Archive for category Insytes

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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Foundational Fixes For Economy #alt2bailout

Face-to-face trading interactions on the tradi...

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This morning over sausages and beer at Citizen Space, the talk inevitably turned to the economy and whether it was going to turn around or tank.  The great thing about co-working is the diversity of perspectives you can get in any conversation.  Without the corporate silo walls preventing us from interacting, without being organized by similarity of activities performed, and without anything connecting us more then a shared sense of place, we get by the bullshit and get real.

Anyway, I digress, because my point is more about what we really need to change in order to correct for our broader market problems (though I clearly think the silos between us are uber important).  What will it take? Less Greed?  Sure, but how do we stop one of the most powerful and highly motivating of the 7 deadly sins?  We certainly don’t legislate it all away, its an emotionally charged human behaviour.  No, we must really start the change from within.  Microsharing is perhaps an appropriate meme to leverage – now we need to get on to microgrowing, where we each grow a little bit each day in terms of understanding how connected we are to the world around us and the other people in it.

This was one of the original purposes of BrainJams, and then Social Media Club – to bring together people from a large diversity of backgrounds to see past the differences of culture, style, economic status and intelligence and see into the hearts and souls of each other.  To see that as much as we are individuals, we are also all one.  We are on this earth together.  We are part of this ecosystem less then we are masters over it.  We are in it together.

Whether or not you believe in the butterfly effect or chaos theory, you certainly have experienced the impact that another person can have on you and that you can have on them.  There is no denying that we are all connected in some way – the homeless man and Donald Trump, George Bush and Cindy Sheehan, and even Charlie Manson and the Benedectine Monks.  What we do affects others.  Simple.  What we do affects the earth. Simple.  What others do affects us.  We need to be mindful of this impact and find a way to ensure its balance.  To balance our self interest and drive with the broader interest of the world around us and its needs for our unique contribution to it.

What we need to fix to help our economy is to not reward greed and excess with tax breaks and bailouts but with meaningful penalties.  Perhaps they can use their great talents to serve as community organizers – to solve big problems.

One specific place where a change in perspective can have a potentially big impact is in looking at our unrealistic expectations of investment grade returns of our investment capital after a company has developed a mature market.  We probably need to fix the general public perception about investment markets in the US really.  We need to get beyond the expectations of constant never ending growth of our investments and look more to the long term. More like the Europeans with a 5 year view of the market instead of a quarterly perspective.

We need to shift our thinking of investments into alignment with reality.  At some point, investments in mature markets become consistent profitability instead of a doubling of revenue. The investor reward on this investment has a ceiling, but if it is successful will always reward your risk with income in the form of dividends.  Wow, what a concept!  So instead of looking for my money to grow exponentially, I realize it is providing me with $250,000 in income each year.  That sounds pretty darn reasonable to me.

Wasn’t that how utilities and railroads used to operate?

This is clearly a sociological problem. A psychological problem.  So it is hard to imagine any scenario where our government is going to be able to force this sort of change in society.  That change needs to come from inside of us. Each and everyone of us. We need to be aware of the world we inhabit, our role in it, our stewardship of it and our responsibilities to each other that when honored will reward each and everyone of us.

It starts simply with microgrowth.  Personal development and an acceptance of the reality we are facing as a result of a way of thinking that is not based in reality.  Humans Don’t Scale no matter how big our appetite for growth is.

Is it possible for this change in thinking to ever take place? Whats good about it and whats bad about it?

A view of the world in balance with our place in it is all I am seeking,  There are many ways to that path.   Tag yours with #alt2bailout and lets learn from each other and discuss other issues we need to address along with potential solutions to our problems.

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Living in the Era of Conversation

happy conversations are surely bestOver the past few months, I have had several opportunities while speaking, to experientially teach people the power of conversation to create understanding between people that goes beyond our choice of words. In each case, someone in the audience (or in a meeting) misconstrued what I was saying because my word choice did not match their own perceptions regarding an intention or point of view around a particular subject. Through the give and take and back and forth of conversation, we were both able to realize we were merely describing the proverbial different parts of the elephant as the blind men might do.

The idea of widespread participation in ‘the conversation’ is a very challenging thing for corporations to embrace because you not only lose control of the message, but also because you risk losing control of the messenger, and their personal judgments and speech. Last night this came into focus more clearly when my colleague Josh Bancroft criticized our efforts with Social Media Club when he wrote a blog post that said we had “nuked the fridge”. Now, we have received some criticism and some praise throughout the day, which to me is good because it means we are no longer in what Kathy Sierra has referred to as the zone of mediocrity, which is where we were for too long (IMHO).

My challenge isn’t with criticism, it is with a set of broader issues which I guess you could consider as the ‘hot buttons’ that set me off. For this, I want to apologize to Josh for snapping back at him, but I also would like to ask you to indulge me in looking at the bigger picture here, which is a bit complex and for which I am afraid my ability to communicate is not sufficient. I don’t mean to call Josh out specifically here, but this incident really has helped to clarify my thoughts around this issue and I think it is a valuable lesson to share.

While this is not a complete list, as I see it today, there are five things we should understand and consider when living in the era of conversation.

First, it is the matter of intention

Second, it is the matter of making assumptions

Third, it is the matter of familiarity and respect

Fourth, it is the matter of ethnocentrism (or technocentrism)

Finally, it is the matter of responsibility

Intentions matter a lot, and for us to disregard this in public discourse and/or in understanding each other through our actions is to completely misunderstand what being social is all about. In a very real sense, at least from my perspective, I was largely given a ‘hall pass’ on the failures of Social Media Club (SMC) because most people know that my intentions are good, that I am living my values, that I am honest and that I am working for positive change despite falling short on occasion. Last night, I was talking to my Conversation Group colleague Eric Doyle (our office Buddha) who was discussing the meaning of influence with someone who doesn’t believe in PR. He mentioned that influence was largely understood to mean manipulation. I pointed out to Eric that influence itself is not inherently good or bad, but rather it was the intentions behind the use of influence that determined whether it was helpful or exploitative. My drinking of a Peroni may have influenced others who joined our group to also drink a Peroni (it was so tasty!) but there was no intention of manipulation there, or for that matter of being helpful – I was just drinking a cool refreshing Peroni 🙂

In another exchange yesterday, a colleague from Intel Kelly Feller pointed out that there were not a lot of corporate practitioners on the SMC Interim Board (there are in fact 6 or 7). I had worked hard to invite a wide range of people to provide different perspectives and was taken aback by this a little. Since I don’t know Kelly all that well (we have only spoken by phone/email a few times, but I clearly understand she has value to contribute and generally ‘gets it’), I was able to keep a more level head. While a bit ‘perturbed’ at this pronouncement, I engaged her in Twitter conversation to determine her intentions and ask if she was interested in helping, to which she answered “who would I be to criticize and then not be willing to help? 😉

But when Josh decided to say that we nuked the fridge, his use of colorful language, in my mind (and based on prior observed behaviour), was used to draw attention and demean our efforts, not make them better or engage in conversation. This was in stark contrast to the approach that Lloyd Davis took in the comments when noticing that we had made a mistake in claiming 42 interim board members, when in fact there was only 41. Had Lloyd’s intention been anything other than to respectfully get to the facts, he may have written a blog post calling us liars and committing a fraud on the public, though clearly this was a simple, and all too human, mistake.

This leads me into my second issue, which is about making assumptions. Now we all have to do this generally to get by in the world (is this person I am dating ‘sponge worthy‘ for instance), but largely we tend to make assumptions when we should be asking questions and seeking clarifications. This is one of the central points of what I think is the most important book of our time (and my favorite), The Four Agreements. Clearly I am not perfect in this regards because I assumed that Josh was attacking me and SMC for his own gain rather than calmly engaging him and trying to get at the root of his concerns.

In my mind though, this was for a good reason, which brings me to my 3rd point of familiarity and respect. There have been a few times where I have been personally offended by assumptions and statements made by people I know who didn’t bother to respect our relationship by seeking clarification directly before making public statements/posts which in my mind were inaccurate. I had mistakenly thought that Josh understood my intentions here and what we were working to accomplish with SMC, which can broadly be thought of as trying to ensure we use this social medium properly for the positive benefit of us individually and collectively. So when someone published what I perceived as an attacking post instead of asking me for clarification personally first (he does follow me on Twitter despite my original mistake in thinking he doesn’t), it really hit my hot button. As I clearly hit Josh’s when I made another statement on Twitter, and for which I again apologize for upsetting you Josh. Hopefully you can see that there was a point to it here that I was trying to make, one which is clearly taking more then 140 characters to explain.

This of course brings up a larger question of responsibility, my fourth point. We have been given a great power in freedom of speech with these social media tools, and of course in the use of that freedom people are free to do with it as they please and we have little control over it, if any at all (at least in this country). This is why it is so important that those of us, like Josh and myself, have a responsibility to use the power of this medium responsibly. We have a responsibility to not just pass judgement in a hastily formed opinion that could cause harm to others (personal, professional, or otherwise). Journalists have this responsibility to the truth hammered into them from their very early days of ‘J’ school, and by all their editor/mentors over the years. It is a tradition passed on from master to apprentice and it is missing from the ‘art of blogging’ to such a degree that I do think it is one of the biggest issues we face. The behaviour we choose to model for those who follow us will determine what society as a whole thinks is the difference between right and wrong – if we choose to use inflamatory language to draw more attention to our hastily formed opinions which may not be based on all the facts, we are setting a bad example.

In my mind, this is made an even more egregious mistake when such snap judgements are formed about people or situations to which we have direct access to the people involved. It amazes me to think about how many times someone I know has written something that was simply not correct, when a simple email, direct message or phone call could provide clarification about their concerns…

As I am getting rather long and I am afraid people will misconstrue my final point, I won’t dive too deep into why ethnocentrism is an important matter to discuss here, but let me briefly talk about the relevant analogy I am trying to make. In this case, the idea of technocentrism is perhaps more important to discuss. It has its roots in the same general principles of ethnocentrism – the distrust/dislike of people who are not like us and a feeling of superiority – but it is perhaps more divisive in our society today then many realize. As part of my regular speeches I often talk of the chasm of mistrust between technology and marketing folks as being responsible for trillions of dollars of lost value in the economy. I mean it, and I wish I could fund a study to prove it – the number might be even bigger.

The challenge here is that oftentimes when a technologist sees someone in a suit, or with a particular title, or using some of those ‘marketing words’, many will make a snap judgement that this person is not to be trusted. Online, we make similar snap judgments based on the words and writing styles people use. In the situation with Josh Bancroft’s dislike of Social Media Club’s announcement, it had to do with a particular paragraph of text that to him made it sound like we had ‘sold out’ and gone ‘corporate’.

To be clear, I am not perfect here myself. The only reason I know about this or have thought about it is because I have made the same sort of mistakes and faced the same issues personally. Had I not felt the pain that such thinking and behaviour has wrought, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons myself. In fact, for many of these points, I still make the same mistakes, but I am quick to admit when I am wrong or when I realize I should have responded differently.

Why invest so many words in trying to explain this situation? It is not for my sake or for Josh’s, but rather for all of our benefit. If we don’t learn how to live in this era of conversation with one another better, all of the command and control hierarchy people in institutions who don’t want us talking to one another will win the day. This is one of the few places where the group that plays Amanda Chapel is right – seeing the world as it is rather than how it could be – there is little reason why corporations based on the principles of profit and growth should risk their existence by allowing an individual to express a hastily formed opinion or speak out of turn when we are not thinking more conscientiously about what we are saying and how it will be perceived. If we are to really have conversations with companies, and with each other, openly and freely, we have to learn how to talk with one another better. We need to accept responsibility for our actions and our speech.

In short, we need to apply good intentions, stop making assumptions, respect one another regardless of our differing opinions, stop judging books by their covers and embrace the fact that we are all responsible for the communities in which we live.

If we can’t get by these problems as a society and start to move in the direction of open and respectful conversation, we won’t ever realize our full potential or live in the sort of world I hope and pray we can create.


Photo by CC_Chapman under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license.

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It’s About Conversation, Not Marketing

After reading The problem with ‘conversational marketing’ I was inspired to express my views on the importance of conversation and the evolution of marketing.

Let’s be clear, the real problem with conversational marketing (other than the God awful term itself) is the ‘marketing’, not the conversation. The human problem with many traditional marketing practices is that they are exploitative in nature, selling/hyping goods and services in the market that are of dubious value, and only benefit those doing the selling. Of course this is not the case with the majority of marketing or marketers, but the extent to which a few bad intentioned actors can create a stereotype that is harmful to an entire group of people is quite stunning.

The gist of the article is correct that product and experience are the most important aspects of the business by providing goods and services to the market that create profits and satisfaction. I wrote about this after our awesome SxSW panel earlier this year in a post called The Golden Rules of Marketing. If you are more interested in the importance of great products as the first step to great marketing, listen to the podcast of the Self Replicating Awesomness session.

My problem is with the article’s dismissal of the importance of conversation over messaging to create understanding. It demonstrates how badly a few buzzword spewing charlatans can hurt the efforts towards transformation across an industry (communications in this case).

As I have demonstrated in unplanned exchanges in numerous workshops I have facilitated over the past year, it is very easy for people to mean the same thing, use different words to describe it and have an argument resulting from their different viewpoints. Conversation in this case, creates understanding, bridging cultures and differences in the use of language – something that a simple published statement or headline (aka message) can not do if no one is able to be engaged, listening and responding.

When those of us who understand what is happening say the words ‘listen and respond’, we are not limiting ourselves to the words we say back to someone after listening. We are talking about what we DO as a result of HEARING them as well as what we say. By listening, and truly hearing what is said, we are also showing that we are paying attention – it speaks volumes about the true intentions of our actions in the market place.

The post’s author sees the biggest proof of the failure of conversational marketing in a 2007 study from 9 months prior to their post:

According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, Dell was at the bottom of the pack in 2007 and actually lost 5 percentage points from the previous year

The author is correct in noting that it is much more difficult to provide a product that meets the market’s needs/expectations then it is to talk with them. Duh! The point isn’t so much that they are talking together, but what they do as a result. To expect conversations between representatives of a company and the market to turn around the culture and operational systems of that company within a matter of hours or days is of course impractical. These things take time. We are all human, people misunderstand, and of course, people make new mistakes which need to be understood and corrected all the time.

The article goes on to further state:

As such, companies should invest first and foremost in making sure that they do a good job of providing consumers with the products and services they want and need.

But of course, in order to understand what products they want, the companies need to listen to them FIRST, deliver the goods, listen to them again, change, deliver the goods again with improvements and so on. This quote shows how backwards the thinking is – companies need to do more up front to understand the needs of the market (traditionally thought of as research, which is of course a form of a conversation) before they invest in producing the goods.

The post goes on to say:

I would also point out what may seem counterintuitive to conversationalists – the fact that sometimes silence is the best indicator of consumer satisfaction.

Apparently, the author – Drama 2.0 – hasn’t read one of Kathy Sierra’s best blog posts called Be Brave or Go Home, which explains why customer silence is not golden if your company lives in the zone of mediocrity. Nor have they read Ken Blanchards book called Raving Fans, nor do they understand the importance and impact of Word of Mouth.

The thing is, that if I buy a computer from Dell (and I am a Mac guy, so the chances are slim), I hope I don’t have to talk to Richard Binhammer about a problem, but he hopes I talk to him about how much I love it. Either way, because I know that they are listening, as humans do to one another, I know that he will help to fix any problems. I know that their intentions are to serve us with better products and that sometimes shit happens. If the intention is made clear that they are not a faceless corporation here to take my money and harm me by selling me bad products/services, I would rather buy from them then anyone else.

This is our philosophy at The Conversation Group, and the main purpose we came together as an agency – to help more companies embrace the spirit of conversation with markets and to move beyond marketing by discovering, engaging and serving their markets in a more respectful and effective way.

Thanks to Rebecca Caroe from Creative Agency Secrets who pointed out this article called The problem with ‘conversational marketing’. (disclosure: two of the subjects of that post, Richard Binhammer and Shel Israel are friends) This is something I was writing about last summer in the post entitled, Stop the Insanity, Don’t Call it Conversational Marketing, and more recently in response to a Doc Searls post (keep getting better Doc, we’re with you) called Clues vs. Trains.

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Friend Feed Rooms Replace Mailing Lists

Friend FeedI won’t bother with an in-depth comparison right now, but it is seemingly obvious how Friend Feed Rooms replace mailing lists.

We can have them

  • public or private
  • open or closed (members invite other members or not)
  • we can message each other
  • we can share links
  • we can let people know what we like
  • we can have a comment thread
  • we get to have it on the Web instead of locked in our email inbox
  • it has RSS feed so I can access it in my Google Reader

This is the first real step that I have seen towards what I originally wanted to do with Insytes back in 2005… it still has a long way to go to get that full potential, but maybe I can get a consulting gig with them, or some options or something and I can help them really build it all out as the best communications and collaboration tool on the Web.

For now though, join us in the Social Media Club Friend Feed Room and lets start sharing and learning from each other as it was originally intended 🙂

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Is Social Media bad for the environment?

Sunset in JamaicaOdd question isn’t it?

I mean, surely Social Media is doing a lot for the cause, helping people spread the word via blogs, organize efforts and make everyone aware of our global climate crisis. Sarah Perez (love her stuff) even has a great post just today on How to Use Social Media for Social Change. Of course I agree, as evidenced by my early post on the Importance of Social Media and Amanda Chapel’s constant attacks against me (which I gleefully laugh at as he continues to give me more attention).

So what made me stop trying to fight my insomnia and get out of bed to write such a seemingly silly blog post at 430am this morning?

During the course of the work I have been doing with Intel lately, I have been researching the enterprise IT market and learning a lot about what they have been doing to reduce power consumption while maintaining performance across all there product lines. This CIO survey from March has some interesting details on “The Greening of IT”. It’s a very big and important topic for the industry and each of us. My friend Bill Kircos from Intel tells me that Intel is the largest buyer of reusable/renewable energy as ranked by the EPA (story on Treehugger.com). They are also extending their Greening Efforts across their operations in other important ways such as removing lead from their chips. Even my wife (Kristie Wells) is researching carbon offsets for her company Joyent.

At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about the big data portability issue (which I fully support) and whether or not the recent Facebook/Google challenge over Friend Connect might mean that we are seeing “The Twilight of the Open Web” (a topic of discussion for next months Social Media Club meeting in San Francisco – details to come).

In talking with some folks at the Executing Social Media conference last night, I mentioned this event idea and Nathan Gilliatt remarked we will always have some walled gardens and I replied with my standard “we can’t have walls, we need semi-permeable membranes”, meaning there needs to be some trust filter to keep the bad actors out and the good actors safe – which is the role Facebook claims to be playing in safegauding its users privacy from Friend Connect sites.

This is similar to the debate around Flickr and Zoomr and an open API for user portability which was basically about (paraphrasing) not allowing people to have all their data and photos transferred to a site where they may not be able to take it somewhere else in the future. As Stuart Butterfield said “we definitely should approve requests from direct competitors as long as they do the same … fair’s fair”. Or as Marc Canter infamously said at BloggerCon IV, “If you’re gonna suck, you gotta spit“.

Now look at the great and hugely popular service that FriendFeed and SocialThing are providing, a true value for sure, but it is duplicating, and in some cases tripling the amount of storage used for the same content.

Was also thinking about TubeMogul, which Tim Street mentioned during a session yesterday and which I also happen to love. It allows you to send your video to any and all of the video sharing sites you want all at once, saving us a great deal of time in distributing our video. Of course, there are also the people who take copies of it and upload it to other servers and other sites…

So these thoughts and discussions lead to me wondering about the impact that all of this data duplication we are creating with our Social Media is creating. Multiple hard drives, redundant systems, ultimately needing to head to a landfill or get partially recycled and replaced. Perhaps it is merely distributing the consumption we would have had anyway, but I have over 8,000 photos on Flickr and if I put them on Zoomr too that would be (@3MB each) 24 GB of extra storage space I am taking up on primary systems, plus backups – then the electricity to run it all.

Jake McKee talks about how he and his wife upload the same photos to their different Flickr accounts, what if they switched and then switched again. Of course, we also have a ton of different equipment we are using for creating and consuming media. Just today I had my M-Audio podcast rig, my Flip video camera, my phone and my iPod sitting in front of me next to my 3rd iBook/MacBook. The impact of manufacturing and disposal and power consumption of all this stuff we are using is just huge.

Of course, this is, most importantly, the method through which the whole of our society is improving, growing smarter and becoming more connected.

It’s obviously ok for the storage folks bottom lines and the power company and even me as a Social Media evangelist, but is Social Media bad for the environment? Shouldn’t we all be thinking more about Storage Conservation instead of Duplication?

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