Archive for category Personal

Moving on from Deloitte, Returning to Independent Startup Life

Chris Heuer Celebrates by Sabering the Veuve

Chris Heuer Celebrates by Sabering the Veuve, Photo by Michael O'Donnell

Today is my last day working for Deloitte Digital/Deloitte Consulting as a Specialist Leader focused on Social Business and Digital Strategy. I will be hanging out with my soon to be former colleagues a little bit at our Deloitte Lounge here at SxSW later today and enjoying the rest of SxSWi and all the #badgeless events this weekend. I hope to see you here in Austin and talk to you about what’s next personally, maybe even do some work with you.

I know you don’t have time to read this whole story, especially if you are here at SxSW, so here are the highlights.

  • Deloitte was a great experience, but I want to return to my entrepreneurial roots and start something from the ground up.
  • I’m a tech/software product guy, who has been advising others on their products for too long, so I will be building an Enterprise SaaS startup to launch into Alpha in the next 90 or so days. Need my technical co-founder now, starting discussions to finalize who this weekend.
  • While getting the product ready, I will relaunch my AdHocnium network consulting agency to do Venture Consulting with startups and work with a handful of big brands.
  • I will refocus some of my time on making Social Media Club more sustainable, and sharing more insights around Social Business and Social Reengineering with our community.
  • I will finally be writing my book, now that I have learned some more discipline, improved my writing skills and realized I have a unique perspective to share not seen/heard elsewhere.
  • I am also getting involved in some other community projects to support the great work of some close friends, like John C. Havens and The H(app)athon Project and raising some money for the High Fives Foundation out of Tahoe.
  • I need to hire an assistant right away. Looking for one who lives in San Francisco ideally, to manage the other virtual assistants and contractors for me – and to manage me too! Bonus if you are at SxSW this weekend and find me to talk.

I actually have 8 really big ideas, and would love to start a lab to do them all, but I’ve gotten down to one that’s been validated by a few really smart people in the past two weeks. That said, I am still interested in getting my original Insytes idea produced, and from my work with the American Heart Association, I have a health startup in mind too – but ultimately – I will be working over the next few months to get the alpha built, raise funds and gain the market awareness for the concept that we will need to be successful with this enterprise SaaS product. Only time will tell what the startup actually becomes, and what it is called, so stay tuned. I will launch the site soon to get applications for the alpha, and then will be raising an angel round from friends and family.

For those of you unfamiliar with my history, I have been ahead of the curve quite a bit over the years. At my first startup we were doing webmail a couple of years before Hotmail, but unable to pursue it aggressively. My CTO at the time said we just couldn’t run a bunch of corporate sites, our local content network VCN and tens of thousands of free webmail accounts off of the 486dx33 pseudo server we had at the time. I also created one of the first business plans for what is now thought of as social media command centers, then focused on conversational intelligence via Conversal. Ultimately, my dna is in numerous other now big company technologies and failed startups I advised as they were launching or maturing.

My Time at Deloitte

There are so many great people at Deloitte, like Bill Briggs and Mark White, who I worked with on the past two Deloitte Tech Trends as well as both client facing and internal projects. They taught me a great deal. They aren’t just smart, they are cool and passionate – but their gift for explaining complex topics with just the right words amazed me during every interaction. Then there are the Dan’s, Dan Nieves and Dan Elbert, who helped unearth some of the most important insights around the role of engagement and corporate strategy. My original counselor and mentor Matt Law, my close friends Nelson Kunkel and Adrian Chan, the folks at the Center for the Edge, SocBiz PMO Lead Colleen Chan, KM/Community Manager extraordinaire Stan Garfield, head of Deloitte Digital US Mike Brinker and way too many others to list here. While the travel and work was demanding, and at times I allowed myself to be a bit too stressed, it was an invaluable experience which I will cherish fondly, and for which I am forever grateful to John Hagel and Eric Openshaw.

My role at Deloitte was as multi-faceted as my interests, which is why this was a hard decision in several ways, but easier in others – even more so then leaving behind the security of a steady paycheck. I was a change agent. One of Deloitte’s “Social Media Guru’s” (though I still dislike being called that). I was an internal consultant on digital strategy, social media and social business for our firm leadership, the KM group, marketing, public relations, internal communications, enterprise applications, partners around the world, and numerous other special projects. I was a client facing consultant and proposal contributor around social media, social business, innovation, and platform strategy. I supported over 80 sales pursuits with some of the largest companies and government organizations in the world. I was a mentor and informal counselor to many of my junior colleagues. I lead the marketing, communications, training and adoption strategy work thread for our global Yammer roll-out, which supposedly was one of the most successful in the world. I edited or contributed to numerous articles for publication bylined by senior partners of the firm. I participated in webinars through our D-Brief’s program. I spoke at numerous internal and external events. I was published on our Deloitte Tech Blog and even in the CIO Journal. I advocated for enterprise user rights. I collaborated with our innovation teams. I was part of the “digital dozen” team that supported our acquisition of Ubermind and the subsequent launch of Deloitte Digital. I was, and still am, #drivenby_ transformative opportunities. I was a provocateur who stayed within the lines when necessary, and redrew them when necessary. I was, and always will be, part of the global Deloitte family.

But even with all of these contributions, I was most proud to have helped the amazing executive, mission and communications teams from the American Heart Association with the development of their Social Media strategy, and eventually a Digital Transformation Strategy, to seize the opportunity presented by digital engagement strategy to fulfill their mission. During that work we developed some amazing tools that will enable organizations to manage engagement at scale. There will be much more about the Engagement Matrix and Engagement Wheel to come in the book I am writing in the next few months and the blog posts that will lead up to it. I am also now on the American Stroke Association’s Advisory Committee and expect to continue to support AHA for many years to come.

I also worked with some incredibly passionate people from the United States Postal Service, working diligently to find a path to continuing viability in our digital future for one of the hardest working federal agencies I have ever seen from the inside out. They were connecting everyone of our citizens for news, love and commerce way before the internet was here, and continue to provide that service to every door in the United States today. I will be speaking atthe National Postal Forum, on insights around creating Mail Moments using outside in and customer experience design thinking on March 18 in San Francisco.

All in all, there were just so many great moments, teams, clients and experiences, it’s hard to share them all here. In fact, some of the best of them I will never be able to talk about due to confidentiality agreements etc… but it was awesome.

Next Up, AdHocnium

AdHocnium is a network consulting agency I started with some incredible people back in 2009. My title then, as it will be now, is tied to what I believe I do best for clients, I am a Creative Catalyst. The network never really got off the ground as I made some mistakes in the operations and the commitments I requested of the bright people who affiliated together to form it. I know what to do differently now, so I am going to do it and seek someone else to manage the essential operations so I can transition away to my startup full time once I get funding for it but still stay involved in the great work opportunities it will generate working with clients who really get it.

There are a few core ‘services as products’ AdHocnium will offer including:

ADVICE

This isn’t the normal advice you might get from a traditional consultant. This is the holistic kind you will only get from an agency with our unique set of connections, experiences and brain power.

  • Amplification (promotion and awareness)
  • Digitalization (strategic thinking/planning)
  • Validation (of your ideas, products or campaigns)
  • Innovation (creative insights and big ideas)
  • Connections (business development, alliances and partnerships)
  • Education (bringing you the knowledge you need, when you need it)

Venture Consulting

For startups who can’t afford the best and brightest (because they are smart and scrappy and want to use their funds for maximum impact) we will offer reduced fees to a select few clients in exchange for some equity in their company.

Social Business Strategy

We know everyone leading the social revolution and will create a workshop to bring those leading authorities to you to empower you to uncover the transformative opportunities of becoming a Social Business. The scope and scale of these projects range from a one-time workshop to a full blown assessment and strategic plan.

More on all of this will be available over the coming days…

Other Important Work

There are a few other select activities I will be diving into over the coming weeks…

“Serve the Market”

I’ve been putting off the writing of my book for way too long. With the experience of the last two years at Deloitte, and my previously developed insights, I am going to get my book done this year. The working title is “Serve the Market” and will include things like customer experience life-cycles, clearing the trust filter and the engagement curve. It will also feature some invaluable tools you can use to manage engagement at scale and insights on how to better connect your organization for the maximum creation of shared value. More to come on this in April.

Social Media Club

As mentioned earlier, I will be spending some time invested in growing Social Media Club again. I don’t think anyone out there is doing a great job of supporting internal/corporate social media and social business practitioners, so that will be one area of particular focus. I will also work to develop a new SMC media literacy program, which was at the core of what I was trying to accomplish when I founded SMC. I’d also like to support some research projects from other great organizations we have long supported like SNCR and the Community Round Table.

The H(app)athon Project

I am also proud to announce I was asked to join The H(app)athon Project Advisory Board and have accepted. A brainchild of our dear friend John Havens and his colleagues, this is a really big idea, supported by the United Nations and some of the biggest corporations and academic institutions in the world. In short, they are a pioneering group of people who believe that GDP is no longer the best economic indicator of success – that instead, happiness/well-being is a greater overall measure of quality of life and economic prosperity. So Happathon aims to generate ideas, and ultimately an app/service, that fuses together big data, social data, Internet of Things, Quantified Self and a few other ‘movements’ so that we can see, in near real time, a relative happiness score for different regions/countries/states and communities. I am co-hosting the San Francisco kick off event on March 20 at NextSpace Union Square in San Francisco. Join us.

Philanthropic Endeavors

I don’t have enough money yet to be making personal donations to a lot of great causes, nor do I have the time, but I have a network and I have some ideas that might help them. Bringing this all together, I am hoping to help raise more funds for American Heart Association and others.

Right now, I am starting with a little online fundraiser and perhaps an in person party in North Lake Tahoe to support the High Fives Foundation. After meeting and being inspired by the story of Grant Korgan at the #Snowcial conference last week, this great organization came clearly into view. When Grant shared his story of his recovery from near spinal destruction after an accident, it moved me to tears. When I learned how not only his wife, but the founder of High Fives was there for him, to motivate his recovery, I decided I wanted to do something to help others.

Turns out, I won a snowboard in the beginners category of our Snowcial EpicMix Race, so I thought why not raffle it off to raise some funds and some awareness for them. More on that later today, or you can place your advance order for the raffle tickets by emailing me at Chris@adhocnium.com. They will be $10 each and we will be set up to take orders online shortly.

Whew

Well, that seems like a lot of stuff I am taking on once again. Too much for any one person to do perhaps. But I don’t plan to do it alone, nor will I be doing it all at once. I plan to get leverage and I plan to eventually move to focusing 95% of my time on this startup I am building once it gets funding. Turns out, most of the other things I am doing, especially the book, will be very beneficial for the newco.

While it is hard to be leaving Deloitte, right now is the perfect time to seize on these great market opportunities and return to my entrepreneurial roots. While I never really had a ‘boss’ at Deloitte and was given leeway to pursue whatever I thought best with my time, I never really could call my own shots completely either. Ultimately, Deloitte is an audit company and has a responsibility to the public that requires us to have absolute independence, to not speak about the companies we audit positively or negatively. This was really good training and helped me shake off my role of being a ‘vocal critic’, but also kept me out of the last political cycle among other things in which I really would have liked to have been actively participating.

Who knows, I may end up back there someday, but for now, I am excited to be back within the startup community, and working my ass off to change the world for the better using technology, my insights into human behavior and change management. Pay attention to this space, there is a lot that is about to happen…

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I’ve Joined Deloitte Consulting LLP

Since a few of my colleagues at Deloitte began tweeting about it Monday night, and my friend Luke Fretwell (founder of GovFresh) retweeted it yesterday, I realized the cat was out of the bag and I couldn’t wait any longer to talk about it myself. So I mentioned it briefly last night at our Social Media Trends 2011 event for Social Media Club San Francisco and a bunch of attendees tweeted it out only to be picked up more widely.

I am really excited to announce I have taken a position at Deloitte Consulting LLP as a Specialist Leader  (aka Senior Manager) with a focus on Social Media, Enterprise 2.0, Innovation and beyond. I am perhaps even more excited about the extraordinary people I’ve met at the firm so far and the tremendous potential we have for continuing to build out a great consulting practice that supports some of the best companies in the world who are Deloitte clients, or soon will be.

I was hoping to get a better handle on my surroundings and to better define my role in the organization before talking about this publicly, but as we have been saying for so long, “you can’t control social media.” So here’s the short version of a longer story we will be talking more about in the near future:

  • Big thanks to my friend and colleague John Hagel for making the introduction last summer that lead to this opportunity and the many senior partners with whom I will be collaborating.
  • I am going to be based out of the San Francisco office, but expect to be traveling all across the country.
  • I get to work with an incredible team, in what is known as the Social Computing and Collaboration group under the Technology Strategy and Architecture practice within Deloitte Consulting LLP.
  • I am staying on as Chairman of Social Media Club and will remain active in an evangelist role and fulfilling my board duties while my wife Kristie Wells will stay on as President and continue to build out the association with our Gamma Chapter Leaders.
  • I made this decision because its the right sort of environment and the right sort of smart people who can enrich my professional life, help me seize some of the opportunities that I see in the market (such as holistic business strategy) and where I can contribute to the greater well being of the organization in a multitude of ways.

For now, that’s all I can really say, not only because we will still be doing an official media alert or something like it, but also because there are some things we still have to figure out together. What I can say is that its going to be an amazing journey, and I am very much looking forward to 2011 and beyond.

If you would like to schedule an interview with me, you should reach out to Deloitte PR. If you are looking for a job, check out Deloitte’s open job positions and see some of the reasons I decided to join. If you are a Deloitte client and want to talk to me about your projects, reach out to your team lead and they will figure out what to do to get me engaged.

Disclaimer: Of course, none of the statements here reflect the views or opinions of Deloitte, they are all my own personal observations and statements. All links to the Deloitte Web site are made for your convenience. I am merely sharing my personal perspective on a significant personal life event, taking on my first ‘real job’ in over 10 years, when I previously worked for the United States Mint as Chief of eBusiness.

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Chris Trim’s His Beard

Thought I might give Kristie a decent anniversary present (beyond the Dyson vacuum cleaner at least) so I started to trim back my unruly, crazy professor beard…

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Memorial Day 2010 – For our right to live free

I didn’t get to visit the local military cemeteries in San Francisco this year, so I made a short tribute to those who have served for a higher purpose in service to our country and our freedom. The photos were all taken by myself over the years at the Presidio, in Washington D.C. and down at the Golden Gate National Cemetery.

Thank you for protecting our freedom, and for reminding us how precious and invaluable it is.

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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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Christmas Photos 2009

Just a quick post to finally share the photos Kristie and I took over Christmas with the Wells Family… There are a bunch of good ones in there of the kids, the dogs, sunset, the turkey I cooked for Christmas eve and adults playing Wii 🙂

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Save Our Insurance Executives!

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Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Doubt, Confidence, Life.

If you know me publicly, you may be a bit shocked by this quick post, but if you know me personally, you probably already know this. (it was supposed to be short, but when I am on a roll…)

I have a tremendous personal battle I wage each day to get beyond my fears, to stop worrying and to take even the smallest action. In fact, this post is only coming after what must be a bottle of champagne on my flight to Phoenix… This is in despite what many perceive as my overt confidence, arrogance and occasional intellectually based rudeness.

But its important for you, yes, I do mean you not the other person reading this, to understand that this is normal, its ok, youre ok, Im ok. The thing is, most leaders won’t admit this is what they face, because they also carry the burden of managing perceptions and casting a long powerful shadow so that others who may seek to exploit such traits as weakness will not know where to shoot their slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In fact, I did have this personally happen to me once when engaged in a negotiation with a former colleague who deliberately exploited my emotional vulnerabilities and my beliefs in fairness and doing the right thing. Good thing is, even he couldn’t change who I was, despite the pain he forced me to endure through the tumultuous process.

But I am hear to oppose this, and to end this for me and hopefully you too.

This all just kinda popped in my head, so I don’t know where I am really going with this, but early today I tweeted that I was proud of my buddy Alan Silberberg from You2Gov for all that he has been accomplishing. Shortly thereafter I was in tears, which has happened all too often on this trip during deeply personal moments when I have been alone, as I am doing once again now.

My mother, used to say this all the time to me. That she was so proud of me. That I could do anything. That I was her miracle baby (both my parents had Cerebral Palsy).

For a long time, no one said that to me, or if they did, I felt it was insincere. Many wonderful women who I have loved (and still do) told me this, and I dismissed such reinforcement as their own shortcomings for not recognizing how fucked up I am, inside and out.

They weren’t of course, in fact, they were and still are perfect, just as they are. We all are, we just don’t often feel that way because we measure ourselves and others against an unrealistic ideal instead of the practical global reality that we are all one, we all suffer through the same psycho/emotional conditions but yet inside us all is the potential for greatness. However, with the burden of needing to realize this potential and not wanting to disappoint, I have all too often run from it to the bottom of a bottle or the escape of a video game…

A fear of failure as much as a fear of success. It’s a miracle I am even still here on this earth and able to do even a tenth of what I do in my life.

Facing Reality

The other day, I came face to face with one of my own deepest fears, when I met Julie Vessigault, aka @potentiallee when she shared with me her own personal story of life’s biggest challenges. In her face though, I saw not the despair or the challenge or the thing I feared most, I saw love, I saw life, I saw a human soul who could see beyond her condition and recognize her own loveliness and her own humanity and her own potential. Her attitude, as I came to know in her tweets and brief interactions online was the same in real life as it was online.

Yet in her face, I also saw my mother. She is not completely what mainstream media or advertising would call normal, she is different, like us all a snowflake to be admired for her differences and her alikeness.

As I explained in my keynote at Drupalcon last week, we have a real problem today with what Shel Israel explained to me as ‘the other’ and what I have been talking about as the “Us vs. Them” problem. If you don’t look like, act like, talk like, believe like, smell like, think like or seem like me, you are the other. As soon as we see other people as separate of ourselves, instead of like ourselves, we all too often immediately shun them, cast them aside and dismiss them as having little to no value to our lives. It may often be expedient to do so, but its not right and it’s the same thing that is feeding the current political upheaval in our country over healthcare (well that and some greedy old white men trying to manipulate others and public opnion for their own personal and financial benefit – see even I do it, but I think it is with good reason here)

It is worsened by the fact that we have transcended (in many parts of the first world at least) our basic needs for shelter and are moving to a higher plane of our existence, where we can be more aspriational in nature, seizing economic opportunities, achieving self realization and also changing the things we don’t like in ourselves through plastic surgery and fashionista accoutrements.

What I saw in Julie was not the other, but myself, or rather what could happen to me, and what almost happened to my mother. If it weren’t for my grandparents taking myself and my mother in, her situation could have easily been mine… and I don’t know that I would still be on this earth much less being able to share this story with you had it not been for them and their love. (and of course my mom’s amazing attitude and ruthless persistence and belief in herself… and me)

Julie loves planes. As a child she dreamt of being a ‘stewardess’, still does. But she doesn’t look like a flight attendant and I don’t honestly think an airline would hire her for that job. She does however love people, and despite what some may see as her quirky social skills, I know she could be a tremendous asset to an airline, especially one like Southwest or Jetblue, which have fully embraced our humanity bringing levity and satisfaction to so many.

So I am going to make a public request to Paula Berg, and whoever is running JetBlue’s social strategy, you should hire her to help with your twitter and other social connections online. At least interview her. This is something I would normally never do and in a sense I feel wary even of telling her story, so I hope no one gets mad at me, but other people needed to know this story too and in my stream of consciousness on this subject, here I am.

But back to the main story and reason for this post.

I’m imperfect, wouldn’t you like to be imperfect too?

I am so far from perfect, its not funny. I have physical problems and pains in my body everyday now, I never could throw a baseball and still cant, I can barely complete a sentence before thinking about something else, my ADD, while not as bad as some, has caused me to suffer deep depressions resulting from my frustrations with not being able to do what others do so easily, I drink too much sometimes, I interrupt people when I should be politely paying attention, I am wrong headed and stubborn in my ideas, I raise my voice in anger too easily, I react without thinking, I have a hard time being present in any moment, I speak in absolutes when I believe the world is grey and mushy and worst of all, over the past several years I have been disrespectful to my loving wife on all too many occasions, often without cause.

Its not that I am short tempered, its that I am often frustrated with trying to explain how I see something, or how I feel and trying to be linear in explaining it gives me a headache sometimes. I am trying to overcome this every day, being aware of it is the first step, and certainly I have mitigated much of this over the last few years to become a lot better at being in the world then when I was younger. I am mad mostly at myself and unfortunately Kristie often bears the brunt of it, yet she keeps on keeping on, forgives me (if only I could forgive myself) and she still loves me.

For this, I want to tell her and you that I am truly sorry. I am moving to a better place personally, emotionally, physically and professionally. I have to. I cant keep living this way.

Kristie Wells is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She makes me proud everyday in every way. She is not book smart and she is occasionally not as eloquent as she would like, but her heart and her soul make up for this in ways to innumerous to mention here. She runs Social Media Club locally and internationally, an idea I had several years ago and which she has been saddled with ‘in order to protect our reputation’ and to fulfill our commitment we have made to you. She is making good money from her job as Community Manger / Social Media Girl with Ribbit and she is putting that money as much into supporting me and trips like this one I have been on as she has put into her own happiness and well being. Then she sends out a DM like this that make me cry again and again:

“I love you very much and bathe in your passion to bring people together. You are inspiring.”

Too often don’t feel that way myself, but do try so hard to do my part to heal the world, to make things right and to contribute whatever value my voice may convey.

She deserves to be treated better. She deserves to be honored. She doesn’t deserve to be yelled at for misspeaking or for forgetting to complete a task I asked her to do to support me. I am sorry I have not been able to transcend my own insecurities, my own fears, my own doubts and my own fears to embrace all of her in the warming cocoon of love and respect she deserves.

Most of all though, I am sorry I have not gotten past these shortcomings to be more effective, that I have not believed in myself enough, nor had enough courage to take the actions I needed to take care of myself, to serve the community and to be bold when the moments have arisen. While many people may see me as a serial entrepreneur, and technically I am, its not because I am a bold risk taker, its because I see no other way and I am driven by the passion of my ideas and my belief that the world can be a better place… and of course by my ego which needs to have external approval in order to feel loved and accepted rather than a love of self which I more often then not am missing in my day to day.

I have another personal post I will share with you in the coming days that speaks to this more directly, along with a plan for manifesting that and changing my life, our lives, but for now, I just need the catharsis of publishing this and coming clean with my higher self despite whatever professional consequences may exist.

The Point

Finally, I am writing this to let my wife know how proud I am of her, how grateful I am that she puts up with my bullshit, how much I appreciate her support, how lucky I know I am to have her in my life and how much I look forward to living the next 50 years with her by my side.

The title of this post has very simple origins – its everything that went into the above, in contrast and in connection with each other, the words that motivate us or prevent us from being all we can be. Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Doubt, Confidence, Life.

For me, my biggest problem is clear – its fear. Fear of publishing, of being wrong, of being right, of becoming famous – of having demands placed on me that would showcase my weaknesses (despite my belief that Marcus Buckingham is right in “Now Discover Your Strengths”) and a fear that I am simply not good enough, smart enough, loving enough, caring enough or doing enough.

Yes indeed, this is life. Deal with it and keep on keeping on despite it all, just do so with respect for everyone else suffering through the same, worse or better conditions. We are all one. One species with a fate that is not distinct from each other, but intimately tied to our mutual success or failure.

Be bold, be not afraid, I am here with you, struggling just as you are, and yet here I lay my soul bare for all to see and critique. Fuck it. Its me, and I am so much more then a collection of words about my challenges in life. That’s serious.

The time for change is now, and YES WE CAN do it.

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