April 21, 2009
Talk Show Tips
Out this week, TalkShowTips uncovers 72 Secret Master Host Techniques.
More than a book, Susan Bratton has compiled a culmination of learning from five years of podcasting, hundreds of interviews and more than a dozen years of public speaking, emceeing and moderating panels. Anyone who does interviews would be interested in learning more about this new system: bloggers, vidcasters, podcasters, radio and TV hosts or interviewers.
It contains a eBook with all the techniques and teachings, a worksheet for sending a guest invitation, a script for talking to a publicist or assistant to book a guest, a Mad-Lib's style worksheet to cement the format and flow of your show, ton's of in interview tricks and techniques, a strategy called, The Grid, that helps you get ready for a show efficiently.
April 13, 2009
Do it the Google Way
I finished reading Jeff Jarvis' new book What Would Google Do? several weeks ago and some of the 'what ifs' and suggestions have haunted me ever since.
The word haunt not because many of these ideas are not good ones and not because in some cases, they'd be applicable, but because it is written in such a way that it begs Google to be God and King of just about every industry on the planet.
Newsweek's intro on the book's advice: "you, your company, entire industries, and the U.S. government should study and ape the online juggernaut, or risk getting buried."
What echoed true for me were how many other online businesses are not thinking about the umpteen ways they could make money through the side door, something Google seems to master.
There's a great example in the book: "Wired's Chris Anderson projected that by 2012, Google could make $144 million in fees if it charged for directory assistance, but by foregoing that revenue, it could instead make $2.5 billion in the voice-powered mobile search market."
Start thinking about your business in those terms, far outside the box and you may discover two or three new business models you didn't realize you had.
You can no longer charge the old fashioned traditional way. And, by bringing customers into the dialogue before and during the planning stages like Dell and Starbucks have done, you can open a new level of trust and loyalty with your customers in a way that was not possible under the old rules.
Jarvis dives into industry after industry and gives us a glimpse of what a particular industry or company might look like applying Google's model.
"Retailers think of the internet as a store -- a catelog and a checkout. Marketers see it as their means to deliver a brand message."
"Politicians think of the internet as a conduit for their campaign messages and fundraising (and a new way to deliver junk mail."
"Cable and phone companies hope the internet is just their next pipe to own."
He suggests that they all want to control the internet "because that is how they view their worlds. Listen to the rhetoric of corporate value: companies own customers, control distribution, make exclusive deals, lock out competitors, keep trade secrets." He reminds us that the internet "explodes all of those points of control and abhors centralization."
In an all open world where those rules no longer apply, the more connections there are between companies and customers, the greater the value. The same applies to partners and even sometimes, competitors. Tony Hsieh from Zappos tells us a week ago in Las Vegas that if they don't have the product in stock, they'll redirect a customer to a few other sites that may. The ultimate goal for them is a happy satisfied customer who will come back again and again because of that experience, not keeping them inside their closed gates.
Google extends its network by supporting its economy of clicks and links with ads anywhere and everywhere possible. By putting ads everywhere and collaborating with media and other industries, it creates value for them and for consumers who see them in targeted locations all over the web.
Because of this, Jeff argues that middlemen are doomed. Doomed is a pretty strong word and there's no doubt, many will be. I think that 'smart middlemen' will reinvent themselves and offer a service of value that someone else can't do on their own, or more importantly, don't want to do or have time to do.
There will always be experts and many of them may still be middlemen. Just because someone comes up with a great idea for a business and knows how to innovate, it doesn't mean they'll understand how to communicate and engage with their customers in a way that is effective long-term. Geeks and inventors will need communicators and communicators will need geeks and inventors, regardless of whether we're talking about food, widgets, clothing, cosmetics or cameras.
So while Jeff argues that the clock is ticking for all middlemen and the question of their value is 'looming,' if a middleman can get smart about their reinvented offer or value, then they'll not only survive but thrive. Many will fight against change and go the way of the dinosaur. He notes travel agents, car salesmen and real-estate agents as three roles that fall into the doomed category.
He does assert however that Google can't and shouldn't do it all and that the world still needs "curators, editors, teachers and ad salespeople -- to find and nurture the best." Hear hear. Long live the nurturers who make my life easier and more efficient. I want more of them.
One of the things I love about the book is this constant nag: Decide What Business You're In. In working with small companies and individuals, it's remarkable how often this question is either overlooked or they have the wrong answer.
I had fun doing a little exercise around this theme. I wrote down a list of a handful of companies I have consulted to over the past decade and next to each one, their secret sauce, what industry they were in, and a one liner on their business model.
Putting on my WWGD hat, I came up with a variety of different businesses they 'should have been in,' where they could have perhaps taken in more through the side door than by going direct. The rules may have been different at the time, but some may have still applied and better yet, succeeded. Perhaps the VCs should have been thinking far far outside the box and taken more risks.
He takes Kodak as an example and its a good one. He writes, "if Kodak had realized soon enough that it was in the image and memories businesses (if it hadn't defined itself by the atoms it pushed and processed), it should have beaten Yahoo to the punch and bought flickr." (or at least a service like it)
Another great chapter is on new attitudes where there is an inverse relationship between control and trust. This is still being played out frankly and while there is more trust than not in my personal experience, the spammers, criminals and con-artists are emerging just like they always do when an opportunity presents itself.
But he acclaims with force that before the public can learn to trust the powerful, the powerful must learn to trust the public. We are already seeing this happen in positive ways with companies who are inviting customers to the table and showing the face of the CEO long after he or she has left the building. It's amazing what you can learn about a CEO through watching their tweets for example.
While we're on the topic of always on and always online, the Google world forces us to be both, whether we like it or not. Sure, its about transparency as everyone forces down our throats on every blog about social media and Web 2.0 again and again, but shouldn't it have always been about transparency?
Businesses who were ethical played by those rules even in the days when there wasn't an instant way to share information with customers. Those who were not ethical back then and are not playing the honesty game today are going to have a tough time hiding something or succeeding long term if they do.
That said, I don't believe that we have to wear everything on our sleeves and show all of our colors online just because others do. In the game of full transparency, if someone wants to list every company they have stock in, which brands they buy and why, which restaurants they support, and who they just had a business lunch with, great, but it shouldn't mean that we all have to.
We can be transparent without sharing every little detail about what we do and with whom. While I've come around to Twitter, the white noise still annoys me, the main reason it took me so long to dive in (I have an offline life: it's called trees and nature thank you). And there's still a ton of white noise but I'm learning to work around it because of the countless golden nuggets of value when you take the time. If we could encourage the community to share what they learned and what they know, rather than what they did, it would be much more useful, at least to this user.
As for letting it all hang out, be assured there are plenty of 'under-the-hood' secrets of companies customers absolutely LOVE, like Apple, Zappos, Starbucks, and yes, even Google, YouTube and Facebook who are writing many of the new marketing rules.
In a rare moment of not worshipping Google's rules and models, Jeff calls them on not revealing details of its ad revenue split with sites that run its ads, or its Google News sources. Some may argue that this information should be public but how open is still in debate.
Does it always serve a start-up company who only has two competitors to disclose their latest venture round and revenue early on? Note the word always. Doesn't it depend on the situation? Open yes. Honest yes. Transparent yes. Every little detail of a company's operations and its employees? No, not always.
One thing is for sure, the mass market as we once knew it is gone. Enter millions of niche products and services that we can market and buy regardless of where we are in the world. This is a beautiful thing and once we have better filters so we can more efficiently find what we need within minutes or even seconds, the world will truly be our oyster.
Culture & Society author Raymond Williams is quoted in the book: "Masses are other people. There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses." Small is the new big baby so adapt or become a cassette tape.
April 09, 2009
Behind the Scenes of The Wizard of Oz
At the Roxie in San Francisco tonight, Evan Schwartz reveals the hows, whys and psychology behind the characters of the Wizard of Oz, as originally told by L. Frank Baum. (there will be two matinees on Saturday as well)
His new book Finding Oz, conveniently launching during the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, will bring a new perspective to the American story that everyone knows and loves so well.
March 29, 2009
Who is the Real Wizard?
Have you ever wondered, either as a child or an adult, who is the wizard? The real wizard? Evan Schwartz who did a three minute talk at TED in February, just released the book Finding Oz, which you can now purchase on Amazon among other places.
Finding Oz tells the remarkable tale behind one of the world's most enduring and best-loved stories: Wizard of Oz. Offering profound new insights into the true origins and meaning behind L. Frank Baum's 1900 masterwork, it delves into the personal turmoil and spiritual transformation that fueled Baum's fantastical parable of the American Dream.
Before becoming an impresario of children's adventure tales—the JK Rowling of his age—Baum failed at a series of careers and nearly lost his soul before setting off on a journey of discovery that would lead to the Land of Oz. Drawing on original research, Evan I. Schwartz debunks once and for all popular misconceptions and reveals how the people, places and events in Baum's life gave birth to the unforgettable images and characters, from the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to the dual view of witches--as both good and wicked--that reflected the life of Baum's mother-in-law, the radical women's rights leader Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Finding OZ reveals how failure and heartbreak can sometimes lead to redemption and bliss, and how one individual can ignite the imagination of the entire world.
If you are in the Bay Area, be sure not to miss the uncut version of Wizard of Oz at San Francisco's Roxie Theatre on April 9 (evening) and April 11 (matinee). After Evan's introduction and insights, you will see the Wizard of Oz in a brand new light.
“While just about everyone knows and loves this movie,” says Bill Banning, program director at the Roxie, “very few people have seen this spectacular film the way it was originally intended, on the big screen, with no commercials and no cuts to make room for commercials.”
March 28, 2009
Reading a novel about youth often makes you think of your own. Being part of a book group involving a novel you can physically hold in your hand changes the way you read when you're online.
We all know the art of writing for a novel is entirely different than blog writing. I've been meaning to capture more of my youth online -- in a series, little by little. The closest I've come is one photo upload inside an Irish castle and a blog post about a teenager summer.
I haven't read many 'chick-flavored' books in awhile, but am deeply buried in one now. Bound South written by Susan Rebecca White who I plan to meet the first week of April, captures the lives of two women in their mid-forties who live in the Atlanta suburbs.
There are wonderful moments between mother and rebellious teenager daughter and glimpse after glimpse of what both women, who have been best friends since childhood, gave up to do raise a family the 'southern way.'
Each character is rich -- from wealthy lead characters Louise (Parker) and Tiny to their black maid's daughter Missy who says: "For not being a real Christian, Mrs. Parker sure likes Jesus. She has an enormous painting of Him, hung smack in the middle of her living room wall. You wouldn't even know it is Him if His wrists weren't pierced and He didn't have long, flowing hair. Instead of wearing a white robe, Jesus is wearing a blue ball gown with rhinestones dotted along the straps. And instead of a crown of thorns or a halo, he wears a diamond tiara on his head. The blue of his ball gown is so rich you just want to stare, but I try not to. I know it is some kind of sinning to picture Jesus looking like a girl."
Nanny Rose is the conservative mother-in-law whose maid dies at the beginning of the book and it is here, early on, that we learn about the marked neighborhoods - black and white, rich and poor, where wealthy white housewives fear driving down the wrong street, locking their doors, stiffening up as they break for a stop light.
The real rose of the story is Louise's 18 year old daughter Caroline who is caught giving her acting teacher a blow job a month before graduation. Although she's late for every class and plasters a bumper sticker on the back of her car that says "Question Authority," she still makes it into Julliard.
She's full of untethered emotion and at times you want to restrain her, but not because of her rebellious spirit. You find that you want to protect Caroline from the emotional pain every women goes through who embarks on that path versus the more traditional one, one which is full of protection but void of adventure.
Caroline's experience with her first bout of passion....real passion. "I lean in and start kissing him. It's different from last night. This time I want it. I want him. Frederick, not my teacher, not my director, but Frederick, the man who bought the two buckets of chicken so I could give one away to the homeless.......And the strangest thing is how surprising it all is, that this -- this affair, as my mother would call it -- is really happening. Even though we kissed last night, even though we flirted all last year, back then it felt like a game, like something that would never really happen."
And then my favorite part: "It's the difference between standing near a fire and being the wood that burns."
It's a refreshingly light read with yes, a ton of wonderful chick-book moments. It is also an easy-flowing story that is broad in reach, ranging from family strife, family growth, southern recipes, folk art and visually rich images, to passion, deception, marital affairs, religion, regret, honor, coming of age and the great divide between black and white in the south.
March 24, 2009
The Blue Sweater
Last week, Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz held a book reading in San Francisco as part of the launch of The Blue Sweater, her new book, which is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Half.com.
The Blue Sweater takes us on a journey, through one inspiring personal memoir after another. She read us an excerpt from an experience she had in the eighties where she helped a group of unwed mothers start a bakery.
In the book, she reveals how traditional charity often fails. A key mission of Acumen Fund is to use entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. It's a combination approach: "small amounts of philanthropic capital combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor."
Why they feel charity alone isn't the answer: "poor people seek dignity, not dependence." Frankly, everyone seeks dignity and all too often, we don't get it.
She tells us "why the blue sweater?" I was obviously curious as were others. When she was around ten, she wore a sweater with zebras on it well into high school before she finally parted with the garment. Years later, when she as in her mid-twenties, she spotted a zebra sweater on a little boy in Africa.
With emotion, she tells us how she ran over to check the label and sure enough, it was her very own zebra sweater she wore as a child. "It's an example," she says, "of our own interconnectedness. Those of us who have lived in the developing world all have a blue sweater story -- where something we have done has impacted someone's life and we don't learn how until much later on."
She's right. We all have our blue sweater stories even if we haven't lived in the developing world. Having an impact on others in an unselfish loving way is ultimately why we're here. Giving back to the world is what really feeds us at the end of the day and often, its the smallest of "gives" that have the most impact.
March 23, 2009
Strategic Project Management Made Simple
- He helps you tackle issues from a systems thinking perspective.
- He uses Logical Frameworks and other practical tools as force multipliers which leverage the talents and skills on your staff.
- He works collaboratively and builds committed teams that are prepared to deliver results.
- To get results,he focuses on specific outcomes that product major, long-lasting benefits for your organization.
- He helps to increase staff capacity to achieve stretch goals and pay-offs continue to unfold after his work ends.
March 20, 2009
Iranians Know How to Throw a Party
A friend of mine came into town recently for an engagement party - his niece who is half Pakistani and half Iranian is marrying his nephew who is Indian. What an amazing blend of traditions for a party. It starts with drinks upon arrival but before you know it, someone's aunt is pulling you onto the dance floor.
You notice this incredible fruit platter on the table in the distance - no, its not quite a fruit platter, its a fruit mountain as you look more closely and realize its about 3.5 feet tall. You're not on the dance floor for long when you see plates of appetizer food and salads fill the kitchen table, including giant shrimp that is begging to be eaten. You then remember that you barely just arrived when you're given an unusually flavored punch.
There are heat lamps outside and those fabulous looking water pipes on the tables. They've had similar ones at nearly every Egyptian, Iranian, Turkish and Kenyan coffee bar I've gone to over the years. Since the 16th century, men in Persian culture have assembled in coffee houses, play chess and backgammon and discuss politics and business. It is there that they smoke these fabulous pipes (Kalian).
The age range is as expected - two weeks to 97. I move off the dance floor knowing I'll be spending a lot of time there later on. I marvel at the what I now see as three massive fruit mountains in the kitchen and while some party hosts may put a vase or two of flowers on a table, there seems to be fresh flowers on every side table, fireplace mantel and counter. And in all the bathrooms. Roses and wild flowers weave in and out of every visual image as I make my way from room to room.
There is a piano in the living room where at some point during the night, a thirty something year old nephew, uncle or cousin starts playing a few traditional songs while far too many aunts, great aunts and grandmothers for me to keep up with, start tapping their feet. When I smile at this, they give me that look that says, "we'll be dancing with you later after the first round."
Little did I know that it was the first round of food since the kitchen table and fruit platters were sufficient to feed the 80 or so family members and friends who had arrived by then. Round one complete. Round two of dancing begins.
Like every family affair regardless of culture, women's bags and shoes are scattered under chairs which were specifically brought out for the party - they lined the fireplace on one side with a couch and two soft chairs facing them. There was another string of them in the TV room and 8-10 large round tables outside atop a massive Persian rug Dad must have put out on top of the grass as a godsend for all the women who wore heals. And they all did, mostly pumps in vibrant colors.
These women were not afraid of color or glitter although the latter was tastefully and simply added, just enough to call attention to their outfits and remind us all that this was an engagement celebration. No American jeans and sneakers at this event and the little ones were in flowered dresses and shiny shoes, just like my grandmother used to subject me to in the seventies.
I learn quickly that a third have been here for about a generation, another third arrived within the last ten or so years and another third arrived in the last three or four. The accent divide reflected the arrival in America split, the strongest ones of course being the newcomers. Regardless of whether they worked in a plant or just graduated from Harvard, they all seemed to look after each other regardless what path they took.
Even though it isn't the big event (its the engagement party not the wedding remember), family flew in from Canada, New York, southern California and the midwest. It's not unlike the early days of my childhood when there still seemed to be a connection to a heritage far away through a great grandmother or father. Are we all losing this connection too soon?
I was surprised at how committed they were to keeping family events alive, ensuring tradition moved from the oldest relatives there to the two year olds flying around me with my pant leg as their only stable rope to keep them from falling down.The mother of the bride to be took four days off work to cook. All of it I'm thinking? I grew up with incredible cooks in our extended family but couldn't imagine any of them taking this much time off work in 2009. They'd likely cook a few dishes, ask family members to bring some and cater the rest.
And so, the second course arrived which was no less than 30 platters and casseroles of yummy looking meat, chicken, veggie and potato dishes all surrounded in various shades of gravies and sauces. Saffron rice with raisins sat in the middle next to yet another large vase of flowers. Each dish looked and smelled so good that you had to try them all. Each dish tasted so good you found yourself back for more. Did I mention that at least six tables if not more had large bowls of Iranian pistachios, cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts just in case there was nothing you could find on any of the three other tables or kitchen counter?
And now you want me to dance I thought? I could barely move as I shuffled my way back to the kitchen for some diet coke. Another little one came flying around the corner and stopped in front of my bright orange and brown gouchoes which were heavy with sequins, beads and more. I thought to myself - if she grabs the material in the wrong place, they're all coming off and I'm going down.
She just gave me a big smile and her hand and you guessed it, wanted to pull me onto the dance floor. Had she not come along, Aunt X, Aunt Y, Aunt Z or Cousin J would have gotten to me a moment later. When I'm at a predominantly white/european party, I'm often the one on the sidelines trying to drag people on the dance floor. Please, I beg. C'mon, I say. I wave my arms like a lunatic.
People smile but rarely do they come until the alcohol starts pouring and even then, its hard work. Not at this party. Every woman in the place except for the very elderly who sat on the couch and neighboring chairs, dragged people onto the floor. And guess what? They came. The men came. The elderly women with very little coaching eventually came.
Nearly all of the music was Iranian. God knows whether it was modern or from forty years ago since nearly everyone knew the words except for the five or so European guests who had long figured out we were lucky to be invited. And so we danced. And so they sang. And so the children ran. And so the piano played. And so the massive cake, twice the size of the fruit mountains arrived.
There were fresh flowers on each layer and several women including myself walked up to the table to insert more into the nooks and crannies so that the lavender glazed frosting would ooze with the fuschia flowers and the fuschia flowers would ooze with the lavender. And then a pause. I stood back and admired. You can't cut that I thought.
Don't you just want to stare at this thing for a few days? We'll all understand, I mean, its not as if I'm hungry. Surely no one else can be? We'll understand - don't cut this masterpiece just yet. But cut they did, and then the ice cream came, followed by custard and chocolate. More nuts and tea....lots of it. No coffee interestingly enough. One urn had tea, the other hot water to reduce the caffeine for the older folks.
Man, do Iranians know how to throw a party. And they live here. Imagine the parties at home without the Wal-Mart and Costco influence. If you get an invite from an Iranian friend or colleague, you must go. And after you do, write to me and tell me how it went.
November 19, 2008
Hrabal's Too Loud A Solitude
An interesting short read (less than 100 pages) is Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, a story of Hanta's 35 years as a compactor of wastepaper and books in a Czech police state. One review sums it up well: "In the process of compacting, he has acquired an education so unwitting he can't quite tell which of his thoughts are his own and which come from his books."
"He has rescued many books from jaws of hydraulic presses and now his house is filled to the rooftops. Destroyer of the written word, he is also its perpetuator. When a new automatic press makes his job redundant there's only one thing he can do - go down with his ship."
The book's viewpoint is very Eastern European - comedy with pathos, resignation, the profound and the mundane wrapped in a single cord. The Latin American writers are most associated with Magical Realism, but it has a flavor in the Czechs as well - Kundera and Hrabal and Kafka (not really Czech, but still).
The Latin version feels spiritual, a push of Catholicsm to its edges, like the Shroud of Turin or demonic possession and exorcism. These scenes always read colorful. Eastern European magical realism is a splash of paint against inevitable gray, a momentary kindness from the fates, a butterfly appearing out from under a trash compactor, but just for a moment before it is crushed. Spend your country's history being tossed between the Russians and Germans and your reflections will also be on the tragedy of the human condition.
Hanta's artistic creations are made of trash (are all of ours, perhaps?). He wraps bales of wastepaper in prints of great works of art, prints that like the books Hanta rescues have been censored by the government. Hanta knows that his pieces will have but a few moment's exhibition as they are driven across town. Expression is futile, a hopeless protest against the force of the state, but what else do we have?
In an amusing part after drinking too much beer, he has visions of Jesus and Lao-tze side-by-side. He refers to Jesus as an ardent young man intent on changing the world, and Lao-tze as submissive. He writes: "I watched Jesus cast a spell of prayer on reality and lead it in the direction of miracle, while Lao-tze followed the laws of nature along the Tao, the only Way to learned ignorance."
Drinking from his mug, he keeps his eyes glued on his visions: to "young Jesus, all ardor amidst a group of youths and pretty girls, and the lonely Lao-tze, looking only for a worthy grave." He watches the "young Jesus still suffused with mellow ecstasy and Lao-tze leaning sad and pensive against the edge of the drum and looking on with scornful indifference"
"Jesus giving confident orders and making a mountain move, and Lao-tze spreading a net of ineffable intellect over the cellar; Jesus the optimistic spiral and Lao-tze the closed circle, Jesus bristling with dramatic situations and Lao-tze lost in thought over the insolubility of moral conflicts."
He has visions of countless other characters and authors from books we all know and love. Sometimes his accounts are disturbing, other times priceless but almost always amusing.
Reading this book makes one feel all warm and snuggly remembering the masters Kafka and Camus, Gogol's absurdity and Thomas Bernhard's almost nihilistic stream of consciousness. It's like walking through a museum and seeing a small but penetrating sketch that ties into a school of painting in ways that also show the individuality of that particular artist.
It is worth mentioning, too, that even the humiliations of Hanta's relationship with his employers and the oppression of the state are not what do him in. It's technology, that totalitarian God, the Zeus of our pantheon, more powerful than any ideology or "ism."