Archive for category Insytes

Social Business Isn’t Dead, It’s ____________

Social Business Isn't Dead, It's Just MarketingHere at IBM Connect 2014 in Orlando this week I’ve had a epiphany. Or perhaps, I should say that I have actually come to face the facts I have long known to be true, yet tried to forget. Or rather, I tried to ignore the facts by imbuing my support for the bigger idea that is Social Business, with a greater aspect of my soul, and my aspiration for improving humanity. Yes, I still have aspirations for a smarter planet, a smarter workforce, a smarter city and a smarter, more informed citizenry (h/t to our friends at NPR as well as IBM there). But Social Business was barely ever alive, so it isn’t dead, it’s just a marketing slogan.


No, this does not mean that I am disavowing my claims from my earlier post, “Social Business is Dead, Long Live What’s Next”. So, if you are one of the zealots hoping I have had a change of heart, you will be disappointed by what’s written here, yet I will encourage you to read on despite our disagreement. I suspect we agree more then you may even know, yet are still clinging hopefully to the symbols of these two words and the higher meaning it portends.


What I have come to realize by listening to sessions here, talking to consultants, asking analysts and speaking to real world users of the suite of technologies IBM calls Social Business  is what many have known all along, and what few evangelists are willing to accept: Social Business isn’t a solution to a company’s problem; it is an aspiration. Hence, the need for such energetic and strong willed evangelism. As I came to realize long ago, great products aren’t sold, they are bought. Which is why advertising is the tax companies pay for incomplete or poorly designed products. (let’s leave aside solution selling from this discussion for now please, as that is different)


When I recommended to my colleagues at Deloitte Consulting, at the start of my job in early 2011, that we pursue Social Business as our focus, instead of Social Media, it was based on an assumption I had made and an understanding that social media was the realm of creative and communications agencies more then consultants. It was an assumption that I now realize was only partially correct,  which was based on an incomplete understanding of the facts I used as the basis to make that recommendation. Yes, I made that decision in large part because of the marketing muscle and might that IBM was putting behind Social Business as much as their prior success touting eBusiness, but it’s also based on what I learned from advocating and educating people about Social Media.


At the time, I argued that we needed to call it SOCIAL media and not new media, and not, as my friend and respected colleague Steve Rubel argued, to just call it media. My reason was that we needed to accentuate and call attention to what was different about it: it was social, involving people sharing, and participating in conversations in public spaces. It has taken about seven years since those arguments in my opinion to reach the point that we can actually mostly just call it media now (though I am not opposed to calling it social media), but surely that realization has been evident for many months if not longer to many of you.


Perhaps with Social Business, the cycle has accelerated and we have reached the point where extra differentiation or attention on the social aspect isn’t needed even faster then before. The one thing I keep hearing in the keynotes, in the hallways and in my discussions with leading analysts is that most of what we are talking about is just BUSINESS. It was always intended to be about the new way we should be doing business. It was abut leaving behind the exploitative ways of old to embrace more efficient, more effective and more human aspects underlying the engine of our economy.


To this end, we do need a label, a symbol or a banner to rally behind; hence, we do need to call it something. That was really the point behind my Social Business is Dead post, to seek out and perhaps discover a better phrase. But none have materialized, and no appropriate alternatives that encompass the ideals has been suggested yet, though several exist which are at least partially true. This is why I don’t mind if we keep calling it Social Business. Or, that you might call it the Postdigital Enterprise. Or, if we talk about operating in the collaborative economy. 


There are probably few things I wouldn’t want it to be called, but my mind is mostly open. It’s a big transformation for the world, and that requires a big tent where thinkers and pundits and leaders can connect the proverbial dots and go about letting people see it as they do from their perspective, calling it whatever makes the most sense to them.


Leaders, particularly in large, conservative, publicly traded companies are not ones to buy something because they’ve been told it will make them feel better, they want solutions to their problems and clear proven advantages that will help them grow profitability and market share. But still, some very smart people I have met and have known still think a social business is one that participates in social media spaces effectively with their customers, responding to tweets that might otherwise tarnish their reputation if they aren’t there fast enough. Truth is, as it has been designed, social business is much more then that – it is, as several speakers yesterday said proudly, “not something you do, but a way you are”.


As I talked with colleagues here this week after I realized Social Business isn’t dead, it’s a marketing slogan, there was some head nodding and some very light resistance – but not much. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, and while it may be off-putting to some, it is actually just a label applied to a view of how the world should operate for the benefit of everyone, where organizations work to create shared value for our society. One society, under god, with liberty, justice and equal opportunity for all.


And in that spirit of freedom, I won’t mind if my colleagues and friends keep calling it Social Business, as even I do from time to time. But I will be on the lookout for a better symbol and phrase for the foreseeable future. Because as those speakers has been saying, and as I have been hoping, its more then a set of tools, its a way of being that is different than most managers in the old world can even comprehend.


That is worthy of our efforts, and worthy of marketing dollars to help shift that change, but its also worthy of us going way beyond the marketing, the messaging and the dogfooding, to find ways to help more leaders wake up to the new world order. It requires us to convene conversations that really matter like the one I had with Rudy Karsan in the press conference after Monday’s opening general session. (will share audio shortly)


What it takes is more conversations like the one we will be hosting at our next Work Hackers Salon later in February with Charlene Li at Altimeter Group’s Hangar. If you are in the Bay Area, I hope you can make it to talk to us about the fight of our lives, the fight for defining the future of work and ensuring it has a bigger soul that will drive an even bigger wallet.

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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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Invaluable Advisors, Off to a Great Start

In the world of startups, a great advisory board is often used to demonstrate to potential investors that you know people who will let you use their name, which in today’s market conditions, probably means you can get a better chance of getting into an incubator/accelerator and might be able to convince some other first time entrepreneurs to join your team.

For the Social Business Software company I am building, it is something entirely different, and more substantive. Yes, my advisory board consists of famous leaders you may know, or if you don’t know, you should. I began to coalesce the board around a specific set of experiences, connections and insights I was seeking to fill in areas where we couldn’t afford to hire or secure full time positions. I set out to fill these specific roles from my network who I already knew would grok the concept and be able to add instant value. It is truly a working advisory board, and thankfully it is nearly complete and moving towards its first formal meeting in the next week or so. While still in the early stages, they have each contributed some form of real value towards the concept development, identified some potential candidates for co-founders and validated the general business plan, agreeing to be part of our journey. Together we are striving to change how people work together and how organizations build more collaborative cultures. Since it’s still in the proverbial stealth mode, that’s all I will say about it for now.

Today, I want to update you and my extended network on the progress to date and acknowledge the amazing members of the advisory board. Each of them have contributed so much already — I am truly grateful for their efforts to date and for their support over the coming year as we begin to grow the company.

  • Dave Gray, formerly of Dachis Group, formerly of XPlane, currently and forever a great guy and world leading visual communicator/thinker. He also, together with a former co-founder / life long friend Thomas Vanderwal, wrote the book The Connected Company, which is a large part of a shared vision we have for destroying the current models of the org chart and enabling a more social form of doing business.
  • David Armano of Edelman Digital is someone I deeply respect with similar views on the world as Dave Gray and myself, but who has been on the front lines of transforming public relations, traditional marketing and communications strategies with some of the most innovative brands in the world. He is a creative with common sense, and his contributions on the branding, positioning and messaging has helped to point me towards a brand name that will most surely serve as a competitive advantage. I have long admired his ability to simplify the core concepts of social media and social business, enabling others embrace and execute upon it in a practical way. Now I am glad to have those insights and communications skills to help grow our new company.
  • Daniela Barbosa, now leading Business Development at First Rain, formerly of Dow Jones and always an industry leader around social, data portability and client centric solutions marketing, understands sales in this new era like few others. She is also a creative thinker, an incredible story teller and a deeply compassionate soul who represents the best in the all too often maligned function of enterprise sales, strategic alliances and business development.
  • Bill Sanders, Managing Director of Roebling Strauss is a consumate project manager with deep domain expertise in digital, event production, operations and organizational development. Bill’s addition to the board came serendipitously as we discussed other potential collaborations and he began to speak directly to the problems I am striving to solve. His vast experience with customers in our target market, managing projects and developing innovative solutions to their toughest challenges is one thing, but his operations focus is a perfect complement to my expansive vision, ensuring we focus on getting things done! I couldn’t be more excited about the value he has added to the company so far and our potential for even deeper collaboration in the months and years ahead.
  • David Sifry, serial entrepreneur, former CEO of Technorati, founder of numerous other startups, man of integrity and all around great guy provides us the knowledge and experience of having been through multiple startups. His experience and his startup connections are truly invaluable, but he is also a brother from another mother, whose personal counsel transcends the business discussion and whose smile puts everyone at ease. His drive towards a healthier lifestyle is also a personal inspiration for myself and many of our other friends across the startup ecosystem.
  • Nate Pagel, serial entrepreneur, product manager, UX leader and possessor of an incredible work ethic is pushing me forward past the occasional blank canvas problem that comes with startups and providing a greater clarity of focus to what we are building and when we are building it. Nate was an early agency guy (like me) who sold to Sapient (unlike me), is the founder of Podaddies and more recently served as the web development (product) manager at Performance Marketing Brands (who own Ebates.com among other properties).
  • David Allen, has held technology leadership positions (CTO/CIO/++) at companies such as Visa and i365 (a Seagate company). He has also been a supporter of Social Media Club and many other startups around the valley, providing an engineering perspective that looks beyond the technology to understand the underlying psychology at play in the internal operations and in the end users who the products are built to serve. I’ve been fortunate to share dreams, challenges and opportunities with David for over 8 years now, and have continuously been impressed with his counsel and friendship.

So, to state the obvious, somehow we ended up with 4 David’s. Which in my view of the world is invaluable, because it will make slaying this Goliath of a problem we face in reinventing work that much easier!

More seriously, it is one hell of an advisory board, with deep domain expertise, a deep passion for bringing about the transformation we most want to see in the world, and a deep level of personal trust I have built with each over the past 5-10 years. Most importantly, its not titular or intended to prove that I have connections (you can see that through my social media profiles). It’s intended to ensure the company makes the best decisions, has access to the best networks, is able to gain highly valuable insights, and finds its path towards growth – and exchange of sweat equity for vesting equity.

That said, while I continue to interview potential co-founders for full time roles, I still have 3 specific advisor slots I am seeking to fill.

  • An enterpreneur who has taken his company public or sold it in a major transaction
  • A senior strategy person for a global corporation
  • A senior HR leader for a global corporation

And with these final slots filled, we will have our 10 person, working advisory board, all with the sort of experience, connections and brainpower to make us as succesfull as possible. I couldn’t be happier with this great start. With their support, we will begin to move forward on our product road map, build out the team and get to work in earnest on fixing what is most broken in today’s organizations.

While we’ve only just begun, we’ve also come a long way already. I can hardly contain myself right now, but timing is everything, so when the timing is right in a couple of months I will announce the alpha sign up page and a few months after that the public beta. It’s such an exciting time, to finally be working on what truly makes my heart sing with the confidence that we will be forever changing the nature, structure and operations of organizations the world over, enabling them to empower their employees and to truly become social businesses.

Go forth and pursue your dreams, there is nothing greater in this world… except perhaps being able to do so along with some of the people you most respect in the world who have your back and share your dreams. Thanks to each of you who have joined so far, and to each of you who will be joining over the months ahead!

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Seeking Co-Founders for My New Startup

So I am finally making some of the information about the startup I am developing public, starting with the company profile on Angels List and a simple list of the co-founder roles I am seeking to fill. While in stealth, I am operating under AdHocnium until we go public with the name and the alpha launch.

If you know someone who might be a fit for any of these posiitons, please make an introduction or send them to the job postings on Angels List.

 

I really don’t need to do the Angels List thing, but honestly, they have done such an awesome job with the site and building the community, I felt compelled to publish the info about us from there and welcome any serendipity that may come from it beyond my network and friends.

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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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On a personal note…

Chris and Kristie and the Cabo ArchIt’s been a while since I blogged once again. Since pointing out how little I could trust American Airlines communications last month in talking about its broken promises I have been busy in mind if not on socnets (and they never did reply again to my follow-on communications, nor did the guy who worked on their Twitter account @aairwaves stay on top of it, or get back to me). But I digress and I give those airline people too many pixels as it is…

Since I haven’t been out and about a lot, I am getting the same questions over and over, so I thought I should at least take a few moments and lay out a quick personal update about life, health, work and the near future. The vacation with Kristie to Cabo (and the brief visit to Miami for my grandad’s 94th birthday and a few business meetings) was a great trip, but did not afford the time for reflection and plan development I hoped to find. No, instead I returned needing a vacation from my vacation. 12 days on the road is really way too easy for me now, but my body still feels the consequences. Regardless, I am here back in San Francisco for 2 weeks before heading to Montreal for Webcom where I will finally deliver my keynote on Serve the Market and run a session on community management with my wife and Social Media Club co-founder Kristie Wells.

My Health

So it looks like the health scare I had in Sweden was a result of a lot of bad things, but thankfully not an indicator of a bigger problem with my heart. While there is not specific diagnosis once again (UgggghhhhhH!) the trouble that seemed to be a minor heart attack was probably closer to a panic attack, caused by sleep deprivation, exhaustion, stress, not taking my blood pressure medication and perhaps an inflamation of my chest/rib cage known as costochondritis. Of course, I can always blame SxSW and the craziness that we had with the Social Media Clubhouse and particularly late night on that party bus :)

At this point, I haven’t had any chest pains in weeks, though it did last after my return for a bit. My blood pressure is now down to a more manageable 145/85 or thereabouts and getting better every day with the meds and workouts leading the way.  While traveling last month I lost almost 20 pounds which I managed to gain back after only a few weeks back in the states. Now I have to get all the way back down again, but I am working on it.  Chief strategy being curtailing drinking beyond wine with meals and one or two social drinks. That should go a long way to better health just in itself.

Work

I have a brilliant business idea I hit upon while in Sweden that I really want to pursue. Everyone, including angel investors I have pitched thinks its a brilliant idea, and I have a college buddy waiting for the plan who would likely fund it fully and many other friends in the venture business I could get behind it, but its still risky and I need to start making real money soon after postponing income for too long this past year and not picking up as many clients as I would have liked. I also still have a lot of commitments which aren’t making me any money at all right now, which I need to 1) finish with and 2) stop taking on.

Social Media Club is at a crucial point right now and the pieces are falling into place for a major change to how it operates that for too long has been waiting in the wings. In order to fully accomplish our mission, we need to generate more income for the organization, become more structured with our network of chapters and empower more people to address the core activities on a full time basis.  Hiring Justin Herman has been an incredible good fortune for us and the community as a whole, but we need more paid staff and that means its time to shore up our ‘business model’ and get to work. Which is what we are doing with the new site, but even that is a risk as I am sure the new model, despite its necessity and obviousness won’t be well received by all. Which means we have a real challenge in front of us that we will begin to address more formally on our local chapter leaders call next MON and thereafter with the launch of a real membership drive. (it was supposed to all happen at SxSW but our development team really screwed us over so we have to get a new team up and running right now and fix all the crap they left half finished and broken).

The bottom line though is we can’t keep doing this on a volunteer basis any longer. We need a real professional organization that is looking out for the community, not these psuedo efforts by people with for-personal-profit and self-aggrandizing motives. As I said during the Business Wire panel last month in San Francisco, the problem with Social Media douchebags is not going away, and someone needs to address it properly. I intend Social Media Club to serve this important role of community standards bearer. A compass holder if you will. Its more complicated of course, and its deserving of a longer post which I am indeed writing this month…

Then yesterday, GigaOm wrote about this executive search for a ‘Head of Social’ at Google and all the current thinking/planning was thrown into a kerfuffle. I mean, where else could I get a chance to make a real impact using all the intellectual tools and talents at my disposal. With a background not only in virtual community, but general web strategy, software development, organizational change, user experience, marketing, evangelism and community leadership, it would seem a perfect fit. More so when you consider that my vision in 2002 for The Noble Pursuit included an element I called ‘The Global Anthropologist Project” as an effort to harness what is now called the wisdom of crowds and has been manifested not only by Wikipedia but also by many of the social search functions Google has already adopted but which widely has not been realized as I had envisioned it yet. It would really be fabulous to take on the challenge, working with Bradley Horowitz, Chris Messina, Joseph Smarr and the rest of the Google team do social right. Completely right for the full golden triangle of user-service-advertiser (or the real USA as its also known ;) The opportunity is huge and very enticing – it could also potentially mean a huge lift for Social Media Club… but most importantly, it would be a chance for many of the ideas of Insytes to see the light of day. I almost wish I wrote about them more often.

Life, the near future.

At the moment, I have my hands full fixing all the problems with the Social Media Club site and getting it relaunched, getting the Social Media Club business model ramped up properly, organizing about 10-20 events between now and the end of the year, wrapping up a client engagement, looking after my health/losing weight, investing in my relationship with Kristie and finding a way to do a lot of writing.  This post is a step in the right direction for all of it actually. So the near future looks pretty good.

I just need to keep finding my way to the keyboard, the gym and the conversations that matter most, which means being more proactive then reactive and focusing on the important stuff more and the urgent stuff less.  Life is really pretty good right now, just putting one foot in front of the other and not getting overwhelmed by all the big ideas about how things should be in the world in the face of how things actually are… it feels good to make the world the place of our dreams, especially if I get to play the role of George Bernard Shaw’s unreasonable man.

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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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Is it ok for companies to pay to be featured users in Social Media sites?

TwitterI don’t know how I let this distract me from my work I am doing in my hotel room [oh wait, is that an Eagle flying over the BC Place Arena out my window? shoot, where was I? oh yes, Twitter] – So I stopped in on Twitter and happend to see this tweet from Robert Scoble and mistakenly clicked the link, only to get my panties all in a bunch at the level of pettiness and noise in the comments on his post about the importance or unimportance of having more followers on Twitter and on this one about whether or not TechCrunch paid to be featued on Twitter’s list of suggested user’s to follow. [if you can spare a few hours and resist the temptation to scratch your eyes out, there are some really good points in both of the threads if you can get past the baseless and off-topic ones]

As Robert admitted in the comments, he did a bad job of framing the question on TechCrunch and Twitter, partly driven by a desire to get you involved in answering it (ie getting more ppl like me excited and upset which is what people with journalism degrees sometimes do, obviously with some effectiveness).  As such, I want to try to reframe the issue with some clearer questions and thoughts. NOTE: I did not read all the comments because I don’t think I cold avoid the impulse to scratch my eyes out or go deaf because of all the noise in that thread (personal aside: wow, do we need Insytes more then ever today).

Before going further, I want to point out that we should not unfairly target our good friends Ev/Biz and their hard working team which needs a real business model to ensure their service is sustainable.  The reason for me dropping what I am working on for Social Media Club Portland tomorrow night and Social Media Club Seattle Tuesday night (both sold out unfortunately) is that this is really important question that should receive some critical examination.  The issue is important to consider for all organizations online, most especially social networks, blogs and web services – but also for media companies, associations and other non-profits who work with advertisers, sponsors, donors and/or patrons.

This is clearly a discussion on disclosure first and foremost, but as a result, I hope other important lessons can be learned too…

Q1: Is Twitter adopting a pay to play model for being featured anywhere on its site? Are other sites doing this without making it clear? If so who?

A1: I don’t know, do you?  Besides answering here in the comments, maybe we need a wiki page to list those who do things like this but dont disclose it properly?

Q2: Does this sort of advertising (and the sort that has GaryVee using adsense to promote his twitter account) have a positive or negative impact on other users? on the Web 2.0 / Social Media era? on the broader society?  Does it matter at all? Q2b: Does this conversion of dollars into the power to get attention take away from our open/transparent/meritocratic ideals? In which situations is this ok?

A2: I think it is ok accompanied by simple disclosures and transparency as that will reveal true intentions and we, as informed citizens, can make our own judgments on the value of that reccomendation. In the case of Garyvee, it just seems odd, but there is nothing wrong with that.  Strategically he is the BRAND of his company (do you know what his company is?) so advertising his Twitter account does help his company/.  Personally, I believe that strategically he would be better off putting WineLibrary.TV in the ads for increasing the overall awareness of his great wine buying advice site, despite the likely decreased click through rate from a non-personal, company branded ad. Of course, the mere fact of breaking ground in this way has led to plenty of other new followers for him as a result of people like me writing about it… but that’s Gary, always passionately leading the way for others to follow…

Disclosure: Just last week I contacted the folks behind TwitterCounter to see if we (aka me for @SocialMediaClub) could buy a ‘follow us’ ad on their top 100 page – as the noise gets louder, we need better ways for getting noticed. @SocialMediaClub was in the top 100 on TwitterCounter for several months until recently being kicked off the list by the volume of hollywood celebtrities joining conversation (which is a more interesting issue in itself to talk about a bit later).

Q3: Will the user community (especially new registrants) be better off if Twitter is open about how they are doing it?

A3: This is the only one I will answer in detail because I am sure that everyone will be better off.  This is similar to the need to put the word advertorial on top of paid placement in print. People know a banner ad when they see it, but a ‘friendly recommendation’ that is soley based on the ability of people to pay that doesn’t inform the consumer is harmful to the  spirit of transparency we are trying to manifest in the world. It may even potentially be an issue for the FTC, so let’s do our best to solve this before someone else does.

This hits on two of Social Media Club’s missions, both Media Literacy and Ethics.  It’s hard enough for most people to know when they are being advertised too already, so this, if true, is a real problem for me personally and professionally.

Q4: Should celebrities and companies be on separate lists – should we have user ‘types’ to differenentiate and allow people to see different accounts? Shouldn’t companies (including perhaps our non-profit Social Media Club) with over 10,000 followers pay a reasonable fee for the service? It certainly would still be cheaper then a newswire for a press release]

A4: Well, let’s be honest, this is my suggestion not a question, so my answer to these questions is yes.

What do you think?

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