Wednesday, July 30, 2008
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 savvyauntie.com 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 http://blog.savvyauntie.com/. With all the recognition and traffic she's getting while the site is still in Beta, savvyauntie.com 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
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
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
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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
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
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
Friday, July 18, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
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
Monday, July 14, 2008
I read a post on one of the Amazon.com blogs today that was written by Rich Sloan, of the founders of StartUpNation. http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/post/PLNK2ZPLRZB2ZOBQG. 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.
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: http://startupblog.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/salvador-dali-clock.jpg
Thursday, July 10, 2008
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.
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
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.
"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 http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/index.shtml
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 http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jun2008/ca20080617_465490.htm
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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.
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. http://bankervision.typepad.com/bankervision/2008/06/innovation-is-a-luxury.html
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: http://www.aqua-aerobic.com/images/aquaology_innovation.jpg