be found at: