Archive for category economy

Depression is Normal, But The Stigma Shouldn’t Be

I’ve made no secret of my depression, or my ADD, or my imposter syndrome, or my fight with my inner critic and the self doubt that I face regularly. I share and am open about it for one simple reason – it’s a part of the human condition that need not be stigmatized. That we can no longer afford to stigmatize. That we all must learn to overcome, whether for our own good, or for our family, friends, or coworkers.

Depression hurts, everyone. But it is a normal part of the human condition.

While we should all learn to understand and accept it, depression shouldn’t be normalized as persistent as it is soul crushing. It causes unnecessary harm to everyone who suffers through it, and those who surround them. I know firsthand what it has done to myself, my wife, my startups, and indeed the world over the years. So much personal and social value has been lost and so many opportunities have been missed, while I have been mired in that fog of darkness. In that cold, dark, lonely, fear filled nighttime of the soul.

When we have the knowledge, the science, and now the awareness to improve the lives of so many as well as the richness of society as a whole, why don’t we do better? Why don’t we solve the mental health crisis once and for all, for everyone, individually and collectively?

The first ‘why’ is the stigma, which is why I’ve been open about it for so long. I had conversation with ADHD Coach Pete Quily at Northern Voice in 2007, and his insights and encouragement showed me the need and helped me connect it as one small but mighty aspect of  my life purpose — to heal, unify and orchestrate a #betterworld. In whatever way, small or large that I can.

While fighting my own depression and other personal demons I have… ugh, what a terrible word. Our “demons.” How we exaggerate them and eviscerate our own godliness. Language is so important but even I misuse it frequently, even when sharing deep life long learnings that are part of every one of my days.

These aren’t demons. They’re not even challenges. They are things that happened, or often things that didn’t happen. Things for which I associated negative emotion and through the experience of which I made incorrect assumptions based on that negative feeling and mindset. You see, we each get to choose what events, words, deeds and misdeeds MEAN to us. This is at the core of Buddhism – mindfulness, presence, prayer (setting intention as well as manifesting through the “power” of your God) and most especially, psychology and psychiatry in treating depression.

This is where the Serenity Prayer really hits a home run as a global, cross religious truism:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

What a powerful sentiment. Amazing truly. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a core set of operating system instructions for our interactions with each other and ourselves. Just as with the golden rule:

Do unto other’s as you would have them do unto you.

Regardless of your beliefs or religion or culture, participants in a civil, harmonious society know these sorts of statements to be true.  Maybe we should transcend the boundaries of the concept of civil society and strive for a “harmonious society?” Might that be possible, that we could strive for something even greater than civilization? Given what we have attained so far, it might not be such a bad idea to strive for an even higher model of interaction for society.

The point here is depression is normal. We need to be able to talk about it, and empathize with those going through it. We need to improve how we facilitate people discovering their own solutions. We need improve the distribution and acceptance of all evidence based solutions that produce real results. IMHO, we need to urgently work together to get beyond this tremendously costly societal challenge whether we want to sustain civilization or transcend it in the creation of a Harmonious Society.

If the internet has been declared a fundamental human right by the UN, access to knowledge and all forms of healthcare, especially mental health care in all its approached, should also be foundational rights for all humanity. Literally, this is for the good of society. This is for your best interests as well as mine. It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. In today’s interconnected, interdependent society, if everyone is better off, I am better off, not lesser for it.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, so let’s start simple. We all must accept and appreciate that depression is a normal part of the human condition.

If you care about someone or something, or if you want to create something – art, a startup, a movement, a family, anything really, you will face struggles. You will be challenged. You will need to overcome adversity. You will have to learn from others and figure things out on your own.

You will lose. You will make mistakes. You will have people say mean things to you. You will face acts of God. You will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad people may do bad things to you. You will feel mad about it. You will feel sad about it. You will undoubtedly face a moment where it will be easier to escape or wallow in the darkness then to face it, then bouncing back – learning more and taking the next action you need to take in setting your mind, and the world right in the face of it.

The thing is, as I’ve found, you not only get to choose what it means to you, you get to choose what to do about it.

With love, knowledge, care, and the support of friends, family and society, I see a day where no one need dwell in depression excessively. Where depression is normal, but suffering alone in it is not. Indeed there are lessons that come from depression too as you may have found in some of my thoughts in this post today. So it will still arise and persist, it just needn’t persist for long. For all these reasons and so many others, this is why I have found so much personal freedom and liberation and power in “The Four Agreements“.

Be impeccable with your word
Don’t make assumptions
Don’t take things personally
Always do your best
 — Paraphrasing Don Miguel Ruiz

We’ve got a long way to go towards a fully harmonious society. Maybe 50, maybe 100 years, or maybe never. Or maybe something really bad happens and our leaders, and our society as a whole, wake up and start taking right actions and following the principles of the eightfold path and the teachings of their own gods. Maybe then, we can all be better off in a #betterworld.

But let’s start simple, let’s accept that depression is a normal part of the human condition, but stigmatizing it isn’t and should not be any longer. More so, let us all commit to do whatever we can to help more people find a path through it so they can get the most of life for themselves and for the betterment of each and every one of us.

Let's lift each other up, out of depression and into a better society.

 — Please comment and share this post if anything here strikes a chord for you. If this post is interesting to you, you might be interested in my work on The Noble Pursuit, or on what we have started to do with Rysing Tyde. —

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Microsoft + Linkedin: A Linkedin Killer Builder’s View

Linkedin + Microsoft OpportunityThere is a lot of talk since yesterday about the Microsoft acquisition of Linkedin, about how it makes sense, about how it doesn’t and about many of the obvious opportunities for merging their products and customer bases. I have a different take which I’d like to share with you.

Until recently, I was building what several leading analysts, academics and corporate executives called a “Linkedin Killer”. Ultimately, it may one day still be just that, or perhaps it is a view of the bigger picture of what might come from the $26 Billion acquisition.

While my company building efforts with Alynd and then Will Someone were not a success, I did, once again, identify a need, add fuel to a trend and build forward looking products that are exemplars from the future of work. While the stories and marketing position you read on those web sites may not make it obvious that my goal was to kill Linkedin, I assure you the bigger story of how it all could work together, while ambitious, was just that. After endeavoring tirelessly for three years, I am now in the process of closing the company and seeking a team where I might contribute my experience and perhaps even the IP I’ve been developing.

How Could We Kill Linkedin?

First, the evolution of the market is already killing it slowly as many others have reported. Resumes are becoming an artifact of our past. In the world where people use their time and talents for multiple types of work/gigs every day, each valued differently, what value is a prior job title that is given out differently at different organizations with different meanings? It’s only really a proxy as it is, an imperfect one at that by every measure.

So reputation is now replacing resumes, particularly given the opportunity to create verifiable digital audit trails of our actual work with others. We can now easily embed a reputations building function using blockchain like technology into the existing systems we use. This is why I created Alynd originally, to not only improve how we collaborate with each other in a more agile manner, but also to capture data I would not otherwise be able to get out of other systems that would reflect a true measure of someone’s capability, integrity and reliability.

I believe this is where Microsoft has a real opportunity as they now have both sides of that puzzle, and while Windows Live ID from Microsoft is being used, there is no reputational or other identity component to it outside of work teams and XBox Live (IMHO, pls correct me if I am wrong here).

The Bigger Microsoft Opportunity

Since you are a high performance worker, a great collaborator and a person of integrity who kicks as at their job, imagine the following scenario.  Through Outlook or Office 365, MS has date time stamped record of your emails, your document edits, your calendar appointments and more. It knows who you are really connected to, who you go to for answering difficult questions and who you actually work with regularly. It also now has Artificial Intelligence that can infer an awful lot about things like how often you deliver your work on time, provided needed expertise to a colleague, covered for a coworker who dropped the ball and even what expertise you have published among other insights.

So what if, since you were a person of high integrity, you opted into a program which would show your high character and professional capabilities on your professional MS Linkedin profile?  What if your profile had an indicator that showed you delivered 95% of your work on time or early? Or you only rescheduled 10% of your meetings? Or you were the go to person for everyone in your organization with an email marketing question?

What if you were, as an independent contractor, or as someone looking for a new job, able to offer your time/talent through a global market place to other amazing people who were doing really great projects? Would that be interesting to you? A digital labor market of only the best people, of only the people who have the highest integrity, the greatest talents and as you might guess, get the highest rates as a result.

All of that and more is possible. That is what I have been working towards with Alynd first, then Will Someone and now as a personal project where I am learning to code with IBM Bluemix, for a simpler version of the reputation platform Relyable.

Of course, whether or not the market would accept it and use it is the key question. Still, there are hundreds of variants of this concept that could be simplified and made to work on the way towards this bigger vision, all of which could be beneficial to all participants in the 3 sided marketplaces out there like UpWork and Fiverr. But each one of them is a strategy that would serve to co-create greater value and turn Linkedin into the premiere default business talent directory for the gig economy. Something it does not do now, but which Jeff Weiner recently spoke about as part of their 3 prong approach to the future. (Can’t find the link to that speech, do you have it?)

Specifically, what sort of features might this entail?

I should first point out that any social network could build a team to pursue this opportunity as persistent digital identity is the core necessity. So this is a concept I had thought of taking to Jack Dorsey at Twitter as much as bringing it to Google and Facebook. But a Llinkedinin/Microsoft collaboration makes it so much easier to execute on at scale given the assets they have and positions they hold in the market.

Some of the core features I expect to see would be:

  • An aggregated labor market where people are able to offer their services, integrated with a calendar and supported by AI to fill in any openings to maximize your income potential
  • A single login for multiple email accounts into multiple systems with a multi faceted reputational identity
  • An aggregated evidence based reputation system using all the data from your collaboration systems/email, simple contracts and performance feedback
  • A “simple contract” built on blockchain to enable gig based payments on demand when work is completed/delivered and reviewed.An artificially intelligent assistant prioritizing, scheduling and alerting you (Cortana ++)
  • An organized view of all your published media as well as other media appearances as related to your talents and marketable skills built dynamically
  • Learning paths to guide engaged talent to their best possible selves (already have most of this, but with the new data can find out what other experts used to learn and grow as the basis for dynamically improving over time)
  • Micro mentorship opportunities to help connect and guide others in your profession towards professional growth (from groups to guilds)
  • An integrated folksonomy across apps to ease organization and retrieval from different contexts
  • So much more I won’t share today but will be glad to talk about soon…

What now? What next?

I for one am very interested in seeing what comes next, but for now I expect they have a lot of cultural integration and politicking to figure out. So we may not see anything big for a while, but I expect to see some interesting things quickly given how Linkedin re-architected their platform a few years ago. I hope so at least as this is a chance to fulfill the vision I have been chasing for years… to build out the next generation socioeconomic infrastructure for a more efficient, higher integrity labor market. One in which there will be drastic decreases in wasted efforts and never before seen improvements to the efficiency of shared value creation. If it works as I see it, there will be huge increases in health and happiness too as we move to drive out the worst aspects of working together today.

If they don’t do this, it would be a real shame. Or perhaps you see it as an opportunity, in which case, please reach out to me to talk personally about the other ways we might be able to manifest this and my broader vision. While I am looking for my next opportunity due to the financial reality I face today, I remain excited about this vision and know it will eventually come to be, so it might as well be us building it.

What do you think about these ideas for Linkedin + Microsoft? Too far fetched? Would you opt in?

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Welcome to the Adaptive Economy

#Reorg Everything: My Talentnet Keynote

Reorg EverythingWhat is the Adaptive Economy? Why do we need to #Reorg? What should be our focus? Here’s the premise as I outlined in my keynote at Talentnet

The pace of change isn’t just fast, it’s accelerating. So many things are changing that we can no longer look at a single facet as we did at the dawn of digital and then networked computing. It’s not just the gig economy, the collaborative economy, the on demand economy or the green economy in isolation, it’s all of that and more, requiring a more holistic approach. As Darwin taught us long ago, in this fast changing world, it’s the quickest to adapt that survives.

Fundamentally we must first accept that the market is no longer a battlefield. It’s an ecosystem. Leading and winning in an economy that is oriented around creating the greatest amount of shared value is very different from one in which you are seeking to capture the most amount of profit for the organization and its shareholders. This is why I propose we need to #Reorg everything and serve the market.

How do we do it? By adopting new mindsets, methods and measures, most especially in my view of embracing some form of self management. This requires you to focus on creating alignment across the ecosystem, developing greater agility and creating a culture of accountability. We must also become more proactive and predictive.

The enemy we face today in organization’s, besides fear of change itself, is three fold – budgets, bonuses and bozos. In the real time transparent world in which we live, we need to go beyond the sort of budgeting which requires us to accurately predict future market dynamics.Being more agile enables you to adapt to the market’s needs more easily. With a culture of accountability, you will increase trust such that you will also empower more people to make spending decisions across the organization. This has been proven out and more thoroughly developed through Morningstar and several other participants of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table.

For those with the courage to move towards more of an ecosystem based strategy and operating model, there is a massive opportunity to lead the market and seize the lion’s share of the profits to be had. The more trusted a company becomes, the lower the cost of sales, the higher the likelihood of becoming the employer of choice and the higher the switching costs for partners and customers alike.

So much more to come on this in the weeks/months ahead. I’ve been running towards this future through my software company and it’s latest product Will Someone, a community collaboration tool. I’m furthering that development while going more public with the insights I’ve developed to help build a better future for all, by design.

You can hear more about the Adaptive Economy in this audio + slide deck from my keynote presentation, #Reorg Everything. I presented this for the first time on Friday March 11, 2016 in Austin TX as the keynote for the Talentnet conference in the offices of HomeAway.

We are building on this even further now, taking the work that went into this keynote and starting to write a book on the Adaptive Economy. If you are interested in contributing, have questions or want to talk about it more, please let me know in the comments.

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Winning The Future: A #Badgeless SxSW 2016 Recap

Winning the Future
While I have often gone to Austin for SxSW over the past 9 years to speak about the future with thought leaders from around the world, speaking on the future was literally my purpose this year. While I was #Badgeless again, I was also speaking at two different unofficial events, the W2O Pre-Commerce Summit and Talentnet. While I was ‘working’ constantly from when I arrived on Wednesday through Friday evening, I was still able to get a great sense of the festival itself, how it’s changed and what it’s future looks like — more on that later, or skip down if you are looking for my perspective on SxSW itself.

The Future of… 

I’m finally getting comfortable with being called a futurist instead of giggling at the titular comedy of the role. I’ve definitely put my 10,000+ hours into inventing the future over the course of my life, maybe even 100,000+ hours. Even back in High School I tried to get my manager at Wendy’s to add onion rings to the menu after I cooked some up using ingredients we had on hand.

I could have simply focused on writing and speaking about the future, but I have just as often taken a run at manifesting my visions as a serial entrepreneur and now a social entrepreneur. While I have been early to market often, every single concept has later proven itself valid – from local content networks, to conversational intelligence, to human powered search, to customer experience design, to content marketing, to information appliances, to reinventing comments and more recently to reimagining work.

At the W2O Group’s Pre Commerce Summit, I participated in a panel, literally titled “The future of…”  My role was to focus on organizations and society, which is what I’ve been researching for the last several years. While a few of my comments were apparently controversial, such as my prediction that 50MM jobs will be gone forever within 5 years due to automation, AI and robotics, many were inspiring. When asked what I suggested the audience due to prepare for the future, I took the conversation into a very human direction – to love, self love specifically. You really need to listen/watch…

Facilitated by Mike Edelhart, I was joined by Julie Borlaug of the Borlaug Institute and Kush Parikh, CEO of PayByPhone. I was really blown away by all the great work Julie is doing to end hunger around the world, and more impressed by her practical yet forward thinking approach to this important work. If we were to see more people like her working towards social good, I think most of our problems would be solved by now.

You can view video of the panel here at the 1 hr 28 minute 30 second mark. From the feedback it was one of the better panels of the day.

A full recap of the pre-commerce Summit was posted by my good friend Lionel Menchaca.

#Reorg Everything: My Talentnet Keynote

Reorg EverythingWhat is the Adaptive Economy? Why do we need to #Reorg? What should be our focus? Here’s the premise…

The pace of change isn’t just fast, it’s accelerating. So many things are changing that we can no longer look at a single facet as we did at the dawn of digital and then networked computing. It’s not just the gig economy, the collaborative economy, the on demand economy or the green economy in isolation, it’s all of that and more, requiring a more holistic approach. As Darwin taught us long ago, in this fast changing world, it’s the quickest to adapt that survives.

Fundamentally we must first accept that the market is no longer a battlefield. It’s an ecosystem. Leading and winning in an economy that is oriented around creating the greatest amount of shared value is very different from one in which you are seeking to capture the most amount of profit for the organization and its shareholders. This is why I propose we need to #Reorg everything and serve the market.

How do we do it? By adopting new mindsets, methods and measures, most especially in my view of embracing some form of self management. This requires you to focus on creating alignment across the ecosystem, developing greater agility and creating a culture of accountability. We must also become more proactive and predictive.

The enemy we face today in organization’s, besides fear of change itself, is three fold – budgets, bonuses and bozos. In the real time transparent world in which we live, we need to go beyond the sort of budgeting which requires us to accurately predict future market dynamics.Being more agile enables you to adapt to the market’s needs more easily. With a culture of accountability, you will increase trust such that you will also empower more people to make spending decisions across the organization. This has been proven out and more thoroughly developed through Morningstar and several other participants of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table.

For those with the courage to move towards more of an ecosystem based strategy and operating model, there is a massive opportunity to lead the market and seize the lion’s share of the profits to be had. The more trusted a company becomes, the lower the cost of sales, the higher the likelihood of becoming the employer of choice and the higher the switching costs for partners and customers alike.

So much more to come on this in the weeks/months ahead. I’ve been running towards this future through my software company and it’s latest product Will Someone, a community collaboration tool. I’m furthering that development while going more public with the insights I’ve developed to help build a better future for all, by design.

You can hear more about the Adaptive Economy in this audio + slide deck from my keynote presentation, #Reorg Everything. I presented this for the first time on Friday March 11, 2016 in Austin TX as the keynote for the Talentnet conference in the offices of HomeAway.

We are building on this even further now, taking the work that went into this keynote and starting to write a book on the Adaptive Economy. If you are interested in contributing, have questions or want to talk about it more, please let me know in the comments.

Unofficial SxSW: #Badgeless #FTW

Wherever you went, Obama and Trump were the topics of the day.  Which I’ve been trying to avoid recently. From talking to Lord Chadlington at the W2O Pre Commerce Summit, I discovered that most voters seem to break for the winning candidate in the final 48 hours. So I realized I want to invest my time this election cycle in getting out the vote. All of this talk between here and now is important, but to make the maximum impact, I am changing my focus and I hope you join me.

There were many conversations like this that mattered deeply. Talking with Kyle Ellicot about Wearable IoT World and their new efforts in Asia while hanging out at one of the best venues of SxSW hosted by Heather Meeker Haas and her team at Zendesk; hearing more about the plans for Techfugees from Mike Butcher; getting judged as unworthy for my super casual weekend in Austin style (t-shirt/shorts) twice; hearing more about Anne Greenberg’s ideas in VR; learning about some of the Digital Transformation work my former Deloitte Digital colleagues are doing; pitching a new idea to solve some big problems; and so many more amazing people and projects that can’t all be reflected here.

The big story out of SxSW as you have heard elsewhere is VR everywhere. From Robert Scoble announcing he’s leaving Rackspace to be an EIR at Upload VR to VR experiences seemingly in every major brand activation. One of my favorite unofficial events of this year was the New York Times VR Event programming, where I was able to pick up their Google Cardboard viewers and finally experience journalism in VR. It was truly life changing. In watching their story on the refugee crisis, and standing in the middle of a UN food drop, I felt the future. The amount of empathy you can create by immersing someone virtually into someone else’s shoes is massive.

In fact, when I returned home, I shared that refugee food drop with my Mother in law who was visiting, who was equally blown away. Trouble being, she isn[t going to put the cardboard together and get in a swivel chair to make the most of the 360 degrees, so it’s still a bit too much friction for current fidelity. When Kristie tried it out, she got nauseous…

As I explained often at SxSW, despite these current challenges, I see a huge future for Augmented Reality, beyond the entertainment and experiential potential of Virtual Reality. To get all buzzy, I believe there is a huge opportunity in crafting contextualized collaboration in Augmented Reality with cognitive assistance. Or in other words, Immersive Collaboration. What does it mean? That’s a vision of the future for another day…

SxSW: The Festival & It’s Future

Obviously, having the Obama’s speak at SxSW this year was a big win for the organizers. Even still, people were talking about whether it jumped the shark or not. I think it’s constantly changing and as long as it attracts great people, which it will continue to do for the foreseeable future, it will continue to thrive.

Just prior to SxSW 2016 I spoke about this to a report reporter for this article for AdWeek. While she reflected my quote accurately, it was missing some context. I had also told her that like any event or place or time, your experience is dependent on what you make of it, who you spend time with and what you choose to focus on. What makes it worth while for me is that hundreds of friends and other visionary leaders from around the world fly into Austin for the conference or to be there #Badgeless like me. Unfortunately, until the SxSW leadership makes the conference content more accessible, I am choosing to go #Badgeless and enjoy the city of Austin fully.

What could SxSW do to earn my conference registration fee? Maybe they’d get it with reserved session seating (IMax does it here in SF and most/all theaters in London do it). Maybe they could just sell less tickets and/or shrink the diameter of the geography upon which their venues are spread. I go for the diversity of topics being covered (and the music, the BBQ and again, the people!).

This year I noticed that many of the parties and other events were not as crowded and the lines weren’t as long. I have to attribute this to a density of brand activations, both official and unofficial. There was just so much going on at every time slot you couldn’t possibly get to all of it. I tried a couple of times and was generally unsuccessful each time I tried.

This is where Scott Beale’s early advice to me about getting the most from SxSW still rings true. “Wherever you are be there. Make the most of it. You could be anywhere else, but you are where you are until you are ready to go somewhere else.”

There was also a noticeable changing of the guard, with a whole new generation of SxSW participants on the scene and many of my peers now staying home – some with ‘real jobs’ and some with new babies. I made a few new friends, and deepened some existing relationships. More importantly, I was able to get some validation on my work and now have a few new projects and prospects moving forward.

Conclusion

It seems one of the most surprising things people found with my vision of the future is how human centric it is. Many were taken aback when the key advice I gave to the W2O Group event was to practice more self love, to not tolerate bozos and to fully embrace diversity.  As I discussed the coming destruction of millions of jobs, people were really taken aback when I suggested that the job of the future might just be that of “Citizen”.

It’s clear from the state of the Presidential race here in the U.S. that we are at a major inflection point in history, with the soul of our country and indeed of the world on the whole at stake. It’s one of the reasons I was personally getting so agitated on Facebook and becoming such an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, but even he doesn’t fully grasp how we can support the rise of conscious capitalism and move us to a more prosperous future for all people.

I should point out here that I don’t have all the answers either, I do know we have the means if we have the will. I do know that we can let go of what has been to embrace what can be. I am also an ardent believer in finding that whatever we dream we can achieve, so therefore asking the question is it realistic will always result in the answer yes, in time.

Many thought I was pessimistic and peddling doom and gloom when I talked about the fundamental changing nature of work and looming job destruction. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am at my heart and in practice an optimist. I believe our future is quite bright, but I also am able to see the curve in the road ahead and want to make sure we prepare for it. Because of the Internet it is a distinct possibility that we will solve many of our collective social challenges.  But also because of the internet, we face some stiff competition. Particularly from entrenched interests and the powerful few who manipulate the system for personal benefit unfettered by a broader concern for their fellow man.

I know deep down in my soul that change happens in an instant despite the glacial pace at which we observe it. Humans can literally do anything we want to do, so why not make the world work as it could for the benefit of all instead of just a few? I know that I am best off when others around me are better off. I know that working together we can make a #BetterWorld intentionally, by design.

The first challenge is one of belief. The second is one of communicating the vision. The third is activating enough people to support new behaviors and beliefs. This is what I have been working on for all my life, but particularly over the last 3 years, first with Alynd and more recently with Will Someone. This is why we are beginning to build out the Rysing Tyde as a community organization to lift all people to their greatest potential in this Adaptive Economy, in this world where work is based on gigs instead of traditional employment.

Winning the future isn’t going to be easy, but as a species, humanity can not only survive, it can truly thrive if we only find our way past our conditioning and socialization to see what can be instead of staying focused on what is. The road ahead is going to be bumpy for most of us, but for those with the courage to make the big shift today, there is a tremendous opportunity at hand.

Chris Heuer is a futurist, a serial entrepreneur and a community organizer. He consults with startups and large organizations that want to behave like startups on strategy, marketing and product development. If you’d like Chris to help your organization navigate its journey into the future, contact him today.

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It’s Time for a Forward Thinking Conversation. It’s time for a #ReOrg

Time for a new conversation. Time for a #ReOrgWe live in an amazing time. A time where we are able to not only stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, but also where we can be lifted by our peers and give them a boost too.

When we started to broaden the conversation around social media back in 2006, we engaged in a dialog around the principles and practices which we hoped a more social future might bring us over many months. We debated what the proper language should be. We stood our ground. We compromised. We read the writing on the wall and acquiesced when it was clear that something other then our position was winning the day.

The majority of the people who participated in the early social revolution joined not for their egos or their popularity, they joined to make a difference out of a deep seated set of beliefs. They engaged with each other because they believed the power to create change was in our hands. That the difference making we needed in the world was within each of us, and that it was our responsibility to do something with it. We did unconferences, BarCamps, Social Media Camps and Social Media Breakfasts. We joined clubs, we recast societal beliefs about what was possible and we shared too much information about ourselves!

We learned the power of the tools to organize ourselves in support of our causes by building relationships and sharing. We learned that it wasn’t about the number of people who showed up, we learned it was about who showed up and the fact that we cared about similar things, we cared about making the future better, we cared about fixing what was broken with marketing and we cared about advancing similar values. We learned that our words mattered, and that those words transformed by a # could become something, a hashtag, that enabled us to connect with our tribes and our interests.

As I look back now, we had so much right in those early days. It really was about the distribution of power. Which is why I am disappointed that our original intention of fixing our broken systems and transforming the world through social technology has only sprouted as a small seedling of true change inside organizations instead of becoming a fast growing oak. Though surprising, it makes sense that many of the early social media evangelists have moved to other fields and areas of focus, some completely eschewing any professional relationship to social media.  I am certainly not alone in abandoning a previously deep association with social media in search of a new fire to light the revolution. That list is too long to mention, though perhaps you might want to chime in here yourself in the comments to share why you have or haven’t.

What I can tell you from our more recent history is that many of us who saw social as a catalyst for a fundamental transformation to the market and the pillars of society moved into social business. Many are still fighting that fight today, and despite my belief that Social Business is Dead, I applaud these modern Don Quixote’s for continuing the fight, for not giving up and for continuing to create positive change every day. They are indeed the true believers, and while some of them may be unhappy with me for dampening the embers of the smoldering fire instead of pouring on more fuel, I am grateful for their persistence and their valor.

As I said then and as I believe more than ever today, the principles aren’t wrong or misdirected. However, in the war of words that is central to the battle for the soul of our organizations, fighting under the banner of social business is a losing proposition – the modern equivalent to knowledge management. It’s just not winning the hearts, minds and slices of the budgetary pie necessary for our shared vision to become reality as quickly as we need the change to be the reality.

Unfortunately I have come to feel the same way about the “Future of Work” discussion and movement, despite the fact that it is the direction where my social business cohorts have headed. It’s hard to talk about the future of something when you haven’t created a shared vision upon the present that is emerging and what distinctions must be embraced and elevated.

What can we do about it?

So when I look back on how we won the broader debate that launched the social media movement and the wider industry at large, I am now asking you to join me once again in a collective effort for mutual benefit. I am asking for you to take what we have learned, to cash in our social capital and to invest our reputations, our hearts, and our minds into a conversation about what is next. A conversation about what needs to change, about what matters most, about what we want it to be and about how we describe it to others. A conversation about where we are at and where we are going. Perhaps more importantly, I ask you to join me in a conversation about how we prove the value in a measurable and tangible way beyond the ‘duh’ that supported the social media sales pitch.

It’s time for us all to come together and invest ourselves into reimagining and reorganizing our resources and structural models for managing organizations and creating value. It’s time for us to work together to orchestrate a resurgence of visionary innovation that inspires both change agents and this great millennial generation into standing up and speaking out for a better way. To stand against the folly and ignorance inherent in many organizational hierarchies. To join a conversation that will illuminate the dark corners of our work worlds into which our leaders do not currently see, a conversation that will highlight what works and what doesn’t. To stand with the courage of your beliefs again and speak truth to power.

Our institutions are failing us. Education is too expensive, making access to knowledge harder and turning wisdom into a scare resource. Government is  stagnant and putrid, using fear to destroy the common interests that bind us and dividing us in a way that surely signals a Jeffersonian ‘fall’. Our corporations appeal less and less to just about everyone – including their customers, their employees and even their leaders. Many who have achieved some station in life are resting in that space and opting out of the fight, tired of the perennial struggle between doing what’s right and what’s politically expedient. While a wider swath of humanity is self actualizing and realizing their ability to live a life on purpose and not accepting less than what they truly deserve, the system is still working against them on many levels.

Why? Now that’s a better question – because we know better, but too many of us accept it as “just the way things are”. I don’t think we can afford that way of thinking any longer. I’ve spent my life tilting at the windmills, as I know many of you have. If we can’t knock down the broken windmill with our lances of inspiration, I say it’s time for us to build our trojan horse. It’s time for us to come together once again and develop a collective vision for our future and a common language that will define and support that vision. It’s time for a bigger conversation.

There is room for each of us to have a unique take and a unique contribution for which we deserve to earn respect, recognition and incomes. But without working together towards our common vision and connecting the dots in a way that simplifies the inherent complexity of our shared vision for organizational leaders, the institutions themselves may just fail completely before we ever get a chance to save it.

While failure is often a prerequisite of exponential breakthroughs, we need not accept this as a fait accompli. We already recognize many of the challenges and the looming failures, so why not begin to work towards saving us all from the unnecessary pains and waste seems to be an inevitability. We already have a vision of the future of work. We have a vision for what a social business looks like. We have an understanding of how we need to reimagine our organizations to create shared value. We know what is necessary to unleash the fullest potential of the human spirit. So let’s set about doing that now, and doing that together in conversation that advances our field and inspires others to think differently and act differently.

So what are the words that will serve as our campfire around which we will gather for camaraderie and warmth? What is the language of the movement that encapsulates the multiple distinctions and insights that collectively are driving us towards a future free of today’s most commonly accepted defects? I don’t think it’s social business, I don’t think its future of work. I’m open to other suggestions, but for now I’d like to start this conversation focused on what I have consistently heard as the most fundamental change we must realize – a change in organizational structure and governance. A re-imagination of what an organization looks like and a rethinking of what we mean by work.

While we may not yet have adequate language for what we envision, I submit for your consideration that we are talking about a widespread #ReOrg. The reorganization of our mindsets, methods and measures about the organization, about our relationships to them as humans and about the fundamental practice of management as the underlying operating system that governs its behaviors. It’s time to create a more holistic view of how we create value, and especially with a focus on how we can optimize our ability to create shared value that benefits society as a whole instead of just those who have won the war for control.

Yes, it’s time for a #ReOrg. Are you ready? Let’s talk about it.

Join the conversation and add your voice. But don’t just add your voice, engage with others. For every post or insight shared, comment on or engage several others around their point of view. Keep your minds and hearts open. There is no single answer, but I do believe that we have collectively learned enough about what works and what doesn’t for us to discover the shared vision we have that is underlying our individual efforts. So let’s bring that into the light of day and collectively nurture our #ReOrg.

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The Employee Centric Corporation and the Birth of the Employee Agreement

Nurturing a New Idea, The Employee AgreementToday (Friday September 20, 2013) I am in New York City participating in the Work Revolution Summit. While I have many professional and personal reasons for participating, not the least of which is our new Social Business SaaS company Alynd and our desire to fix what is most broken with work, I am here focusing on one big, yet simple idea. That the shift in the balance of power we are experiencing as consumers in our relationships with brands will soon be coming to our work lives and the relationship we have with our employers.

More specifically, I believe it is time for us to go beyond the constructs of the employment agreement and begin to embrace a new vision for an employee centric corporation. A simple, yet profound movement in this direction is the creation of an employee agreement that makes plain the more important aspects of the employee-employer relationship from an employee centric point of view, instead of a liability limiting corporate perspective.

The employee agreement is designed to make visible each employee’s purpose at work, defining who they are, what they can uniquely contribute and what they expect to be doing in the time they devote to the corporate mission. This should not be written in legalese, but in easy to understand, plain English. It should be openly and transparently shared internally with other employees, and in some cases, perhaps even publicly. It should be written in such a manner so that every other employee may not only understand their purpose and motivations, but also understand their strengths and what activities they personally expect to be doing at work each and every day. If you have every participated in a team sport, this may sound familiar to you, it’s what we do to win – work together, aligned towards our common goals in mind, body and soul.

If you are an individual change agent who wants to ignite this part of the Work Revolution but don’t know where to start. Here is something you can start today, right now in fact. The concept of the employee agreement starts out as a simple post to your intranet, employee forum, social network or blog that answers the questions: Who am I? What unique value can I contribute? What is expected of me? and Why am I here?

This isn’t a new concept, it is a new call to action for doing something meaningful about it without requiring permission or systemic change. Bill Jensen, change agent and thought leader on the future of work has long called for a New Work Contract. From his perspective, he sees the new work contract as an asset revolution. Employees (aka humans) aren’t just resources to be managed, but their time, attention, and ideas are assets. With the new work contract, like all assets, employers must respect the intrinsic value of those assets and provide a proper return to their investor.

In Bill Jensen’s “Work 2.0: Ten Year Report”, he found that business is “at war with its workforce”. Executives may not feel that this is the case, but ask any cog in the machine that is a big corporation and they can not only validate this sentiment, but provide story after story from their experience that supports this finding.

It may be hard to remember, but it wasn’t always this way.

In the not too distant past, the corporation served a central and lasting role in people’s lives. At the birth of the industrial era, there were ‘company towns’ built literally to house the employee population near factories and provide for their needs. As recently as the 60’s and 70’s, there was the notion of the ‘company man’, where an employee invested their entire lives working for one company that helped them develop both personally and professionally. They looked after each other with the utmost loyalty. The employees looked forward to getting their watch and their pension plan on retirement, when they could finally relax and move to Florida. More recently, this has become less and less true, while many employees continue to hope for the best.

Over the past few decades, there has become an increasing understanding that we are each CEO’s of our own careers. In the modern world, we each need to take responsibility for our prosperity both professionally and personally. Of course, there is still professional development opportunities in many companies, where they pay for training with important skills, send key employees to conferences to learn the latest techniques of their profession, and may even put them into an executive MBA program – if they have been recognized as being ‘management material’, and are willing to exchange a few more years of their life as part of the reimbursement. Unfortunately, for the average employee, they don’t see these sorts of opportunities for growth. Instead they go through the motions of setting professional development goals when that time of year comes around, telling their managers what they think they want to hear instead of telling them what is really in their hearts and minds.

Indeed, many professionals have taken this advice to heart and left their corporate jobs in pursuit of greener pastures. During the dotcom boom, as with the “forty-niners” of America’s westward expansion, many courageous souls left comfort and security behind to pursue a chance to strike it rich. Over the past few decades, an increasing number of knowledge workers have taken their careers and their futures into their own hands to become independent consultants, to spend more time with their families, to start their own businesses, to begin early retirement, to serve their communities, or to pursue their other dreams.

In short, there has been a great migration of the best and brightest talent away from the corporation. The idea that employees might have jobs for life is now a distant memory. They have lost faith in the corporation as companies and their leaders have proven they don’t really believe ‘that people are their greatest assets.’ Worse, most leaders have created strategies and policies that prove they don’t trust their employees as far as they could throw them. This challenge is perhaps more localized to the US, but the pace of this migration is increasing as more and more talented professionals realize that many of their so-called leaders are incompetent at best and sociopaths at worst.

As corporations have demonstrated their preference for at-will employment, many of their leaders have also clearly said they care more about shareholders and their personal bonuses then they do about the well being of their employees and the markets they serve. This is natural of course, because just like Pavlov’s dog, they will act in the manner in which they are rewarded and avoid the behaviors which cause them pain. Even though competitive strategy guru Michael Porter has pointed out the need to think about prosperity over profitability and shift our focus to creating shared value, it’s not a topic that has reached many boardrooms.

Further to this point, we have read recently that many corporate leaders see people merely as a ‘cost’. To some, they are merely resources, and not recognized as human beings. For too many leaders in the elite towers of power, ‘human resources’ are fungible, easily replaced by less expensive, and less experienced, humans, thus enabling greater profitability (and ensuring their personal bonuses). While people may be equal under the law and god, they are not fungible, each is unique and each brings a unique value to the work they perform, and to the dynamics of their teams. Just ask any manager that has tried to hire a skilled replacement for one of our aforementioned workers that promoted themselves to CEO of their own career.

At the same time we have seen incredible gains in productivity over the last several years. While they are surely driven in part by technological advances and other gains in global market efficiencies, I believe that there is another driver. There is a fear among those who remain in the corporation, who have not yet realized they are their own CEO, that the proverbial axe may fall at any moment, leaving them without an income and without security for themselves and their families. They have less resources, but put in 120% effort in order to keep their jobs, and hopefully get a promotion and/or a raise, which often times simply doesn’t come. Worse, some of these individuals do not have ‘new world skills’ as they have been too busy working as cogs in the machine, sustaining the status quo, and trying to look after their loved ones, their communities and their own personal interests.

These symptoms unfortunately speak to a more fundamental unraveling of the status quo of the socioeconomic foundations of our society that is creating a future that few senior executives are able to comprehend, and to which even fewer will be able to adapt. Meanwhile, individual employees are being forced to adapt to a world of constrained resources and increased expectations. Over the past several years, their personal technology became vastly superior to that provided by their employers. So they started bringing their own devices to work, raising expectations and demands on their IT departments. Douglas Neal and John Taylor of Leading Edge Forum identified this “Consumerization of IT “as an emerging trend over a decade ago, and yet many corporations are still in reactive mode, with many treating it as if it is a foreign and unworkable concept.

Now there is not only more access to thousands of channels of entertainment, but access to more information, from media outlets, from trusted friends and from familiar strangers. All available on demand, in real time. The advancement of our connected society has been reaching into all organizations, of every size, from every sector. Still, few corporations have been quick to embrace the idea of becoming a connected company or deploying social business technologies. Even as their customers, and the dollars they provide as their wellspring of life, demand it of them.

As Dell Hell and many other examples since has shown, this demand is not one to be taken lightly. Corporations have been forced to respond, with few prepared or willing to embrace it as an opportunity, and the majority being reluctant to even consider its impact on operations beyond the use of social media as another marketing and support channel. Even still, brand managers are perplexed with their new roles in a world where they fear that the consumers control their brand, and their jobs by proxy. The truth is that this idea is a misnomer. Consumers don’t control the brand, but they do help shape it, and they have a greater degree of influence on how others perceive the brand then ever before. Ultimately, the corporation controls whether or not they are delivering on their promise and whether or not their marketing and communications efforts are an accurate reflection of the reality of the brand experience. This is what has actually changed. The market will not be deceived through false statement and exaggerated claims in a connected society. In this way, both the consumer and the corporation share control of the brand.

Fundamentally, in the market itself, we have recognized a shift in the balance of power from companies to their customers. If a company, or a disgruntled customer service representative unhappy with their employer, treats a customer poorly, or has a policy that is clearly unfair, that customer is likely to turn to Twitter or Facebook or their blog to complain. Whether they have 5 or 500 or 500,000 followers may indeed change the speed and nature of the response, but increasingly, they may actually get a response that is different than if they had called the company’s customer service line, waited on hold for 30 minutes and gotten nowhere.

While we haven’t seen this shift occur widely in the employer – employee relationship just yet, I contend we stand on that precipice. This is certainly the case in Silicon Valley, where rising salaries, benefits, flexible work schedules and seemingly outrageous perks are the norm. In fact it has gotten so ridiculous that it is nearly impossible for new companies to recruit top programmers in the valley and many are actually considering setting up development in far away cities. Of course, the developing world sees this as an opportunity, with outsourced software development being performed in Russia, China, Poland, Chile, India, Phillipines, and other far flung corners of the globe.

The war for talent is a complicated issue. The need for corporations to win this war is obvious. If you are to compete in a world where invention and intelligence are your best weapons for winning market share and earning the trust and loyalty of customers, it is a war that must be won. Hence the win at all costs approach of the largest companies in the largest markets, and the very visible way in which top talent is disproportionately rewarded.

But it’s not all about perks and cash. For an increasingly growing number of employees, it’s as much if not more about connecting with a deeper purpose in their lives. As with consumers who are making purchase decisions based on how green or socially responsible a company is, employees too are now choosing employers who are more closely aligned to their purpose and their interests. Those who realize they are the CEO’s of their own careers, but who dislike the multitudes of hats they must wear as an independent contractor, are seeking enlightened employers where they can earn a good living while living true to their purpose. Organizations who are realizing this and building organization structures and policies to attract and retain top talent are winning. Dave Gray in his book The Connected Company calls out many examples; among them well known names like Amazon, Semco, Nordstrom, SAS and Whole Foods.

While not all corporations are able to adapt fast enough to this changing world, there are some simple steps that can be taken in the right direction. An invaluable first step is recognizing the importance of purpose at work, and nurturing employees to find and connect with what matters most to them. There is no place where this reality is seen more clearly then at Zappos, where they cultivate individuality by helping employees realize as much happiness and success in their life away from work as they do at work. While many more, like my former employer Deloitte do this through sabbaticals and integrating community service opportunities via paid volunteer programs and pro-bono services, there are other simple ways this can be accomplished.

As mentioned at the onset, there is a very simple step that anyone can take right now towards bringing their purpose to the forefront of their work. It requires no permission, and should not require forgiveness. First, you must do the somewhat harder effort to get clear about what your purpose is, so you feel it as your truth as much as you can intellectualize and rationalize it. Then you merely need to share your purpose with others inside, and potentially even outside of your company. Share it on your internal employee profile, across the enterprise social network, in speeches at all hands meetings, and most especially in more intimate settings with the teams on which you work.

This is something I did personally while working at Deloitte Consulting, and it really felt incredibly liberating. While I can say that it shocked some, it also generated a great deal of trust and respect for my willingness to be transparent, and to be so clear in declaring my purpose for why I was working at the firm. I made it clear and stated plainly that I had taken the job at Deloitte for two reasons. First was a matter of urgency, I took the job to advance their social media and social business efforts because I needed the money. After several years running a non-profit community organization, it was time to find financial security, pay off my debt, and get into a position where I could once again become an entrepreneur.

But money alone was not my purpose, just a reason and an impetus. What moved me to choose Deloitte over several other options was a desire to have a front row seat to the great restructuring that would allow me to understand how large, traditional organizations were adapting to the great restructuring being forced on them by the advent of our connected society and widespread market adoption of social technologies. More importantly perhaps, was getting a chance to help them with that transition, to convince them of the necessity and opportunity. While a few scoffed at these statements and fixated on my stated financial need, those who came to know me, who heard the passion and truth in my voice, realized that it was a deep desire to be part of the change I have long sought to see in the world.

In this way I earned the respect of many, particularly the large millennial work force at Deloitte. Not only for the higher purpose I had communicated, but for my willingness to state it so clearly and openly. Regardless of what your thoughts may be on the recent millennials at work discussion, I can tell you with absolute certainty that what they and all other members of our work force want is to be told the truth. They crave someone who will shoot straight with them and not pretend that a challenge or unpleasant fact is untrue when it clearly is. They also crave leaders who can inspire and support, not managers who will nitpick and obfuscate.

I did more then declare my purpose at work though, I also declared what I did well, and what I did poorly. I made clear who I was, as a human being, as a member of the industry I helped cultivate and as an employee of the firm. It gave me back a great deal of energy I would have normally wasted, because I was able to be myself and not pretend to be what I thought others expected of me – I didn’t waste emotional energy being someone I was not. While in some cases it didn’t necessarily serve my better interests, it freed me to live my truth, to give my best and to find greater meaning everyday. It also kept me connected with that purpose on a regular basis, staying focused on why I was there everyday, enabling me to get through the rough days and really celebrate the great ones.

This experience got me thinking about the nature of the employment agreement, and how it defined the legally necessary aspects of the contract designed to protect my employer, and how little of the employment agreement was designed to serve my interests. In fact, while I negotiated a salary that was to my liking, none of the other terms of that agreement was negotiable. The rest of it, from intellectual property assignments, to sick leave and benefits, was a take or leave it proposition as it is in virtually all large corporations. Now, to be clear, Deloitte has awesome benefits (really) and there was little I would seek to be changed in that regards, so I willingly entered into the agreement with a full understanding of its terms, even the few with which I disagreed. This point is being raised relative to the general nature of the employment agreement itself rather than a complaint with the one I signed.

Ultimately, what I realized was that the shift in the balance of power, the war for talent and the coming changes to the structure of the corporation will necessitate that the employment agreement, and how we enter into it, will change too. While corporations will fight back saying they can’t efficiently manage different contracts with different terms for each of its employees, the current state of compliance by fiat will not survive as it is in the future of work. Soon, I hope, we will reach a tipping point where there is a true balance of power between the employee and employer that is more the norm then the fringe.

The employee agreement expects the employee to fully and deeply answer the questions “Who am I, why am I here and what value can I offer others with my time, experience and ideas?” By making the answer visible to others, and enabling them and their employer to enter into a truly two-way relationship, the employee will not only be better aligned with the company, but also with other employees. In this way, while they are getting their work done and contributing their unique value, they are also able to connect more directly and consciously with their purpose for entering into the agreement, increasing their level of engagement, increasing their value contributed and decreasing their emotional energy wasted.

While the idea of the  employee agreement template I suggest here is a simple one, where we collectively go from here, remains to be seen. In fact, I look forward to your thoughts and comments here so that we might together begin to redefine the employee-employer relationship. If we begin to take these small personal steps, we can all begin to better see our colleagues at work and improve our collaboration with each other. In this way, through these straight forward but powerful questions, we might not only be able to make our work more meaningful, but we might just find a better path to living our lives in alignment with our unique purpose.

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Egypt: More Than the Power of the Network, It’s Also Pervasive, Simple and Cheap

Broadly I agree with Matthew Ingram in his post It’s Not Twitter or Facebook, It’s the Power of the Network, though I think the Foreign Policy columnist Evgeny Morozov he cites is missing the point. It is seemingly clear that the tools, and Social Media broadly, played a crucial role in changing the rules of the game and the perception of reality on the streets. While those I have called “Digital Utopians” are often overly engaged in puffery, not willing to see the potential negatives and overstating the importance of these tools relative to an everyday person’s perspective, there are a few other factors are at the core of this disruption, though they are perhaps more nuanced.

IMHO, it’s not just the network as Matthew credits, but the acceptance of, and understanding of its use – ie, it’s a mindset created by the pervasive and daily use of the Web and social media in aggregate (to Dave Winer’s point) – though crediting Facebook and Twitter are merely a convenient short hand reference that is illustrative of everything else. It’s a mental outlook on the world that is helping individuals to feel more empowered and hopeful for a better existence instead of beaten down by despair. This is amplified as the media gives credit to the tools (making more people see their power) and the word of mouth that such broadcasts create that changes the collective outlook.

But this wasn’t happening 15 years ago when we were originally logging on and talking about network effects. It’s only happening today because of the percentage of the world that has adopted social media as a set of communications and connection tools. It’s happening because the technology is much more simple to use at nearly zero cost (when most people have the hardware in their back pockets, and services like Twitter and Facebook don’t require credit cards or monetary exchange, that equals nearly zero cost in my book). It’s a mindset that has changed in many who are no longer feeling voiceless, powerless and unable to create change. It’s a mindset that enables people to believe that they can truly “be the change you want to see in the world.”

And it didn’t happen merely because of the network and its power, though referencing it is also a convenient short hand. It happened because the network was made easy to use and accessible by a sufficient percentage of citizens. When it is blocked, it creates a great feeling of helplessness in many, and the knowledge required to route around it to use hacker tools is a high enough barrier to prevent entry for most… but even these are becoming easier to get past. Once those ‘alternative access’ tools are inexpensive and easy to use by a greater number, it won’t be possible to effectively deploy an Internet kill switch.

And yes, it’s a network effect that helps drive it, but the tipping point, and the reason social media deserves more credit then its detractors would give, is largely because we have made many of the tools much easier to use and more widely available, not just because the network is there.

Going even deeper, it is further supported by the perception of the power that spreads as people credit many of the tools for either receiving or sending communications. So it takes on a “life of its own” relative to its importance. At the end of the day, it’s the people and the changes in perception they have of what’s possible and what is not that is really powerful.

I won’t get into the power of prayer, or the Tao of Physics too deeply here, but in closing I would just add that many believe our remote amplification of positive thoughts and well wishes does indeed create just the tiniest amount of energy that supports different outcomes. So while the fact that we are tweeting or retweeting the happenings over there is not the cause of the outcome, I suspect that we, the human network – like the trees in Avatar – are indeed contributing, if only in the slightest most infinitesimal way.

At the very least, we know anecdotally that within the sea of noise that is created, sometimes there is a needle found in the haystack that practically and actually does get help delivered where it is needed. While the network is to be credited, if it weren’t pervasive, simple to use and cheap, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

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My Focus on Holistic Business Strategy

Earlier this morning, my post on “The Time Has Come for Holistic Business Strategy” has finally seen the light of day, published over on my good friend and colleague Brian Solis‘ site. Each January the last few years I have promised to start writing more and getting beyond my own internal writing challenges, and each year I have failed to live up to my own personal goal. I think this year we are finally ready to change that abysmal track record.

My internal critic is often just too powerful for me to overcome. It’s silly, but I really don’t believe I can write all that well, and the process of writing/editing is very difficult for me – often times it feels too difficult and I have just given up on it. While its true that I am much more comfortable talking with people about these concepts and visions for game-changing notions, I need to get to the point where I believe deep down in my soul that I am not only a decent writer, but a damn good one.

Over on Formspring the other day, my friend Todd Jordan asked what is my biggest plan for 2011? My answer was actually magically annointed with brevity, to “change the way business leaders think about managing their organizations and enhance their ability to create value”.

Michael Porter’s publishing of this great article on “Creating Shared Value” has really inspired me to put my nose to the grindstone and invest in advancing this big idea – that we must think about not only the whole of the business, but also the whole of society and the impacts every member of the broader ecosystem has on the other players and the ecosystem itself.

Yes, there should still be competition, as there is in the natural world it helps maintain balance. But what we have found with species like the silver carp in the fresh water rivers of North America, is that the introduction of a predatory competitor that is not naturally a part of the ecosystem, has disastorous effects on the survival of everyone and the ecosystem itself. This analogy holds true when looking at the ecosystem in terms of the market. In fact, we have seen the same sorts of results in the world of Social Media, with the prevalence of douchebags having harmed the market for social media services/consulting in a very similar manner.

Metaphors aside, I am excited to think about writing more this year on Holistic Business Strategy and working on my book project where many of these ideas will reside. “Serve the Market” is the embodiment of many of these ideas and will hopefully inspire a change in the way managers not only think about marketing, but in how they approach the very nature of business itself.

To understand more of what I am talking about here, please watch this 12 minute video of a speed keynote I gave at Webcom Montreal last year that outlines some of the higher principles at play.

Chris Heuer – Serve the Market from webcom Montreal on Vimeo.

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The Broken Promises of American Airlines

Broken Promises from flickr.com/iampeasWondering what airlines and mobile phone carriers have in common? They both exploit customers.  Well, to be fair, I really just think they are both in the same class of companies. Companies that often exploit you unfairly for their own benefit, extracting as much money from your wallet as possible without genuine concern for the bad experiences they are creating. This is what I was talking about in my Social Cash keynote last week in Stockholm.

But let me recap what I experienced with American Airlines flight 177 from JFK to SFO last night. (yes, I know I should be relaxing and not writing with my recent health issues, but this may be the biggest benefit of slowing down for me, that I find time and willingness to write, so please let me)

I was flying back from Stockholm yesterday morning, which means I started out to the airport from my hotel around midnight PST, 7am CET. First flight was simple, short hop on Finnair to Helsinki on a newish Airbus 319. It was fabulous. They offered up the standard nordic breakfast sandwich and orange juice and coffee. They didn’t charge for my bag. There was a problem getting my tickets printed in Stockholm for some reason, but the desk agent went ahead and did everything she could, but could not, for some reason, print my JFK-SFO boarding pass, so I had to leave without it afraid I would not be able to board in JFK or transfer easily. Whatever.

I got to Helsinki where they promise to be the easiest airport for transfers, and I have to agree, it was actually pleasant. Because of my platinum status with American Airlines (Sapphire in One World) I was able to enter the Via Lounge in Helsinki, which was just terrific. One of the best airline lounges I have ever seen, it even had a spa, though I had no time there to use it. Had an incredible bowl of minestrone soup and a short glass of white white, which in European lounges are provided to guests for free. Oh yes, of course, in the European (and most Canadian) airports, the small baggage rolling carts are also free, making the travel experience much easier on everyone, particularly people traveling in ill health like me. They care about the experience and the customers.

On board the brand new Airbus 330 from Helsinki to JFK, I really had a great experience, though I ate some chocolate sugary thing and some lasagna which may have induced a minor attack later (sorry for weaving stories/issues here but its important). I struck up a conversation with my seat mate, JJ whose best man in his wedding was actually flying the plane. The new seats were comfortable and the nice family who was traveling around us with their baby were kind enough to not lean back into us, so I actually had plenty of room despite my sarcastic tweet about it. During the flight I started sweating and having chest pains, so I told JJ of my experience in Sweden and said “I just want someone to know, I forgot to tell the gate attendant during boarding”. He suggested I needed to stay hydrated and had a conversation with the flight attendant in Finnish a short while later.  When she came back through to pick up garbage she also brought a water bottle and kept bringing water throughout the flight. It was a smooth crossing and when we landed, something incredible happened.

I had the most amazing experience in JFK airport. Seriously.

First, there was a woman standing at the exit of the jetway holding a sign with several names on it, including mine. Since we were about 95 minutes to departure of my flight, I briefly hoped it was a lift through the customs area and to the gate or something really cool like that. Instead, it was my boarding pass for the next flight which I thought I was going to have to fight to get. Instead, without checking my identification, I told her who I was, what flight and she handed it to me and I was on my way racing to beat the queue of over 500 people from other planes that got to the gate in front of me. Not necessarily smart for my condition, but I was feeling ok and I really didn’t want to miss my flight (knowing that it could take 2 hours to clear customs, border control and recheck my bags).

Somehow, the US Citizens queue was wide open and I literally walked right up to a border control agent who scanned my passport and sent me through to baggage claim. At the baggage claim I sat down to rest, prepared for a long wait. But no, the belt began to move in just a few minutes, surprising myself and another American on board the same flight. Within a few more minutes, my bag was off the plane and I was headed to the customs agent with my pass. After being screwed around with for a minute because I didn’t put the flight number on the document (my bad) I went to recheck, where I explained why the bag wasn’t checked through and checked my bag. I then went upstairs and got through the security line in just a few minutes for a grand total transfer time of just about 20-25 minutes from exiting my plane to getting through security again.

Incredible luck. This was definitely going to be my day.

I then got to the Admirals Club near my gate, walked around to see if there was anyone I knew and lo and behold, found a free drink ticket laying on one of the tables. Score. After getting a glass of red wine (help’s blood flow if drank in moderation I hear) I sat down and started making calls. Then I noticed, that I was sitting near Danielle Staub from Real Housewives of New Jersey, who was just as sweet as can be (sorry no gossip from me, just a nice woman and really friendly). We were both commenting on how incredible the woman who ran the bar there was in looking after passengers, going to them and offering them water, snacks or bar drinks or whatever.  She reminded us of Delores who ran the best coffee sales 7-11 store on the Undercover Boss show.

Back to the Airlines Story.

So it was getting closer to boarding time and I decided to check Flightview to see if the plane was still leaving on time and if I needed to go. It wasn’t. New estimated take off time was now 625pm, so I called Kristie and told her the plane was going to be late. After hanging up with her, I looked back at the screen and saw that it said the plane was a 757, not the 767 I had expected. Huh, that’s odd. So I went to the Admirals Club desk just to see if the 625pm time was even accurate, and she said, “oh, so you got the news about the equipment change” and I said, no I hadn’t but wanted to just check in. She told me, you are in luck, you still have your business seat and she booked me into 4F. Whew, I thought, that would have sucked big time. All I wanted was that nearly lay flat business seat in the 767, but I would settle for a warm meal and a business class seat anywhere as long as I could get home after 16 hours of traveling by that point.

So I went back to my seat in the lounge happy that I didn’t have to go get dinner in the airport. I also went back to the AA.com web site where the plane info was still showing the 767 as the plane we were on and there were no notices in my reservations, or calls to my phone about this very major change.  As I found out later at the gate, there was little to no notice given to the rest of the passengers either as one after another tried to board with their old tickets only to be told it wasn’t valid any longer.

After a few more phone calls, it got to be 6pm, so I packed up and headed to the gate thinking we were boarding. Well, it was more then thinking we were boarding, the signs said in the lounge NOW BOARDING. But it really wasn’t. It was pandemonium as the gate agents struggled to deal with all these last minutes changes. The crew hadnt even been allowed on board by this point and the departure time was updated to 650pm. I simply asked at this point of the gate agent, are we really leaving at 650pm and do we still have dinner in first class on this flight, to which she replied yes. So I was standing around relaxed, ignoring the chaos and just waiting to sit in my first class seat, which I was promised by the folks in the Admirals Club when they rebooked me and handed it to me for 4F.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. When they finally opened the gates and I handed my ticket to the check in agent, she said, wait, “You are not Mr. XXXXX” and I said of course not, see my ticket says Heuer, 4F. To which she replied, “Oh, well we aren’t able to process upgrades. You know we changed the equipment right?” Of course, that is why you are at a different gate and have all these angry folks around. So I was instructed that they would have to find me a new seat and she would do her best to get me to one that had no one sitting next to me in the middle. Very nice I thought, but how could they do that going from a 767 to a 757? Whatever, I said what are you doing about food, my travel plans were based on getting a meal. She very kindly said, I will get the ticket, you can go get something now from the airport if you like. So I had to run down to the deli and pick up a crappy chicken wrap which in the end was probably best from a health standpoint.

When I returned with my sandwich, the chaos had grown even worse, with priority access members trying to board and being told not to by one woman, and then being told to do so by another. To be fair, the gate agents were just as screwed as the passengers here, it was probably a middle management decision and a pretty poor one at that, but more about this towards the end of the post. They were doing the best they could in the face of the dilemma and the atrocious behaviour of some other passengers who were just berating and cussing at them non-stop. Eventually, the gate agent handed me a new ticket with a 12a seat assignment. At least I was going home I thought, “I will deal with it”.

I wish the story ended here, with just the few promises made broken, but it doesn’t. And it may be even an even more insisidious problem beneath the thin veil of this horrible experience. Which of course is nothing compared to people stranded overnight or left on planes for hours, but for me, being told one thing, then another, then another with no one having the full truth available, it was bad enough. At this point, after one mild ‘attack’ during the day and over 17 hours into my travel day, it was bad enough.

Before being told to turn off our cell phones, at 710pm I got a call from American Airlines who said in that great computer generated voice of theirs that the plane was now scheduled to depart at 715pm. I thought to myself, no way, they aren’t going to make that timeline, so I tweeted and turned off my phone. After sitting at the gate for about 30 more minutes and being told then by the pilot that they were still loading bags AND CARGO, I turned my phone back on to #twitch about it some more (my new word for bitching on Twitter, surely I didn’t coin the phrase, but I like it). Wouldn’t you know, while I was writing my tweet, I got another phone call from American Airlines telling me the flight was taking off at 750pm (about 5 minutes). Again, I thought this couldn’t be true. But in fact it finally pushed back from the gate just around there if not a few minutes after.

So the problem here is that none of the front line people want to tell us anything about what is going on in the back of the house because none of them can say so with confidence whether it is really accurate or true. There are so many dependencies on things like this, it is understandable. And with airline customer rage at an all time high, who wants to say I think we are taking off at 750pm when in fact they may be called out later for lying to us. Or who would want to tell an angry mob of passengers that the real takeoff would be 750pm when they can perhaps get them handed to another employee to deal with directly. So I understand why they dont disclose enough information often, but it creates a horrible relationship between company and customer. If we could only trust the employees and therby the airlines a bit more it would all be different. If we could only trust them and like them for their earnest attempts to provide us with great service and as much honest information as they could, we might be a bit more forgiving. But they can’t and we won’t.

Flying an Old Bird

So whatever the reasons American Airlines provides later on this equipment change, one thing is sure, they are flying some old airplanes. I got in my seat, and there was in fact no one sitting next to me. I usually fly aisle seats forward so I can get up and stretch and move around without bothering other passengers, so at least I was forward if not in the aisle. But my seat would not recline properly – if I put pressure against the window side armrest and leaned back with all my weight it would go back, but not if I just sat there. Weird. The real problem is that it felt like it was 32 dewgrees farenheit up against the window. I had to use 2 blankets just to shield me from the bone chilling cold of this way too thin membrane between me and the cold upper atmosphere. Thankfully, at least there were blankets, if there werent, I might have caused an incident. No pillows though of course, and no comfort in those overly worn seats with way too little cushion for my overweight body.

In looking at the seats that passed for first class in the early 1970’s plane they pulled from retirement, I was somewhat thankful that I didn’t waste my upgrade tickets (worth $180usd for JFK-SFO) but at the same time, still upset I was stuck where I was. At least I made it to SFO by 11pm PST and to my house before midnight (before heading into the hospital for another visit due to the stress that had started causing my chest pains again). But let’s not worry about me anymore, lets talk about American Airlines and allow me to share my opinion on what I think may have happened before this to create this bad situation. (Am sure they will respond here, as they said on Twitter last night, they are “listening” and the guy running the late shift twitter account (good process to run 24/7 shifts btw) promised a followup to see what happened on their end)

In Conclusion

From my perspective, I feel lied to and I trust American Airlines even less then I did before. As you may recall, I am a proponent for something I call a Net Trust Score to replace the aging Net Promoter Score as a system for measuring how well a company is doing in the market, with trust as the ultimate barometer, more important then promoting. If the company is trusted, they will be promoted, whereas with Apple I promote the iPhone (or rather I did) even though I didn’t trust or promote AT&T.

I have been loyal to American Airlins for the past decade plus because they fly to all the major cities I frequent most and usually have competitive rates on those flights. I have had gold and platinum status for years. After experiencing how they treat regular customers (how all airlines treat non-loyalty customers in fact), I never want to deal with that level of service again, so I stay loyal, because I have to or get even shittier service from other carriers (though I often choose to fly Virgin now if I can because they really do rock and JetBlue occasionally and then Southwest). The problem is I can’t trust American Airlines like I used to after this experience and many others I have had over the past year. In fact, when I upgraded my flight from DFW to LHR on my way to Europe about 10 days ago paying $450 and 25,000 miles for one segment, there was a miscommunication that almost cost me my seat on the plane if it were not for a good mannered well meaning gate manager, but I will let that story slide for now.

How can I be given a seat from one point in the system and then have it taken away in another? You promised me at this point that I had a seat in business class. I made all my planning at the airport on this promise, and it caused me undue stress as a result. Then there are the multiple changing promises about take off time. I know you can’t control when things go wrong all the time, but how odd is it that your phone system calls people to tell them of delays even when they are supposed to have their phones turned off and are sitting on the plane. Perhaps just an unfortunate system design in an edge case, but it was striking to me and furthered my distrust of your company.

I will spare you what I think about making us wait for CARGO to get loaded on the plane so you can make a few extra bucks. OK, so I didn’t. I guess I lied too, just like you did to me.

As for bringing an old ass plane like that out to fly us across the country (and my friend Bryan Thatcher on one from Paris to NYC), well I know the economics of maintaining an older fleet and the huge cost for modernizing it so I understand why you HAVE to do it, but I don’t like it and I may leave you if I get stuck on too many more of these when I could be flying in comfort on Virgin or Jetblue instead. In fact, if I see equipment on any flight I am considering is a 757, I will not complete the reservation and instead will go somewhere else, regardless of what it costs.

Now for the part that American Airlines will be happy I saved for last, but will get quoted by the most number of people. I think this whole situation may have been part of a decision management tree and may have been a middle management move to squeeze the most profit out of the situation that deserves a real investigation. Perhaps I dont have all the story here on why the gate agents were overheard using the phrase “downgraded equipment” by several people, including my very relaxed and uber smart seat mate in 12c. But when I looked at the seating chart last week in Europe to see if I was going to have a chance of getting the upgrade, there were only about 8-10 seats showing available in economy. So I thought my chances were slim. When I got the upgrade notification 72 hours in advance, I was shocked but delighted. (part of the broken promise thing again, I was looking forward to this leg of the flight for 3 days!)

It turns out, that the woman sitting next to me, also saw there were no seats available on the seating chart last week. But instead, the smaller 757 we flew had plenty of open seats on it. Meaning the original 767 was way underbooked, else there would have been a huge problem trying to get them all in.  While many people like me were denied their upgraded seat assignments (some of who received extra snacks and drinks for the trouble though I didnt get such an offer), everyone it seemed got on the plane easily enough. Or maybe they didnt and people were screwed over in economy so people like me could have more room which if true would be even worse.

So given this information, that their were few seats to choose from on the bigger plane, but plenty left open on the smaller plane, could they have been deliberately presenting false information about available supply in order to get a higher price per available seat without anyone noticing? I know the car rental industry has recently been managing its available supply of cars in order to change pricing points on the demand curve (can’t find the article on this, but someone sent it to me in response to a twitter inquiry into high rental car prices in the fall). Could the airline be presenting false information about available seats in order to get a higher price on the seats it was selling?

While this is all conjecture and there is little but my anecdotal experience as proof, given how little trust we have left for companies who make so many broken promises, I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like this.

As I can imagine it might work if someone were to be so aggressive in the marketing of their services, if you aren’t selling enough seats on a plan at a price that makes the flight profitable, you present false information about there being fewer available seats in order to create a perception that the last seats on a particular flight are more valuable and worth paying the higher price. If you as the airline hit your profitability mark, you fly the plane as planned. If you don’t hit that revenue figure for the flight, you change the equipment at the last minute, as may have been done with my flight AA 177 on March 31, 2010 and force all the humans behind the shadows on the cave wall, otherwise known as the spreadsheet, to suffer through the very difficult human experience we all had.

If it is happening, I am sure there will be someone out there who can speak to this, because it would be so wrongheaded they probably couldn’t live with the lie, even if it meant their job. I have seen enough flights cancelled where there were clearly not more then a dozen or two people affected by it to know that such things have been handled by airlines in similar ways before, but who knows for sure? Only the managers making such decisions and a few of their colleagues in other departments who they have told about it.

As far as I can see this wouldn’t necessarily be an illegal thing to do, just an unfair and non-transparent trade practice that would cause such a PR nightmare, it would really hurt everyone from employees to stockholders to customers. Which is why again, I must point out this is only an imagined scenario at this point, based on conjecture, my experience, my imagination and my knowledge of business decision making processes. Still, I hope someone can look into this and I hope that American Airlines can tell us the full real story of what happened on this flight and how we all ended up in this crazy experience.

UPDATE 6April2010 10:30am: American Airlines sent me a form letter (customized of course) that basically said it was an equipment/maintenance issue that made them change the plane and offered 3 electronic upgrade coupons (value=$90) for my troubles and 73 minute delay. My reply was, thats great to know, why didnt you tell me that last week because that is a really simple thing to find out. What about the other issues like the freezing 757 and why the system allowed me to get rebooked in the first place, then denied. The form letter thing was quaint, but expected I guess, including this wonderful gem “eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have developed to date”.

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Socialized Healthcare in Sweden. A Story and Some Comparisons.

Chris Heuer from Hospital Bed and Morphine Hell

Chris Heuer from Hospital Bed and Morphine Hell

First, my apologies to everyone for not getting links in here. I wrote this all evening and just want to get it published. There are some people like Anders, Anders and Thomas who deserve more link love, but its late and I am as you may guess exhausted. This is in essence an unedited diary entry of my experiences of the last 36 hours here in Sweden, getting sick as a foreigner in a socialized health care system. The kind the folks who watch Fox news have been warning you about.

As the last few days have proven to me on a personal level, social media can certainly save your life and make you feel better mentally, so I think it can make you healthier. Though in some cases, as in mine, when someone really doesn’t take a compliment well due to self-esteem and other issues, it can also make one feel quite unsettled. But the outpouring of friendship, support and love over the past two days has been quite touching and has certainly improved my health and my spirit. And for this and so much more, I am deeply grateful to have my friends and #thefamily for support.

I wont go in the long narrative here, you can read that down towards the bottom of this post if you like. The short story is that yesterday I set out from Stockholm early to head to Norrkoping for a daylong brainjam with the @SMCSWE team and friends from Lasso Networks. Anders Abrahamsson arranged for a nice lunch and a little open space that I barely got to experience. Half way through lunch, the chest pain I had been ignoring for over an hour became too much and I asked to be taken to the hospital (called Vrinnevisjukhuset by the way, which has an incredible staff and great Doctors).

With all the talk of the terrible health care provided in socialist medical systems by the conservatives in the U.S., it’s a miracle I am still alive. Funny thing though, not once, did I see a bureaucrat. In fact, when given permission to be discharged, my Dr. had no idea of how much money it might still cost me above the 2,000KR I paid during admission, or what the price of any procedure was. Instead, she was focused on collaborating with her colleagues who treated me previously and coordinating the task at hand with the nurses.

What a novel idea. Dr’s who aren’t concerned with money or insurance or litigation, but rather focused on helping patients get healthy. If this is socialized medicine, I am all for it. First and foremost, it was focused on one thing and one thing only, me as the patient. There goal was getting the patient rested, diagnosed properly and on the road to recovery. There was no one calling a bureaucrat to get approval to have me treated, there was no one checking to see if the procedures were profitable and there was no one there who cared about anything but me.

What did Social Media Have to Do With It?

Besides the fact that this happened during a local Social Media Club event, there was a huge social media component to this major wake up call in my life. Most notably, as Anders Sporring has told me, while the conversation we were supposed to have together didn’t happen, another conversation happened. In the flow. Thomas Selig, who I had never met before not only came to spend time with me, Anders and Anders, but he came back earlier this morning to sit with me as we waited for final results before heading to the train together. In short, though I was thousands of miles from home, I felt like I was home, with my brothers by my side.

And then there were all the twitter brothers and sisters who poured out their support, offering to fly Kristie to Sweden, to house me if I was unable to fly, to fly to get to me and just generally to tell me I was loved and they cared. My eyes swell with tears even now as I write this. The connections we create over these interwebs, when manifested in the real world, or through a simple message across the wire, are real enough to heal and to support. Most of all, its there to drive out the loneliness and the fear of being alone.

Supposedly there is a study going on right now about how social media makes those who connect through it more healthy overall, but I have not been able to find it. The general premise is that 1, social media participants are generally happier which contributes to health in many ways and 2, they have access to more health information by others who openly share their experiences.

Some Comparisons Between Swedish Healthcare Experience and USA

Thankfully, I didn’t have to have an operation, so perhaps I cannot provide a true representation, but I can share what I experienced in checking in, getting diagnosed, getting treated and getting released. Despite my support of healthcare reform in the US, you can count on the following to be only biased against the shoddy care I have received from Kaiser Permanente in the past several years and not by any other political leanings.

In an odd twist of fate, while sitting at The Story Hotel bar the other night, I happened to watch a US energy executive hitting on a lovely business woman (who for some reason didn’t notice his wedding band tan). What he said made me at once want to hit him, and also laugh at how stupid some people are. He actually used as one of his pick up lines “well I better eat my vegetables now, because if I get sick in Obama’s healthcare system I am gonna be in real trouble”. Seriously. He actually believes everything that Fox news has had to say on the healthcare debate. Probably never even changed the channel. OK, so that was a little political, but lets get to the reality of my experience.

What was the same? Well, it was, as Mike McGrath said, still a hospital. Doctors and nurses and all that stuff. It was warmer somehow, despite being sterile and looking like a hospital. It was on a lake and I had a beautiful window overlooking that lake. The intake process was slow, just as it is at home, but this time, I could see her concern to get the other nurses moving to take me in as soon as possible into a treatment room, which is different then at home. She actually suggested that Anders girlfriend Karin finish the paperwork so they could get me in there quicker. Also the same, once I got into the cardiac care unit, I was in a room with multiple beds. When it was time to get an x-ray, I had to wait a little while to be taken for it and I had to wait a little while longer then I had hoped to get the results read by the doctor.

What was different, everything else, most notably the attitudes and the level of care they provided. It felt like they cared, and the nurses (especially Maria) did care more then I have ever felt cared for by KP. It felt like a human system, not a machine. When I gave the nurses back-story on prior issues and conditions, they listened. They really listened, and they noted it in the charts (as I noted when others came in on shift changes, because they didn’t start all over form scratch each time). When I told the admitting nurse in ER I didn’t want to take the morphine the Dr. prescribed, she listened, starting with only 2mg instead of the full 5mg the Dr suggested. Once that was in and no reaction happened, then and only then did she increase the dose until the point I was comfortable, but no further. When I needed to get detached from the EKG machine so I could go to the bathroom, she helped me do it. In the US, they would never have let me do that; they would have made me use a bedpan in front of everyone else. They also never would have let me keep my shoes and pants on, no matter how cold the room was and how little they really needed them off in the first place to deal with my chest. The people I shared my room with were so extremely nice. They cared about me and I about them in a way I would never expect in a US hospital. That is of course just something about the people, but its important and it is what my experience about the Swedish people on the whole has been. I love the Swedish people, and now I know why with 100% certainty.

Payment. While I am not sure about my final bill, if there even is going to be one, I paid 2,000KR at check in (about $280). Most importantly, when I asked the Dr. how much it would be or how it worked, she didn’t know. She didn’t care. She is separated from it. Had she been concerned with it as US doctors, I am sure they would have done another few procedures. In fact, they were more concerned with the allergic reaction I had previously experienced with the iodine during a CT scan in the weeks that followed my stomach examinations when weighing whether or not to do a contrast study on my heart. A reaction that my KP doctors didn’t even believe was real (though one nurse later told me over the phone that it happened in less then 0.5% of people). Finally, to top it all off, thank god I was in Sweden where the education system helps citizens learn multiple languages. While there were a few moments of slowed translation thoughts, nearly everyone who cared for me spoke nearly flawless English. Had I been a foreigner in a US hospital, I would have been screwed unless I spoke the local language. I know this cant be used in a fair compare and contrast post, but wow. What a relief, and it helped me recover faster.

What Happened, Heading to Hospital

Shortly after sitting in circle together and having some coffee, I started having chest pains and noticed some pains in my right arm/wrist area. I started some basic breathing exercises and dashed off a DM to my wife Kristie to set up a DR appt for when I got home. Unfortunately, I have had this similar experience 2-3 times in the last 2 months, once requiring us to call the ambulance and 1x during SxSW shortly after having to leave Amanda Coolong to run the daily recap show herself. This time though, it felt different and despite my slow breathing and focus, it wouldn’t go away and seemed to get worse as a splitting headache started while we walked to lunch.

After sitting for lunch a few minutes, it got worse not better and Thomas Selig suggested we take a walk. Which I did reluctantly since I was unable to eat, but also felt terrible for not being able to be present for my friends with whom I came to collaborate on a plan for Social Media Club Sweden and to contribute in anyway I could to their other projects. Long story short, after the walk I felt better but worse and thought it best to go find a doctor. Being so far away from home, I was concerned about this plan of action, but really had no other recourse knowing that 1) I have been on the road for 3 weeks 2) under extreme stress, financial, emotional, professional and otherwise 3) caught a bit of the SXSARS deep in my chest 4) had these prior experiences with chest pain and high blood pressure and 5) was beginning to see things/hallucinate and that scared the bejezzus out of me.

Anders girlfriend Karin took me to the hospital about 10 minutes away, which looked like any hospital you would find in the states. If I had been listening to Fox News and the Republicans the last few months, I would have probably died of fright at the site of it! Thankfully, I don’t believe everything I hear and was happy to be there because the pain had been getting worse and I had been getting more light headed. While you can read the comparisons of the two systems above, what is important here is that I made it to check-in, paid my 2,000 KR (about $280usd) and was brought into the ER to have an EKG hooked up and get some oxygen and determine what the hell was happening.

Everyone except one nurse spoke incredible English, and even she understood well and spoke passably all things considered. In the ER I was scared. I thought I was going to die. My heart was racing, the chest pain was getting worse and the pain in my right arm was also now in my right leg. My headaches was coming and going in waves. Oddly enough (or good for me) my EKG was normal, the same thing I experienced when we called the ambulance for me a few weeks back and chalked it up to a panic attach (which I had several years ago and went to the ER for). But my blood pressure was 190/135 and despite being able to slow my pulse at will through breath control (a game I practiced when laying in the hospital bed last night) I could do nothing to calm my body down. I tried some self administered Reiki but couldn’t focus long enough before I was flooded with worry and fear. Which as I passed through the first few hours were perhaps my 2 biggest enemies.

I can’t believe that I am only at the 30-minute mark of the hospital experience. If you are still reading this, I am sorry for the verbosity but also happy that you care/have an interest.

Ultimately I called Kristie from the ER. I had been crying a lot in there. Not only was I afraid, I was sad and mad at myself. I know better then to party like I was doing and eating as I had been eating and staying up all night. But this is what I thought I had to do. What I must do. So I did it, consequences be damned. Perhaps, if I had gone home after SxSW instead of heading to Europe, things would have been a little different, but I think it would have only postponed the inevitable, so all in all, I am glad it happened here with the friends I have in Sweden.

I cried a lot. My soul hurt as much as my body.

In the ER I was prescribed Morphine, which I didn’t want to take, but the nurse explained (as I know) that my body needed to relax and this would be the best way. She started out with just 2mg, then up to 7, then eventually 10 and finally by the end of the afternoon I had been given 15mg and it only felt like a light buzz, though my thoughts were dopey and slow. Eventually with the EKG normal, and my blood pressure down to 160/110 I was moved to the cardiac care unit and placed in a room with 2 other men.

Still going through diagnosis, most of the rest of the afternoon was spent just laying there, slowly talking to the Doctors and Nurses about my prior history, about what happened and about how I felt. Then Anders A, Anders Sporring and Thomas Selig showed up to check in on me. Despite barely knowing me at all, they stayed at the hospital into the evening as the nurses took blood, as the morphine induced haze wore on and as my panic subsided into being overly worried about how stupid I am for not taking care of my health properly yet after all the close encounters and scares of the past few years.

Having friends around, I decided to reach out to Twitter in the late afternoon to share my story and connect with loved ones. What happened next and is still happening now as others hear about what happened through their tweetstream is nothing short of miraculous. While I have seen such support previously with my mystery stomach problems, the amplification of love I felt and concern sent my way was almost too much to bear. But knowing that you are loved and hoping you are thought of are two different things. The certainty of being connected and being more important then just a simple soul in a hospital bed with no one around was and is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Even the people who wrote nasty notes to me about getting the fuck off of twitter and relaxing were wonderful to read.

When the day doctor went home, and the SMC Sweden crew finally shoved off for the dinner I was supposed to join, the night doctor came on and did a thorough review of my case and an interview with me to determine for himself what may have happened and what might be done. The day doctor had wanted to do a contrast study of my heart using a CT scan, but because of the experience I had last time in a CT scan, with some sort of ‘burning blood’ sensation I had afterwards which is a reaction that occurs in a small number of cases, all doctors ultimately agreed it would be best to not do it and did not see the need given how my condition was appearing.

The nurse, after taking one more blood sample to check and see if I had a cardiac infarction (which I didn’t thank god) dropped off a sleeping pill and I slowly drifted to sleep. I still woke up in the middle of the night around 3 or 330 for some reason despite taking the sleeping pill and I still woke around 430 when someone got put in the 4th bed. But then I finally woke up around 830 for breakfast and another exam by the next shift doctor and the nurse did a finger prick test with my blood sugar reading 6.6, which was good. It was decided I would get a chest x-ray to look at my lungs and then if that was ok I would get released.

For breakfast they put applesauce on my dry cereal and gave me milk and an orange with it. (they say not to eat bananas here that they aren’t good for you). A short while after breakfast I went back to sleep to awake to Thomas Selig who had come all the way back down from his place outside the city to stay with me for a while. We had an incredible conversation all day, just sitting and talking. One of the most surprising and rewarding parts of my trip so far. What an incredible man he is. You are lucky if you get to work with him.

When the nurse came back in the late morning, she did another finger prick test and my blood sugar was high, no good she said. Borderline diabetes, which I have known for some time and honestly just tried to ignore, but I cant anymore. This is perhaps my last ‘warning’ to get this straight and follow a strict diet, which has no room for alcohol, bread and sugar.

The rest of the morning blurred together as they finally took off the EKG monitors, I was able to get up and walk around a little and started feeling a bit, well, a bit more normal I suppose. I was taken for my x-ray and when I came back I ate lunch in the common area. Then Thomas and I chatted as we waited for the news from my x-ray. Being as worried as I am that something major was wrong with me, I wont even begin to tell you what I thought they would find on the x-ray, but it came back negative.

With that news I was told I could just leave. So we gathered my things, grabbed my suitcase and camera they had locked away in an unused office (so used to being in a KP facility where someone might steal it I had asked them to lock up my Canon and my luggage for safety though I need not have been concerned there).

Thomas then drove me to the train station to connect with Anders Sporring for the 1424 train to his town of Marsta, which is where I now sit writing this, feeling 100% better, but also knowing how precious my life is once again and how important it is that I take care of this body. Which means dealing with the depression, the ADD and the feelings of low self esteem that drive me to drink and eat too much. It means dealing with the financial reality that I now face in not generating enough income for the lifestyle I lead and the debts that I carry. Almost everything has to change. I don’t know if I am strong enough to do it. Thankfully I know Kristie is and that together we will make it through this and so much more.

I am so blessed to be a part of #thefamily we have around the world, and especially blessed to have the family Kristie and I make together. Don’t ever take this life for granted. Despite not seeing it every day, in every way you would like to see it, know that you too are loved. You are special. We are all special. Whatever you need will appear and be there to support you, if you just let it into your heart and breathe…

—conclusion — so you can rip me apart for any or all of this, I dont care. I wrote this for me more then for anyone else. I share it so that perhaps it can move someone and help them to see things differently.

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