May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 18, 2013
Flight Behavior: Kingsolver's Riveting Tale Makes Extinction of Species REAL
Climate Change. Global Warming. Whatever title you give "it," we don't talk about "it" at dinner parties, not in the same way we discuss things which happen at our child's school, the latest movie or episode of Mad Men or where we're going on vacation this year.
Barbara Kingsolver's latest book: Flight Behavior, attempts to convey the dangers of climate change through an All American story of a farming family whose lives are turned upside down because of it. As butterflies settle on their land because of weather shifts in Mexico the previous year, a mystery unravels as to why.
A witty, melancholy and pure account of rural life in the American Appalachia belt, it is also a serious play-by-play of what could happen to a species when their normal "flight behavior" gets changed as a result of being forced to winter (and mate) somewhere new.
While the narrative is driven by the not yet true extinction of the Monarch butterfly, she taps into expert sources for guidance in constructing a fictional story within a plausible biological framework.
Flight Behavior is a suitable title since the phrase applies to butterflies as much as it does to humans, as evident through the unraveling of a dysfunctional marriage of main character Dellarobia Turnbow.Under the footprint of her in-laws since she lives with her husband on their land, she has no say in her confinement, a life which solely exists of tending to her two children and occasional trips to the town next door, which the community of Feathertown mistrusts largely because it has a college and some people actually attend it.
Giving up on further education since she lost her parents and gave birth to a stillborn as a teenager, her life as a restless farm wife suddenly gets transformed as Santa-Fe based and Harvard educated biologist Ovid Byron shows up to study the millions of butterflies which landed on the Turnbow farm as a result of what he deems is nothing short of climate change.
A local TV crew disagrees, attempting to tell their own story about this sudden miraculous phenomena which has covered the Appalachia mountains with a orange flock of Monarchs, which at a distance resemble an astonishing "lake of fire." This so called phenomena is a miracle according to her church and the media and a disaster according to Ovid Byron.
Dellarobia struggles with her commitment to her family and what God's hand has to do with the arrival of the butterflies and what science suggests is true. Sarcastic at the best of times, she pokes fun of the misalignment and ambiguity of her God-fearing community, even if only in her mind's eye.
She refers to her mother-in-law Hester (who grew up in a trailer park) as a 911 Christian: in the event of an emergency, call the Lord. She was unlike all those who called on Jesus daily, rain or shine, to discuss their day and feel the love. Once upon a time, Dellarobia recalls turning to her mother for that.
She reflects in her struggle with religion: Jesus was a more reliable backer evidently, as he was less likely to drink himself unconscious or get liver cancer...no wonder people chose Him as their number one friend. But if the chemistry wasn't there, what could you do?
While the world around her doesn't believe climate change is real, she learns through working closely with Byron and his team that new weather patterns affect everything in a species migratory pathway and the impact can be devastating, ranging from fires to floods as they saw in Angangueo Mexico.
The reason he asserts that there are so many non-believers is that people expect a final conclusion of what's real and not real, but with science, answers are never complete because it's a process. He notes: "It is not a foot race, with a finish line," but sadly journalists and impatient crowds are eager to see a race with a finite statement that explains everything. He says, "as long as we won't commit to knowing everything, the presumption is that we know nothing."
Kingsolver's sometimes beautiful and sometimes intentionally raw account is more than just suspenseful because we're at the edge of our seats wanting to know whether both her marriage and the Monarch butterflies will live or die and somehow, they feel so intertwined in that fight or flight behavior that applies to all species, including humans.
All of us have our own truth of whether global warming is real or not. What Kingsolver's riveting story does is make it real with a small rural Tennessee community who experience something they cannot explain. In the discovery process, locals, journalists, religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, farmers and politicians argue their own truths.
Amidst the chaos, Ovid Byron embarks upon a path to study a species he loves and is at risk of dying off, knowing that only nature can save them. The problem is of course that nature as we know it and that certain species expect it to behave year after year is dramatically changing, so much so that this shift is confusing migration and mating possibilities, denying what did thrive under those conditions to still thrive.
A sad but engrossing tale, she'll weave you in and out of scientific anecdotes & facts, American mass commercialism showing its ugliest face to a life of poverty, a flailing farm and husband and everything in between.
A must read for anyone who cares about the environment and animals....and preserving what we know, love and hold dear. Even if you're a global warming naysayer, there's no denying that climate patterns are currently wacky and not just on one continent. While scientists continue to get to the bottom of why, this telling novel, fiction aside, will get you to think differently about the environment around us.
Flight Behavior which launched in hardback last year, is due to be released in paperback on June 4, 2013.
Photo credits: hereandnow.wbur.org, Tampa Bay, Worldwildlife.org and the revivalist.info.
December 27, 2012
Paul Gillin's Attack of the Customers: Don't Be A Victim
I now have a copy of Paul Gillin's book Attack of the Customers, available on Amazon, which I'll dive into just after CES. The jist of it is how customers are rising up to have their voices heard: Why critics assault brands online and how to avoid becoming a victim.
He raises the point that an attack from a customer or a flurry of customers can go global and viral ina matter of hours, not days or weeks. The impact to a big brand once something negative goes viral can be traumatic.
Attack of the Customers explains how social media can be used to destroy as well as to build. It offers actionable strategies to prevent and prepare for disasters before they strike a company, demonstrating ways that creative engagement can turn critics into raving fans.
Read an excerpt from the book Gillin published many months ago before the book was published using the example of when Procter & Gamble announced the most significant technical advance in disposable diapers in a quarter century. The new Dry Max line featured an absorbent gel that improved diaper efficiency while cutting materials and costs by 20%.
He uses real examples from some of the biggest brands today. He asserts that customers complain because they care and when they care, you can turn a disaster or potential one into a positive outcome using social media and other effective ways to communicate online.
Additionally, Paul's blog post on the book's unveiling offers a discount code for 30% off.
September 01, 2012
Support "Founders Less Than Three:" Funny, Sexy Novel About Startups
The author? Boston-based Halley Suitt Tucker who doesn't think that there are enough entrepreneurs starting companies and creating jobs. Especially women entrepreneurs.
The novel is a funny, sexy story about a Boston-based accelerator where female and male founders and their teams fight it out to make their start-up company the next big thing.
It's a book with solid entrepreneurial advice, adventures, laughs, love and all the twists and turns starting a business involves, as they race towards their demo day, when the teams show off their start-up ideas and see who gets the best deal.
Halley says, "I especially want more women to become entrepreneurs because I think they are well suited to the unpredictable path a new business usually takes and I want people to learn the lessons of entrepreneuring via a novel, not a business book, and not a textbook."
Her book aims to inspire female and male entrepreneurs alike and make them all say, "I can do that!"
Help make her book a reality through Kickstarter. Any pledge that you make will contribute towards an editor, a proofreader, a book cover designer and as well as create a small budget for book promotion when the book is launched. $15,000 is her goal however even a pledge of $1.00 will get you a preview copy of the book in digital format as soon as it's done.
How cool is this? Some of the pledge levels let YOU write part of her book whereby you can create a fictional start-up, write their elevator pitch and give birth to an imaginary CEO. A pledge level above the imaginary company level is all about REAL start-ups, meaning, she'll mention your actual start-up company in her book and your CEO. As she says with humor, "My character will drink your soda."
April 29, 2012
TEDxSummit in Qatar's Doha Brings Together Nearly 100 Cultures to Accelerate Change & Meaning
I recently came back from Doha Qatar, where I attended a week-long event exclusively for TEDx organizers.
The first TEDxSummit was hosted by the Doha Film Institute at the Katara Cultural Center aka the Katara Valley of Cultures. The "village" is a bit like a sprawling outdoor convention center that houses an ampitheatre, tents and domes where you can see live concerts and events.
Katara was born out of a long held vision to position the State of Qatar as a cultural lighthouse of art if you will, highlighting the best of theatre, literature, music and visual art in the Middle East. It sits along the water, so you can watch boats sail by and a sunrise in the early evening off in the distance while you take in your event, whether it be performing arts or meetings, or in our case, a mishmash of both.
Before arriving, I wasn't sure what to expect, from the kinds of content they'd choose to why Qatar and what is Qatar? Refer to my numerous posts on Qatar including a write-up on the Arab Museum of Modern Art, images of the impressive Museum of Islamic Art, a display of work from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang and the over-the-top Murakami Ego exhibit.
What is Qatar is probably the most mind blowing takeaway from the event as you'll see from my write-ups. At first, it didn't make sense why we were having an event in such a remote place, a country barely known to so many and yet, after returning from the Summit, the location makes perfect sense.
Given that the Summit attracted TEDsters from nearly a hundred countries around the world, it is in fact a fairly central location, though obviously a longer haul for those of us on the American west coast. And, given the diversity of the attendees, Qatar, which rather than having hundreds of years of history and cultural references, really only started to make its marks a few decades ago.
In other words, its a country in search of an identity as demonstrated by the volume of new immigrants pouring in to tap into Qatar's exploding economic growth...less a land of local Qataris and more a land of transplants from Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the list goes on.
And, let's not forget other stats: 75% of those living in Doha and surrounding area are expats/foreign nationals. Doha is preparing for its growing global interest; the city is about as modern as it gets with highrises going up faster than Las Vegas hotels in its prime.
The other reason Qatar makes sense as a location, is that so few of us in the west know "enough" about the Middle East, particularly the complexities of Islam and the culture that goes along with it. Understanding Qatar helps you understand the rest of the region.
Through greater understanding comes compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a willingness to not just expand your horizons and knowledge base, but reach out and help in whatever way makes sense. This, by the way, is integral to what TED at its core is about.
And so, we all embarked on soil that is new, yet old, to discuss ways we can help each other, sharing best practices, what works and what doesn't.
Some of the sessions included: How to Write About Your Speakers, Sponsorships, Keeping Your Event Sustainable, Social Media Strategies, Building Salons, Blogging, Making Change with Corporate Events, Capturing Great Photo Content, Planning, Stage & Production Tips, Branding, Livestreaming, Working with Tight Budgets and more.
Clearly it made sense for teams from specific regions to pow-wow with each other. Wwe had breakout sessions in large tents in the middle of the desert broken out by parts of the world, i.e., Eastern Europe, Australia, Central America and in the states, it was broken down even further (northern California, Midwest and so on).
Below are ketchnotes of one of the TEDxSummit sessions from C. Todd Lombardo, organizer of TEDxSomerville in the greater Boston area.
While meeting by region helps each group share resources, and even space for meetings, its amazing how much you can learn from organizers in parts of the world that have nothing in common with your own. This is separate of course from what you learned from locals who happened to be hanging out or 'working the event' -- in the middle of the desert.
For example, storytelling on stage is very different at a small event in West Africa, yet what is so natural in a village is often missing from a large TEDx stage that may resort to Powerpoint and a speaker's 20 years of experience and knowledge. The opposite applies too of course; there are clearly things from larger events that small towns can use to expand their presence and brand awareness. In other words: borrow from the formal for the informal and take the informal into the formal and make magic happen by blending the best of both together.
The other surprise for me was the whole concept of "you don't know what you don't know and you don't know who you don't know." I didn't even know all the organizers in my own region (greater Bay Area), nor did I know the depth of where TEDx events had spread.
For example, while the events are largely by geography, there are a few that are connected to brands/companies, universities and other institutions. Did you know that there's a TEDxHouses of Parliament? This isn't just fascinating data - this is revolutionary. Consider the kinds of conversations they have already had and will evolve as a result of this kind of "new" organization and collaboration.
Bringing everyone together to share, collaborate and execute on ideas around the world is brilliant. Let's not forget the 'healing' and compassion that comes as a result of greater understanding, which inevitably comes from bringing such a global audience together in one place.
Well done and hats off to Bruno Giussani, Chris Anderson, Lara Stein, and the NY & Doha teams for turning another great idea into a reality.
Some of the Speaker and Presentation Highlights include:
- 'The Human Arabesque' opening night video sourced inspiration from Doha's Museum of Islamic Art. The team researched traditional arabesque patterns in a quest to incorporate regional culture to create a moving, human sculpture representing the transformative power of x.
- Futurist Juan Enriquez has always been a long time favorite of mine. He contends that science and technology are leading us rapidly towards the next "human species." See excelvm.com.
- Vinay Venkatraman, who is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has developed an alternative vision to creating a more inclusive world through a design concept he refers to as 'Frugal Digital.'
- TED Senior Fellow Cesar Harada demonstrated a bold new design for a sailing craft with a flexible rudder -- on both ends. Called 'Protei,' the robot is designed to sense and clean up oceans.
- I loved Shereen El Fedi's talk on how bad laws fuel and good laws fight HIV. Chart after chart, example after example, she demonstrated her point. Check out their work at HIV Law Commission.
- Amit Sood wowed the crowd with an incredibly impressive demo of the Google Art Project. They have collected and curated the world's greatest art, from museums and beyond, onto the web, making it as easy to access your favorite piece of work or view art you've never heard of or are likely never to see in person. You can even search by sub-category, by typing in for example, red and Picasso for everything that Picasso did in red. There are other filters as well that could keep you glued to this site for hours if not days.
- Rives, who many of us know as a renowned poet, has given awe-inspiring performances on the TED stage before. In Doha, he took us a journey of factoids using his poetic tongue. Bouncing from site to site, we learned about some of the most trivial and not so trivial knowledge on the web, ranging from culture and politics to insects and sex.
- With passion and energy, Indian artist Raghava KK argued why everyone should have a 200-year plan.
- Rare book scholar William Noel fascinated the audience with his research. Using a particle accelerator to read ancient works, he took us on a journey from start to finish. He's a huge believer in open-source and open-data and he and his team are making their work open to others (aka the web of ancient manuscripts).
- Comedian Maz Jobrani intertwined humor with local culture and events. You have depth as a comedian when you can stand on a stage in Qatar and have Americans, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Qataris, Scandinavians, Japanese and Aussies all laughing at the same time. He's known for his work on the 'Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,' which traveled around the world, including the Middle East.
- National Food Security Programme chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya educated me most about where Qatar was a hundred years ago versus where it is today and where's its heading. They're working on a Master Plan, using Qatar, which only has two days of water supply, as a model for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture in arid regions.
- Yahay Alabdeli who curates TEDxBaghdad created a lot of teary eyed attendees with his story about how he traveled back to Iraq after 34 years to create an event that pulled not just locals but others who had left Iraq but returned specifically for his event. As you can imagine, it was much more than a reunion. He went through a number of obstacles to make it happen, so it seems perfect that his event theme was: "Making the Impossible Possible."
- One of my old time favorites Hans Rosling returned to the TED stage, bringing humor to sex, religion and data once again. What was even more fascinating was having his global trends in health and economics from every country in the world presented in a place where we had representation by nearly every region in the world. All of his talks exude one of his sweetest talents - his dry humor and quirkiness. Beyond the quirkiness he shows in his professional life, which adds to the power of his talks, let's not forget that the man swallows swords for kicks in his spare time. What's not to adore about Hans? (see a video interview with Hans at the Summit here - he uses legos, rocks and humor that reveals deep insight in typical Hans-style).
Because the event was an International Summit where best practices and learning beyond "talks" were a big part of the agenda, the highlights that will inevitably be glued to people's minds and hearts include the experiencial activities.
Below is a brainstorming session in a tent set up in the desert dunes, roughly an hour and a half south of Doha.
There was dune bashing, also in the south of the country.
And, kayacking among mangroves in the north, after which we were guests in the home of a local man, who fed us well and shared some of his photos and life experiences:
A visit to the Al-Zubara Fort:
A boat tour along the water:
The incredibly breathtaking Islam Museum of Art:
Education City has representation from some of the top schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, and others, with a goal to grow Qatar's knowledge base, making it an attractive place to visit and work in the future.
Below, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Weill Cornell.
Below is a shot taken at one of the cafes in the Souq Waqif one night (we ended up in the Souq several evenings). Despite the fact that the Souq doesn't serve alcohol, it was a great place to hang out, socialize, shop, drink coffee and eat fabulous local food.
Desert Day in the South. Of course, it wouldn't be desert day without an opportunity to catch a ride on a camel:
A casual shot of TEDx organizers in the desert...
Then there was the late afternoon drumming session, which frankly, I can never get 'enough of...'.
A music jam session in one of the main tents - small but intimate and full of great TEDx talent:
18-year old Jordanian pianist Sima Sirriyeh, who composes her own pieces played for us on the main stage.
Opening night, they danced and sang. And then, danced and sang some more.
We took in the best of the local culture and greater Doha through visits to Souq Faqif, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Cai Guo Qiang and Murakami Ego exhibitions. Also check out Doha's Centre for Media Freedom.Late nights were spent in the hotel bars where we stayed: The W and Kempinski Hotels.
- Katara Village, Fort, Boat, Landscape City Shots, Brainstorm session, Hands, Anderson, Dunes, TedxStage Shot1: Javier Junes
- Yahay Alabdeli, Cesar Harada, Inside Museum of Islamic Art: Duncan Davidson
- Group shot in dunes: taken on my camera by a TEDx-er
- North site visit for lunch, middle of desert scene, Hans sword shot from a previous event, casual desert day shot, camel close up, Souq, Maz Jobrani, opening night, drumming circle, jam session in tent after hours, Sima Sirriyeh: Renee Blodgett
- Education City Weill Cornell University shot - website.
April 29, 2012 in Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Events, On Africa, On Education, On Health, On India, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 19, 2012
Austin's Scene & #SXSW in a Nutshell: My Summary of Sorts...
SXSW aka South-by-Southwest, the event that takes a week of my time every year in Austin, Texas, seems to get bigger and bigger every March, not to mention more global.
Refer to my blog write-up on its international diversity here.
For example, Ireland had the most number of start-ups they've ever had at SXSW (30 in total representing film and interactive).
Also in my international blog post, I covered the sheer volume of brands who had tents (Nokia, Microsoft and others), threw parties (HP, Pepsico and others...I lost track) or carted folks around town (Chevy).
On the interactive side, there was so much activity between the dozens and dozens of panels to the after parties, all of which I couldn't keep up with despite my social media apps buzzing me every ten seconds to tell me what was happening and where. Foursquare remained a popular app for check-ins and to see where your buds were - that said, the private parties were off the grid and frankly, had to be, for the intimacy of the "old SXSW" to prevail, a necessary for those of us who have been going for a decade (or more).
Speaking of Foursquare, they had a private bash where the security was so intense that a friend of mine got 'bounced' before he even made it up the stairs despite the fact that he was buds with 80% of the attendees. "Kids" (early 20-something year old geeks, marketers and wanna-bes) seemed to be clamoring to get elbow time with Dennis Crowley and get into events like this all over town and frankly, it was just not worth the fight, even the ones where I was on the VIP list, because VIP list or not, the lines and wall-to-wall rooms were still maddening.
Some late nights, I retreated to The Driskell which has become a little too crowded as well, but at the very least, you're likely to run into some industry buds who are more in the mood for a quiet drink amidst moose and deer on the wall and antiquated brass and iron statues that mesh the culture of Texas with England somewhere along the way.
The below was taken on my iPhone at some random 3 am hour in the Driskell lobby.
Other nights, after the official invitations of music, film and interactive wore me out, taking in a dive bar where you could take in some off-the-beaten path music was the way to go.
TED decided to have a 'showing' at SXSW this year (aka TED@SXSW) and blocked off a couple of hours two evenings in a row for speakers in a private room at The Driskell. The line-up included folks like TED Fellow Jose Gomez-Marquez, JP Rangaswami, Ayah Bdeir, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Ping Fu, Baratunde Thurston (who always has me in stiches), Steve Daniels and others.
Film...so many great ones! I wrote about a number of them earlier in the week, which you can scroll through in the Arts/Austin section here. So many worth listing but since I tend to cover things from a global and international perspective, a few call-outs worth noting include: Sunset Strip, The Taiwan Oyster, Bay of All Saints, Eden, The Black Balloon, Trash Dance, Wonder Women and a handful of others. (see the list of winners for 2012 here). Also see our Scottish Films overview here and Israel at SXSW here.
Songster from Mowgli, the first music-creation social fame on Facebook launched at SXSW this year. CEO Marshall Seese, Jr. came to the table with a recording artist background and says their design is with "everyone’s inner rockstar in mind."
Players follow the compelling storyline of a fledging musician working their way up through the ranks of the music industry. From playing gigs at frat houses and proms, to launching a worldwide arena tour, players can make great music, while allowing their creativity to take them through all levels of the game.
I tweeted up a storm about the on-stage love for Google+ with Vic Gundotra, which was more of an informercial than it was a fireside chat. If he used the word "amazing" one more time, I thought, even the newbies who are eating this up, would have to see through Google's sugar coating. Hey, I'm a Google+ user, not a prolific one, but I'm on the system and giving them tons of my data and creative energy just like I am to Facebook without a whole lotta benefit (yet).
I'm not saying what they're trying to do isn't useful or great online canvas for photographers to share their work or industry celebs like Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble to up their social status without even trying to, but for mainstream folks, it's just not there yet. (not in this cats humble opinion anyway). Just saying - I had enuf with "amazing this and amazing that" after the first 15 minutes.
Kelly Carlin performed again in a breakout room in the main convention hall and although I've seen her before and like her energy (I totally resonated with the 1970s family TV and dysfunctional family of the 1960s jokes), there was something that put me off slightly about her stint and I couldn't figure it out until near the end.
For those of you who don't know the Carlin name, she's the daughter of iconoclastic comedian George Carlin. As a one woman show, she uses storytelling, classic video footage, and family memorabilia, to chronicle over forty years of her life with her famous father.
While she's amusing and gives us countless insights into George, it f-g feels like its all about George. I'm thinking as someone who's only slightly younger than Kelly and had a lot of the same reference points, what about YOU? I'd love to hear more about YOU!
I walked away still not knowing and it was the second time I saw her perform. I just felt that using her dad as a vehicle for her 'show' and 'persona' may have perhaps run its course and what I really wanted to hear was her voice without Dad in the background (or at the very least so prevalent) so I could better learn who SHE was as an artist and more importantly, as a person.
Who didn't have an event? On the music front, B and C listers were all there, Bruce was there, Gary Vee called all wine afficiandos to a so called 'private' venue immediately next to another so called 'private' party I was at and the line was ten miles long by the time I walked outside. Really? Is that really the way to engage with folks? A great way to get SXSW publicity so from that perspective, stints like that really work, but they're far from "real" or intimate. I just wanted to say 'hey' without a thousand pushes and shoves. For the record.
The XPrize folks also held an event and it was invite only and really felt like "invite only." Not a publicity 'stunt' in any way, everyone I met was top notch and showed up because they had a vested interest or cared about the kinds of things they cared about. Quality conversations where people weren't looking at their watch or Foursquare check-ins to see where the coolest cats were hanging next next. A welcome relief.
If you're not famliar with their work, go here: their mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Below, an XPrize team shot: (I love these guys and btw, Peter Diamandis has a new book out entitled Abundance).
My favorite part of SXSW of course is the randomness of meetings at film and music more than interactive, for at the former, there still seems to be more spontenaity, largely I think because of mutual passions rather than a race for check-ins or being 'seen' at the right party and telling the whole world about it on Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, yadda yadda yadda.
I'm not saying that politics and social klout doesn't run rampant in the film and music world, but passion for the 'art' still stands tall.....maybe not dominant in Hollywood, but at SXSW.
As for the social bit...of course I tweet at these events. I'm in the biz - who doesn't, but the feeds at SXSW are so much about where I'm at and who I'm hanging out with than providing value. It's hard to tell the difference anymore, and sometimes I even get confused by why I do what I do on social media even when my intensions are pure. The addictive nature of it all just 'ain't all that healthy' in my opinion. I have talked about this before but can't emphasize it enough.
The blogger lounge is on the top floor where it always is, around the corner from the press lounge, which had massages this year. The blogger lounge has occasional 'acts' and social media gurus of sorts popping in and out. (a little red badge gets you into it if you're a blogger).
This was more of a 'center' in previous years, but today, less so. It doesn't mean you can't still show up and meet up with old buds, converse with folks in the biz you haven't seen in awhile or folks you still haven't met, but things are so spread out and there's so much 'more' grabbing our attention that "hanging out" in the blogger lounge seem to be few and far between.
Below: Renee Blodgett, Angel Djambazov, Liz Strauss, Hugh MacLeod
Then there are a hundred or so other folks I'll keep under the radar, except for of course Jeff Pulver & crew who co-hosted a great 140Conf party (if you haven't been to their events, check 'em out), with the textPlus folks. (never enuf time Mademoiselle Heather Meeker).
Below is a snap from the Nokia Innovation Lab, a massive tent set up a few blocks from the convention center, that housed more than fake snow as you entered.
While travel wasn't a big representation at SXSW and I was struggling to find serious foodies, some of the usual suspects were hanging about. American Airlines had a down-to-earth event with fabulous peeps (closer to town or IN town next time PLEASE :-).
To the left (lighting wasn't great) is American's head of Mobile products Phil Easter talking about their latest and demoing some nifty stuff on an iPad that we can't quite talk about yet. Exciting stuff! Other call-outs worth mentioning are Stacey Frantz (corp comm), Dawn Turner (Entertainment Marketing), and Jonathan Pierce & Jon Bird (social media & video), among a handful of others.
The photo to the right has a combination of woven yarn, paint, and wire among other materials.
While the booth was creative and the Canadians fed us French toast, strawberries and homemade maple syrup, the Irish shamrock tattoos that Enterprise Ireland dished out had to be my favorite giveaway. (Sure, I'm biased but it's the truth). A lot more fun than pens, pads, stickers, drives and balloons.
The Cool Sculping guys who were parading around town for days, tried to demonstrate that 'getting naked' can be a positive thing if you own one of their "suits."
The below very 'blurry" image of pianist Eric Lewis, a favorite 'musical' experience by TEDsters who saw him perform a few years back in Long Beach, was taken at a Mashery Party at Sandra Bullock's Austin restaurant. The "blurr" gives you an idea of his energy and personality, therefore is untouched. It's "Eric" in every way. The party was of the classier events held at SXSW this year. Well done Oren!
As always, Blumberg Capital held an incredible meet-up for their start-up companies & friends. Flow, drinks, conversation, networking was top notch. Well done to David and his team.
The below is a l'il local bar and street scene music action, albeit blurry...blurry is in some ways more 'suitable' for SXSW, despite the fact that I had my Canon 7D and 2 good lenses with me.
Two fun 'street scenes' very late at night. Or morning. Or whatever.
There was also an interesting demo on the show floor of Vinyl Recorder T-560 -- analog stereo recording on 5", 7", 10" and 12". A pricey option but for serious audiofiles, an option? The 7-560 starter set includes a stereo clutterhead fuse, heated diamond stylus, 19" main unit with RIAA encoder, groove controller and stylus heating regulation mono microscope, a lamp and all cables and adapters. The price? E3,200 (yes, that's Euros).
The week can be a bit exhausting (okay, very) even when you're not trying to race from event to event. Below is a taste of just a day and a half and a few of these bands fell off. And, all the film stuff was equally thick hanging around my neck.
As a complete aside and for kicks, refer to my insanely hard-to-follow post on "how to stay healthy" in Austin during SXSW if you have the strength to avoid all the free beer and Texas ribs.
March 19, 2012 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Blogging, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Spirituality, On Technology, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 12, 2011
Rescue America: On Returning to An America We Can Be Proud Of...
An early copy of a thought provoking book on the decline of America’s value and strength (and why) arrived on my doorstep about a week ago and I couldn't put it down. In an empowering call to action at a time when many feel powerless, Rescue America authors Chris M. Salamone and professor Gilbert inspire readers to take action to change the course of this country.
America’s founding values and the leadership and the leadership traits that embodied them gave rise to the greatest nation on earth.
Their attractive power enticed millions of immigrants to leave the comforts and security of their homelands for the promise of hope, opportunity, and a liberty the world had never known.
They also unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit that created unparalleled prosperity and spawned the greatest generosity ever exhibited by a nation or its citizens.
Upon this irrefutable premise, and filled with plenty of historical and philosophical references and data to support its arguments, Rescue America creates clear and specific connections between the loss of our founding values and the current challenges facing our nation.
What is necessary, the book asserts, is a fundamental shift back toward a national embodiment of the three primary leadership qualities that sustain all lasting human institutions: gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice. It is through the resurrection of these essential qualities in every American —and a rejection of the pervasive attitude of entitlement and culture of complaint—that the spirit of America will once again empower its citizens and inspire the world.
When I asked Salamone what inspired him most, he talked of his involvement in leadership development programs for teenagers for the past twenty years. He says, "I believe so strongly that the greatest asset of any nation is its people (human capital), and particularly, its young people who represent the FUTURE of the United States."
He had planned to write a book on leadership and when he sat down to write it in early 2010, at a time when the world and our country seemed to be falling apart, he started looking at broader issues, such as the foundation of leadership principles. Many of these principles which are so incredibly necessary for young people to achieve extraordinary results in their life, are the very same leadership principles upon which this great nation was founded and built -- the Principles of Gratitude - Personal Responsibility - and Sacrifice.
"So," adds Chris, "rather than just write a book on leadership, I decided to do something a little more meaningful and significant and Rescue America was born. I also felt it was important to write a book that was 'above the fray' -- in other words, a book that in my opinion is non-partisan and does not engage in the typical political bickering and name calling-- a book that focused on the fundamental cause of our nations greatness, and thus the root cause of our decline."
The book is broken down into three parts: THEN: The Dawn of a Dynasty, NOW: America in Decline and HOW: What Americans Can Do for America. The Dawn of a Dynasty covers the Inheritance We Died For, the Standard We Stood For and the Future We Fought For.
In this section, the duo makes countless references to American history, the Constitution, the principles behind freedom and what it means to be "free." They take a deeper look at the Declaration of Independence, why it was created and what our forefathers wanted for Americans as a result.
Equality and improving the human condition was a large part of what the "greats" who ran this country wanted; they also wanted a unified America.
In the section on equality, Adam Smith is quoted: "The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition...is so powerful a principle...(it is) capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity...(and) surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions."
He also refers to Thomas Jefferson, who they assert didn't propose an ideal on equality, but rather recognized and acknowledged an equality that already existed. In principle, Jeffersonian equality refers to a number of concepts that make up equality as an American ideal, they write.
We are brought on an in-depth journey through the nation's history, which is a great reminder of all the important values we studied so long ago and yet as a nation, never talk about anymore in what has become an entitled society.
For someone who has traveled to over 70 counties and lived in ten, it made me think about immigrants of this generation with new eyes...how lucky I was to be part of a previous generation whose core principles - personal responsibility and sacrifice -- were at the core of their existence and demonstrated in their daily behavior, all of which taught me how to live and more importantly, be.
Entitled society = attitude of entitlement (aka doing whatever we please) and more and more, its being done without regard to consequences. What Jefferson meant by the Pursuit of Happiness and a "free" America was the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness that one is free to become the best self that one is capable of becoming.
I love this as much as I love the benefits that Abraham Lincoln envisioned for Americans: the capacity and the freedom to choose, by the quality of one's decisions and by the inherent value and ownership of the fruit of one's labors. Said Lincoln: "The man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year, he will hire others to work for him."
This my friends is the America I grew up in. Grandparents who wanted a better life for their children and their grandchildren and sacrificed significantly so they would achieve it. And, as a nation, we have achieved astonishing wealth.
We are reminded that if you combined the wealth of the Greek, Roman, Chinese and English empires, the wealth generated in America over the recent century would supersede them. And yet, on this journey, we've lost a lot of important things along the way, the concept of gratitude being a big one. Sure, we've been generous and given to many a' nation, a generosity that is a "direct result of our economic vigor -- aka a distinct parallel to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.
Negative implications aside, look at America's most recent effort and contribution in Haiti for example. And, for example, America's efforts and action to end violence in the former Yugoslavia in the late nineties.
After they remind us of all the things we died for, stood for and fought for, we're taken on a journey into present day: America in Decline. They explore the implications of our "now" attitude of entitlement and the culture of complaint. (it's all around us).
Then, they discuss the redistribution and the political entitlement apparatus, as well as the nation's debt, deficits and global weakness as a result. And, of course, we can't dive into an in-depth discussion about the decline of America without taking a hard look at our education system and its ongoing decline decade after decade. As Plato said, "the direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future in life."
The word direction is an interesting word since it doesn't imply we necessary need advanced education in America to succeed (look at Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Tony Robbins and countless others). But what it doesn't imply is the guidance we get and the direction we go from that guidance matters.
That guidance is what makes up our core ethics, values, the way we treat others and the way we look at the world. As more gets outsourced to Asia and American education remains in crisis mode, we are withholding the current generation from their birthright.
Today's youth are not being prepared to join a competitive global workforce or to contribute to the growth of America's economy. They note that our declining education performances impact not only our nation's economic position, but also our national resources. It also contributes to the creation and reinforces a culture of entitlement...."
They start the third and final section of the book with a Benjamin Franklin quote: "Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security." Hear hear Benjamin. In the chapter entitled Personal Responsibility Can Combat Entitlement (great title), they ask the following question for us to ponder: "
What happens when the principles that gave you all you possess eventually lead to distracting and damaging habits and attitudes that take you away from those principles and lead to the wasting away of prosperity?
Do you abandon those principles, or do you recommit to them through discipline?" Ahhh yes, that word discipline. It was in fact one of my grandfather's top three values and while I fall into his workaholic footsteps, I find discipline harder than he did in my same position 80 years ago.
My generation has less of a community and family support network than the previous two and yet living costs are astronomical in comparison. We don't have the stresses of internal wars or World War I and II on the other side of the pond. Yet, stress is at an all time high and cancer and heart disease continuously go up and are affecting younger and younger people.
Salamone and Morris assert that in order to restore a sense of responsibility and obligation (fundamental American core values) to ourselves, our families, our communities, and to our country, "we must enter a process of reflection, restoration and recommitment."
Restore is the operative word here and restore we must before its too late.
It's no surprise that the last chapter: The Power of One kicks off with John F. Kennedy's quote on gratitude: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." Live by them. Strong words...certainly strong words for the land I moved to earlier this decade - California.
Nowhere else have I lived where people have been so adverse to commitment. A yes RSVP means a maybe at best and there's no follow up to apologize for not showing up or standing by "your word," as my grandfather taught us. It may very well be just a party or dinner, but this complacency and failing to live by your words extends to all areas of your life. I've witnessed this time and time again.
Entitlement stands at polar odds with personal responsibility and gratitude. When we come from a place of gratitude, it's astonishing what's possible in our lives and how it trickles into others around us. Everyone benefits. I absolutely believe that gratitude is critical to restoring our spirit and our values, individually and collectively as a nation.
And this is essentially what they're trying to drive home in addition to the fact that we can all make a difference, yes individually. I agree with their belief that it seems as if we live in a world where individuals no longer believe they matter or can make a difference.
They write, "people feel helpless to influence the course of events that will shape their future and that of their children." It's actually a reason many career-driven friends I know have opted not to have children. The book is a must read. From history, economics and politics to education, family values and spirituality, we are brought on an intellectual and emotional roller coaster ride.
At the end, you can't help but feel you must commit to restoring the values that once made America great. We could be only one generation away from the best America and yet if we don't take action, we could very well be one generation away from the worst we've ever seen.
When I asked Salamone what frustrated him most, he said that people don't talk any more -- particularly families.
He says, "Families no longer sit down every night and across the dinner table share the ups and downs of the day... and pass along the stories of families heritages as they did when I was growing up. For most of my life there were at least 3 generations sitting together at a table every night. How could there not be a generational transfer of principles?" He's right.
This has transferred in to our business and social lives -- people no longer talk. They text, tweet or Facebook each other.
Living in Silicon Valley, I'm a victim of this lifestyle more than most. Sometimes I'll be online for 15 hours with only a short break to make food, which ends up by my side (and my computer's side) while I sift through more mail, more social networking messages, more blog post comments. It doesn't end.
Not that there's not some benefit to the new technologies, but I agree with Chris, "we have lost an important human interaction."
He refers to an old author named Leo Buscaglia who wrote a book called Living, Loving and Learning -- and he remembers him saying that he loves to "hug" people -- even people he just met. He said something like " I have to hug you to know you".
Of course he was Italian, but does it matter? Do I need to say more? You can pre-order a copy here or go to Amazon.com or your favorite book store when the book is released on October 17, 2011. Proceeds from the book are being donated to the Wounded Warrior project.
Note: It's only fitting that I publish this book review on my great grandmother's birthday, who was instrumental in raising me together with my grandparents - may all three rest in peace. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made to pave the way for my freedom, the prosperous and joyful life I have and for a better America.
Image Credits: Photo 1: From Rescue America book cover. Photo 2: Abe Lincoln Art from Art.com. Photo 3: From Rescue America book back. Photo 4: EducationFuture.Info site. Photo 5: New Ten Commandments Website.
September 20, 2011
The Pope & the CEO: Lessons in Business Leadership Shared
Out now is a new book with a quirky and enticing name: The Pope & The CEO, written by someone I used to work with at an East Coast software company: Andreas Widmer.
It's one of the few books written by collaborators and close, personal witnesses of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s life, as Widmer draws on his experiences as a Swiss Guard for Pope John Paul II. Through this experience and years in the technology industry, he shares his lessons in business leadership.
The Pope & The CEO outlines nine principles for business leadership including: Know who you are, Know what’s right, Know how to choose what’s right, Know where you are, Know your team, and Practice detachment as a handful. Each lesson includes a how to guide and exercise.
Widmer highlights some of his personal interactions with John Paul II, providing insight into the little known culture of the Swiss Guards, and draws on his experience as an entrepreneur and advocate of the free markets within the international development community.
On a parallel front, the current economic and ethical crisis evokes an openness to fresh models of leadership and trust.
Left disillusioned by long-respected institutions and supposed business-hero icons, many people and organizations look for leaders and frameworks in which to place their trust. The Pope & The CEO translates some of Pope John Paul II’s legacy into business leadership lessons that respond to this gap.
August 05, 2011
Banning Social Media in Schools = Modern Book Burning?
What is the impact of having schools ban students from using social media during school time as if it doesn't exist or doesn't add value to learning? Is this the modern version of burning books?
March 18, 2011
Blurb Releases BookSmart 3.0
- Automatic two-page spreads - Drop your photo in our new two-page template and BookSmart automatically spans your photo across two pages with full bleed.
- Automatic book size change functionality - Now you can take an existing book project, click "Change Size" and create a smaller or larger version of your book. BookSmart automatically copies the entire contents of your book into the new book size and saves your original version so you can always order more.
They are also upgrading Blurb's standard end sheets. Currently, Blurb's end sheets are white. As of Wednesday, April 13, 2011, their standard end sheets across all hardcover books will be mid-grey and 30% thicker. There will be no extra charge for this end sheet upgrade.
Download BookSmart 3.0 and give it a try: http://www.blurb.com/create/book/download.