November 03, 2011
What is REAL Influence? Will Klout & Other Tools Define & Control You or Will You Define Them?
There's been so much buzz -- on and offline -- about Klout's decision to unveil a new formula which supposedly recalculates scores more accurately, the result of which brought most people's "popularity" scores down a few notches, including my own.
While I think what the guys over at Klout are trying to do is admirable and truth be told, we need really smart analytics and measurement tools to break through the noise, what we have today simply isn't accurate enough or "whole" enough to give us the real truth on who's influential and more importantly, in what circles and why.
Wouldn't it be more interesting to know who had a Klout score of 80 in food and wine, 80 in social media, 80 in fashion, 80 in politics and so on?
Wouldn't it also be more interesting if tools like this took into consideration a person's offline influence as well as other things they may have done, such as a bestselling book or created a program that made an African village sustain itself?
Part of the issue is that we're early and all of the vendors trying to innovate in this area are trying to figure it out. I spent time talking to Klout's CEO and founder Joe Fernandez in Dublin recently at a web conference and I think he's a great guy who's trying to do the right thing.
I jokingly complained that I've seen 21 year olds who are new to social media, new to Twitter and new to business whose Klout scores have been higher than mine on some days. There are many things they take into account when dishing out a Klout score, including the level of engagement. Crikey, if you're my niece's age and have thousands of Facebook friends who have a ton of time on their hands and can chat away all day with their friends, regardless of how big the circle is, then no doubt, that online "activity" gets engagement brownie points which goes into the Klout analysis.
While engagement could be high in this 'circle', it is its own ecosystem and the real question is: will this voice influence a certain number of people to buy a certain product or take a certain that builds brand awareness?
I have 3 Facebook pages attached to my name, all of which are mine, but I don't get credit in the Kloutsphere for any of them because they can only give you points for one Facebook account - your personal one. When I asked Joe about this, he had a logical explanation. There are far too many people managing a celebrity or brand's Facebook fan page and they shouldn't get credit for that level of influence when the page is about someone else. Fair enough. But what about those whose Facebook pages are legitimately connected to themselves? Small business owners would also fall into that category.
Yet, despite the fact that the numbers aren't accurate or "whole," tons of vendors and brands are jumping into the lions den and testing things out. Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that. With every evolution and revolution, you need to learn by trial and error just like we did with email after fax, blogging after websites and Twitter after AOL IM.
One of my issues is how much credence we (as an industry) give these early tools and how much of a time waste they are for so many I know including me at times before I kick myself back into perspective, nevermind the cultural impact which has quite honestly turned into a popularity contest. I feel as if everyone is competing to be Ken or Barbie and we're back to high school behavior in a way that's not healthy.
Scores are one way for brand marketers and PR folks to create a list of targeted bloggers and tweeters they can go after, aka a list of the most influential voices who must hear about their product or service. I get it as I've been on the pitching line - both in front of it and in recent years, on the receiving end with We Blog the World.
As Geoff points out, the most influential people in any given sector aren’t necessarily on social media. They hire other people to serve as community managers. As one example, Klout only gives President Barack Obama an Influence Score of 48.
While we do need analytics and tools for measuring, they need to take offline influence into consideration as well as more complex elements and texture that can extracted from people's social graphs.
It's time to bring in the socialogists and anthropologists. One of the best talks I've heard in awhile on a Web-something stage was in October at Web 2.0 Summit by Intel's Genevieve Bell, an Australian born anthropologist and researcher. She is the director of Intel Corporation's Interaction and Experience Research and her talk was begging the question: what if we built data for humans rather than devices?
Looking at data from an anthropoligical and "human" perspective (bring on more women please), means that we can take the science out of the analytics just long enough to get the pieces that make up the multiple facets of what makes someone who they are into the "measurement" pool.
Christopher Poole (aka @moot69 on Twitter) also raised the point at the same conference that who we are online may not necessarily be who we are offline. In other words, my social graph online may be very different from who I am in my personal life or frankly want to be...the games we have to play with social media to be part of the conversation -- authentic voice or not -- in order to keep up with metrics and measurement are currently robotic and linear at best.
Relationships are what really matter and building them take time. I've been working on (yes, while I LOVE it, it's work and takes time), building relationships for over twenty years and yet, my Klout score is lower than someone who's barely been in business or is even old enough to have a relationship with someone longer than a few years of their adult life.
Geoff also refers to this in his post: "without a relationship, it would be extremely hard to get that high scoring influencer to invest energy into your effort. Instead you would have to focus on the magic middle and build your own influence from the ground up."
Gavin Heaten refers to Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties”. While the original post is now a few years old, his point is still relevant. "Social influence and its impact on action is determined by a large number of “weak ties”. So those blogs which are built around an identity which is well-known to its audience (strong ties) is less likely to carry social influence."
Yet, buzz agents, PR people, marketers and large brands are deciding who's influential or beyond that, who can move their brand or sell products inside that brand....all based on these scores.
I went to the Travel Blog Exchange (known among those in the biz as TBEX) in Vancouver for the first time this past year and it was loaded with travel vendors, resorts, hotel chains, restaurants, retailers and more vying for travel blogger's time and ultimately "ink."
While I spend a few hours a day nuturing a travel and culture blog, I also run a business. Many of these bloggers are doing this full time so are spending a lot of time gathering content from the world's most popular destinations and there is an inherent value in that. Yet, many of these 21-25 year old bloggers are enjoying free trips around the world on some brand's dime based on Klout scores and other things like it.
Fair enough, trust me, I wish blogging were around when I backpacked through SE Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe when I was 22. But I think some other form of value will be necessary in the future as online publishing is being rewritten.
I often wonder if I were blogging and tweeting at 22, whether I would have spent less time chatting with a villager next to a fire on some remote mountain had I been loaded down with technology? When I went on those adventures, I wore nothing but a mid-sized rucksack on my back and an old Fujica AX3. My main consideration was making sure my film didn't get roasted in the Southeast Asian sun or when I went through security lines at airports.
Today when I travel, Foursquare and Twitter (via Hootsuite) are close companions. I often tweet in real time as I'm walking down an escalator and see something interesting and at times, can get so wrapped up in following streams, that sometimes I forget to have a conversation with the guy from Chicago or Tokyo standing next to me.
It's far too easy to get caught up in check-ins, status updates and Klout scores and there's no one who can disagree, that its addictive. It's precisely what makes gamification a godsend to marketers today. And yet with all these distractions, what are we losing and are we forgetting what "real influence" and "real relationships" are in the process?
Refer to my Google+ blog post which talks about data overload and over consumption.
Two decades ago, I would have had a Klout score of zero in the travelsphere and yet by the age of 25, I had been to more places than many travel writers at magazines and newspapers I met along the way.
I didn't spend any time building relationships with influential 'travel sources,' but with the locals I met en route and here is where I captured magical stories, most of which were written down in an old fashioned diary every night by a fire or from a rickety bed.
I would argue that in a world where the lines between marketers and content creators and publishers are muddy, that large brands should ask for more than a little link love, or a certain number of tweets. How about strategic feedback based on years of valuable insights, experience and perhaps connections to people where both sides benefit in a mutually positive way? Airlines take note. It's not rocket science, it's called listening to your customers, and not just those with high Klout scores. Pay attention to what customers are saying -- on and offline -- and implement changes so they're singing your praises alongside your marketing department.
Another example of a missed opportunity for "influencer collaboration". This past summer, I was flown out to a conference with about six other bloggers and while I was given hashtag and Twitter data as well as the program in advance, I had no knowledge of who was attending the conference so I could connect with people who shared similar interests and passions in advance.
Imagine the power of my writing a story about the work of a few of the attendees as well as their speakers? Ammunition for selling tickets the following year, especially if a new initiative formed as a result.
At events where everyone is interesting and has a story to share, the magic of what can be discovered doesn't always happen on the stage. 90% of my best stories are gathered off the stage and compelling input is often found from those who are not asked to speak or haven't written a book.
And, did those speakers who authored books know the bloggers and journalists who were attending? They should have known in advance so they could have taken the opportunity to send us a copy of their book to read before their presentation. Insights would have been much deeper and after-the-talk conversations much more powerful.
Sure, we all could have done our own homework and sure, if we were interested in a particular speaker over another, we could have proactively ordered their book on our own. That's not my point. In a world of over data and over pitching, we need aggregators and curators, and human ones are often the most powerful ones.
Proactively faciliating those connections in a way that is more powerful and intimate increases the likelihood of more stories, especially ones may include more depth and texture.
I think that marketing and PR people have to not only become content creators on multiple channels but also strategic faciliators, aggregators and curators as well. I also think that asking bloggers, tweeters and other online influencers for input into their processes, products, services and ways of communicating will be critical to making this new ecosystem purr.
Events like TBEX for the travel industry, BlogWorldExpo for bloggers and social media addicts, TED for those who thrive on ideas and innovation, DAVOS for those who are participating in the global economy in some way, the national auto show for those who live and breathe cars and thousands of others were created for a reason. Sure, someone thought of an event that would draw people together including sponsors and they could profit from the outcome.
But the real draw for those who attend, even those who fork out the money to host, is the networking and the value of that "in-person" networking over the years. It was one of the reasons people were so upset when COMDEX died, the largest computer show of its kind in the U.S., an event that drew together anyone and everyone who mattered in the industry once a year in the ugly sprawling city of sin Las Vegas.
There, we built a community, and old timers still talk about memories they shared -- in the flesh, not online -- where stories, drinks, food, dancing, ideas, demos and deals were all shared. TED is a great example of a community which has been created both on and offline, and now extended through TEDx events throughout the world.
Relationships are built by investing time in people. In Dublin recently, a group of us were brought to the Irish President's residence and a day earlier, we all listened to the Trinity Orchestra at a college older than the U.S. - there's nothing in an online world, social influence or not, that can take away from those shared memories and moments, some of which may have showed a precious vulnerable side to someone you dare not share online for online is not where that "exchange" belongs.
A deeper dive into what really makes up influence, which includes trust, will improve the current ecosystem we now embrace. It may also change the cast of characters we currently hold in high esteem when honesty, real openness and "human influence" replaces old schoolXYZ networks that keeps things in status quo, maintaining the same dozen voices we hear from again and again, particularly in the online publishing world.
Here, Geoff is spot on when he says "when we focus on influence rankings — tools that quantify a media form’s participants like it was run by journalists — we walk away from the basic truth about these particular types of media. They are relational. They are SOCIAL media.
So, by focusing on lists and not dialoguing and adding value through relevant content and investment, a practitioner is not present. Their effort is bound to have fundamental weaknesses. Building relationships in real life at events, meetings, and through social media are the ways to cultivate better influence.
And oh man, I love his ending: "what is the real reason to quantify big social media influencers? If relationships are your desired outcome, why waste time?"
We've paid so much attention to data for data sake and the last century has paid an unfair advantage to scientific knowledge and stats, that we need to rewrite the rules of what holds value in and out of the boardroom. Francis Cholle in his book The Intuitive Compass takes 223 pages to tell you why our intuition (the quadrant which is defined by relationships and creativity) is critical to succeeding in the next century. (book review coming on We Blog the World before the end of the year in the Books category).
A fundamental question to think about is this: will Klout & other measurement tools like it define and control you or will you define and control them? If we are to innovate, shouldn't we step up and tell the data what really matters? In a Genevieve Bell world, we'd start with humanity and relationships and build up and out from there.
Photo credits in order of appearance: Garagehangover, Obama shot unknown, John Ryan & Associates, a Facebook stream, Selfleadership.com.
November 3, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, Magic Sauce Media, On Blogging, On Branding, On Geo-Location, On Innovation, On Journalism, On People & Life, On Social CRM, On Technology, On the Future, PR & Marketing, 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.
October 07, 2011
Great Women at WITI: Isn't it Better to Have a Life of Oh Wells Than What Ifs?
Clearly I don't get to New York often enough, by now I would have met writer and products guru Maya Baratz, who is currently working on new products at The Wall Street Journal.
She started out by asking the nearly all women audience at WITI (Women in Technology International): How many of you are still waiting for your mentor? How many of you spend your time trying to prove someone wrong?
Mentors were a common thread throughout her talk. It's not that she doesn't believe in having them, but if you can’t find a mentor, don't wait around to get ahead.
"Waiting for a mentor is like waiting to follow someone else’s lead," she says. "Follow your own."
On innovation, she says, "innovation is about being unreasonable and along the way you sprinke it with reasonable."
She encouraged the women in the room not to be reasonable. "You don’t need to succeed," she says. We can fail. Women are shy of taking big risks and want to ensure they can succeed before moving forward.
Hear hear Maya. And to add to that, not only are women more afraid to fail, but they're more likely to hold back when they've accomplished something great. Many entrepreneurs will tell you to fail fast, early and often.
Failure is nothing more than feedback. And, when you do succeed, she encouraged, "don't just move yourselves forward, but move your female colleagues forward with you."
AND, taking risks was emphasized and re-emphasized. In other words, isn't it better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs? True innovation is about taking a leap of faith and that almost always means taking risks which can lead to failure.
"When you do fail," she adds, "speed up your recovery process. You shouldn’t spend your time reacting to failure. If you get stuck on the anger side, you’ll probably be stuck there for awhile. Leading a proactive life is dusting yourself off, getting up and trying again."
Women-led start-ups fail less than men yet women make up less than 10% of venture-backed startups.
The bottom line is that we don’t toot our own horn which makes us feel a lot more boxed in. We also don’t have role models to look up to....at least not enough of them.
It’s important for every one of us to tell our own story and get it out there, embrace what we've accomplished rather than be afraid of it.
She spoke of actionable things we can do now to further our lives. I can't agree enough that this is what it takes to grow. There's nothing truer than this (and having the our belief systems) to get ahead. We can have dreams and goals but if we don't get them down on paper and take steps to get there, it won't happen. When we have a little "win", it's human nature to own that win and use it as ammunition to move forward. It works for me.
I call them baby steps. Rather than think of the magnitude of the project OR all the potential obscacles that could get in the way OR the skillsets you don't have, just act. Baby steps are important because baby steps = action and action leads to results.
It's a bit like serendipity versus having a strategy, where serendipity is reactive and strategy is being proactive, infused with passion of course. Ask yourself what action can you take to make things happen?
Says a woman in the audience, "look at the way men talk about entrepreneurship – it’s okay for a man to take crazy risks and put themselves out there." Another truism.
Yet, how many times have we all thrown an idea into the wind and received negative feedback? So have hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Success stories today had dozens and in some cases hundreds of no's before they got to yes.
If it doesn't have immediate positive feedback, it doesn’t mean that its not a good idea. It may just mean that it’s new and it hasn’t been tried yet.
It's also okay for men to get tons of exposure and not just be okay with it but embrace it. I'm working on a photo book and have been turned down by a few women. Two very prominent women in the industry declined because they said they were "overexposed." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard the response - twice. Overexposed? Really? Would a man decline an opportunity and say I'm overexposed?
Are you kidding I quietly thought when I heard the response. Deep inside, my reaction wasn't quiet - it was miffed, saddened, disillusioned and frustrated. I also couldn't help but feel that important female voices and insights wouldn't be part of an important project. Moreso, as a woman who's struggling to get support and access to great people to make the project succeed, I thought, "am I going to rely mostly on my male industry buds to help move this book forward in places I can't?" Again. (I had to say it, but yes, again).
We need to support and embrace women's journeys around us and there's no better way to do that than to be aware of their journey, where and how they're struggling and step in to help, even if its in a very small way. Baby steps. They matter.
It's also important that in the entrepreneurial process that we don't self judge ourselves but even moreso for women.
Obviously it's not the first time I've attended women events and conferences. I have been a regular at BlogHer since the very beginning, have been a member and attendee of various women organizations, attended an all girl's school and was active in 4H as a child which, while it wasn't for women only, there were predominantly girls in my club and the same applied to other clubs in my immediate area.
Yet attending WITI, a three-day event full of inspirational women in technology who are embracing challenges and hearing great talks like Maya's and others, is a reminder that while it's not easy out there and we may even recall some of the common mistakes we have made as we hear other stories, its freeing to talk about it and in the process, get feedback. Feedback can lead to action.
Not once in that session did the word confidence come up, not that I remember at least, although it certainly came up elsewhere and throughout the three days. Women don't have enough of it. Period.
I notice lack of confidence more than anything else and not just in business situations but in our personal lives as well. We need to remind women around us that they shine and tell them often.
When I got home from WITI, it was ironic that I ended up watching two episodes of Mad Men, two I had seen before. Yet somehow, watching it immediately after attending WITI made me view it with new eyes. If you're a woman, you can't ignore how women were treated at home and in the office on Madison Avenue in the 50s (and elsewhere in the world). Yet, the writing is so brilliant and authentic, and the program so great, the art wins. The storytelling wins. It was our history. America's history. AND, at least for me, I saw all of it in my grandmother's kitchen, my aunt's house, my school.
Here's one scene from the episode re-watch: Betty's friend comes over to borrow a dress for an occasion and then flops down on the bed as she says, "it doesn't matter, I'm invisible." Women were invisible in the Mad Men era and in some cultures around the world, they're less than invisible today.
Sure, we've made great strides, but we still need to step up, embrace our experiences, share our stories, toot our own horns and take more chances.
While I didn't do individual write-ups on all the speakers and panels, other women who particularly inspired and moved me include IBM's Sandy Carter, Xerox Corporation's CTO and President Sophie Vandebroek, Coca-Cola's CIO Miriam McLemore, professor Diane Pozefsky, AT&T's Alicia Abella and of course WITI founder Carolyn Leighton. (left)
On that note, I'll end with a few reflective, incredulous and humorous quotes to ponder not necessarily in that order: (what do you subscribe to? Feel free to share your own in comments).
"Men are allowed to have passion and commitment for their work ... a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work" - Barbra Streisand in 1993
"Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything." - Paris Hilton
"The happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history." - George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
"The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women ... merely adored." -- Oscar Wilde, The Ideal Husband
"Modern women are just adored. There's nothing but media telling us we're all supposed to be great cooks, have great style, be great in bed, be the best mothers, speak seven languages, and be able to understand derivatives. And we don't really have women we're modeling after, so we're all looking for how to do this.." -- Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010
October 06, 2011
Steve Jobs Tribute for Misfits: To Your Vision, Your Fire, Your Creativity & Those You Moved to Genius...
Most of the headlines I've read about Steve Jobs' death -- October 5, 2011 -- shout the obvious factoid: Apple's Steve Jobs DIES or Steve Jobs is DEAD. Why not something more honorary like: Steve Jobs Dead Today: The World Has Lost a Technology & Design Visionary, or at least something a little more dignified?
They also say that Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being, however I'd extend the former to the world, not just Apple.
You see, Steve Jobs has the kind of effect that Princess Di had on the world. Yes, really. He "touched" people. He "inspired" people. He moved people to stretch beyond their own limits and beliefs and build something more. Be something more. Care about design in their own creations in a way that would transform people. Care about what they shipped and why. Understand that they had to ship and that delivering what customers want and count on you for, matter more than your ego.
Technology for technology's sake is merely an enabler alone. Useful, sure, but Steve created technology that has been a life changing experience for all of us. Apple's technology is transparent, the way it should be and we are transformed when we use it...the way it should be. Crikey, I'm not even a Mac user. I was, once, a long time ago. Early on in my career in the early nineties, my marketing agency was on Macs and it's the only world I ever knew following my early but limited word processing experience at university in London. (the days of Wordstar, Multimate and WordPerfect).
I moved to the PC world when I started representing enterprise technology clients and thereafter start-ups that had limited budgets so didn't all support Macs out-of-the-gate. My mainstay is a Thinkpad and have 2 other laptops and a netbook.
As a creative myself, its astonishing that I've held out as long as I have. I have a iPhone and an iPad and am a heavy user of Adobe products, all of which would work more seamlessly on a Mac. And yet, the start-up industry has kept me tethered to a PC not to mention Apple's hefty costs and the fact that I have more contacts in the PC world than I do in the Apple one.
That aside, I honor and bow down to Steve Jobs for his brilliance, his creativity, his genius and his commitment to making technology "beautiful." First of all, I'm a woman who lives in Silicon Valley who actually loves design and fashion, a rarity in the technology industry. (above, Steve in 1977 at the beginning of his career)
This is a world who lives in logoed t-shirts, jeans and sneakers and not even hip ones. Living in Europe gave me an appreciation for design and once you have it, there's no turning back. Even the way the French package up one individual chocolate is insanely decadent enough to give a woman who honors and "gets" great design, an orgasm. Yes, really.
It's not something we relish in the states, and yet Steve Jobs says, we MUST. And, he did. Again and again, he did. From the Time Magazine article in their tribute: "Jobs' confidence in the wisdom of his own instincts came to be immense, as did the hype he created at Apple product launches. That might have been unbearable if it weren't for the fact that his intuition was nearly flawless and the products often lived up to his lofty claims." Hear hear.
Who can't acknowledge that consistency of design genius even if you didn't like the guy or believe in the Apple way of life?
Picasso wasn't liked by everyone and frankly if he were alive and I had coffee with him or something more at the time of his most creative days, its likely from what I've read I wouldn't have liked the man (as a woman), and yet....he's one of my favorite artists of all time. I look at his work and can be brought to tears from his genius. Steve has that gift and he has always delivered.
If you're wondering whether I'm equating Picasso's artistic genius to Steve's creative & innovative technology genius, I most definitely am. He deserves this honor. There are few who would deny it. And frankly, genius comes with a little baggage.
The baggage is there with all its bells and whistles with some of the greats I've had the pleasure to work with and for a lot of visionaries the world has ever seen -- authors, scientists, actors, creators, inventors. The list goes on.
As my grandfather who also wasn't an easy man to work for, used to say in so many words, "as long as you're "real" and honorable along the way and don't drag people down or run people over on the way, nearly everything is game. Go get it kid. This is America."
The world has lost a creative genius who inspired people who create for creation's sake, dream about things bigger than themselves, think about making the world a better place and don't, think about making the world a better place and do, and simply love and use Apple products.
My teary-eyed emotion tonight as I write this is centered around this: the man lived his dream every day until the day he died and he lived with conviction. (remember he only stepped down from Apple a couple of months before his death and rest assured they knew the end was near long before August). Since I coach companies on their marketing and social media strategies, things often come across my desk I know won't fly short or long term. They don't have "legs."
When I look at opportunities that come my way, I don't just look at the products, I look at team and most importantly, I look at the man or woman at the helm. I ask myself: is he/she aligned with their vision? Most aren't. Steve is and has always been my one pure example of a man who (like him or not) is aligned with his vision.
Great products aside, his alignment has been an instrumental part of Apple's success. Alignment is the of holy grail leadership in my humble opinion. It's what moves markets and moves mountains.
He loved what he created and wanted people's experience with technology to be transformed in ways no one else has touched. He was a visionary but only because he transformed experiences for people across three different industries: computers, film and music.
If entrepreneurs could understand the concept behind genius + passion + simplicity = transformation and nothing else, they might build products differently, investors might spend money differently and other products that we struggle with today might be transforming our lives the way Apple products do.
Two personal shares: I first met Steve when I was communications head at Dragon Systems, which was later acquired by Lernout & Hauspie and thereafter Nuance. Think speech recognition for those who don't know their history or their story.
I was backstage with my CEO Janet Baker at an Apple Developer's Conference somewhere on this fine pacific coast, Steve and his "corp comm handler" at the time, whose name I still don't remember. Why?
I was mesmerized by Steve's presence, his energy, his electricity and how focused he was about what he was planning to achieve on stage a half an hour later. We were a partner of some sort as much as you could be and stand alongside Steve on stage in front of Apple worshippers and believers.
Janet was in a flowing skirt as I remember it and Steve in jeans and a black crew neck and from a branding perspective, I was thinking 4 things simultaneously: how are we going to look and be perceived next to Jobs and Apple energy knowing there's ten rows of media in the front of the stage? how's my female CEO going to be perceived next to Jobs and Apple energy knowing there's ten rows of media in the front of the stage? what will being here mean for us as a player in the industry if we pull this off well with Steve's support and kudos on stage? AND fourth, He's Kinda Hot.
Memory number two was meeting him at a D Conference. Not that long in existence, Walt and Kara managed to get both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to participate in a fireside-like chat on more than one occasion and it was a special unique moment in our (the technology) industry to have them together, on stage, in an interactive dialogue under one roof.
I met him randomly in "group moments" between the late nineties and 2010, but they weren't solo moments like the previous two. (btw, speaking of D memories, they have honored his memory by making all videos of his interviews live here in their entirety). Thereafter, I shot Steve. Yes photography for those who don't know it's a major passion of mine.
One of the things I've learned as a photographer, whether you're shooting one-on-one in a studio, with nature as a backdrop, or in some obscure creative setting, it's an intimate moment and you see things AND learn things about your subject through new eyes.
Steve is fun to shoot and the memories still linger. I can only imagine what long-time AP photographer Paul Sakuma must be feeling right now given how many times he has followed him from behind his lens for over a decade.
Below is one of my favorite shots I took of him: (and below "it" is a visual look at his life from the 1970s to the 1990s, links to other news and feature sources, links to obituaries, links to videos, actual videos and a long list of tweets from the first few hours of his death).
Below, very early days:
More early days: Sal Veder (1984) with Steve Wozniak and John Sculley.
Taken by Richard Drew/AP. 1998 and below Ted Thai's shot for Time Life
Two images below: Louie Psihoyos: Corbis
Brand Ward: SF Chronicle/Corbis
Check out my D Conference write-up of Steve's interview including photos.
I'll end my personal tribute and comments with a boat-load of comments and shares from editorial sources I respect.
Below these summaries include additional photos, videos of his life, special Apple moments and a Twitter thread of tributes to Steve from many contacts in my own tweetosphere (inc my own), most of which flew out of people's PCs and phones within a few hours of news of his death.
Reactions, Responses and Insights...(photo from Gizmodo)
Says Time Magazine: With astonishing regularity, Jobs did something that few people accomplish even once: he reinvented entire industries. He did it with ones that were new, like PCs, and he did it with ones that were old, such as music. He was the most celebrated, successful business executive of his generation, yet he flouted many basic tenets of business wisdom. See the rest of the article on tribute to his death here. See Time's Top Apple Moments.
Says VentureBeat's Dylan Tweney: "He was often quoted as saying “we’re here to put a dent in the universe.” He did exactly that. From his earliest computers, co-developed with Steve Wozniak, to the smartphones and tablets that his company developed, Jobs showed a singleminded dedication to building products that were easier to use, better-looking and more intuitively useful than what had gone before. He liked to say that Apple’s products were “magical,” and if that’s the case, he was the marketing and technology magician behind the curtain. And if they weren’t exactly magic, Apple’s products were certainly a sufficiently advanced technology."
Huffington Post aggregated comments in a working story, Marketwatch merely reposted Apple's official statement which is below and Mashable more or less did the same. BoingBoing's tribute can be found here.
John Markoff from the New York Times article can be found here. Markoff quotes a Twitter user named Matt Galligan who wrote: “R.I.P. Steve Jobs. You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.” Hear hear. ZDNET's take: Steve Job's Big Lesson - Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
From ZDNET writer Larry Dignan: "Innovative. Quirky. Stubborn as hell. Controlling. Great leader. An artist eye for design with an engineer’s brain. Amazing legacy. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” I’d argue that Jobs is my generation’s Walt Disney.
He entertained. He delighted. And he built something enduring. Jobs was a disruptive force. Given the Disney comparison, it’s a bit ironic that Jobs wound up being Disney’s largest shareholder via the Pixar acquisition. More importantly, Jobs loved what he did. And pursued that love with a passion." The Atlantic Wire, Fast Company's tribute, the New Yorker from August 24, 2011, and Salon's article on The Insanely Great Comeback Kid where Andrew Leonard writes about Steve Jobs's resilience, "His comeback saga is a story of redemption, a fantasy epic in which a great king is toppled, but through force of will and grit and brilliance fights his way all the way back to the throne, and inaugurates an even greater empire."
They say: "Jobs was the first crossover technology star, turning Silicon Valley renown into Main Street recognition and paving the way for the rise of the nerds, such as Yahoo founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergay Brin. And by changing the way people interacted with technology, Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates transformed their era in much the same way Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller revolutionized theirs with the mass-produced automobile and the creation of Standard Oil." Gizmodo aggregates "shares" of others.
The Wall Street Journal had a very "newsy" headline that didn't capture anything about what we (a grand big we) feel about his loss. (it is the WSJ with an audience who doesn't sign up for emotion and so I get that - thank god for individual voices at times like this however.
While the traditional news sources did a great job at capturing his "kudos", they were very factual accounts of his life and while comprehensive, I was longing for some texture and color. Walt Mossberg did a great job at both. From All Things D's Wall Mossberg: The Steve Jobs I Knew, Walt is the only one who captured "human moments" about Steve from a major news source - thank YOU Walt for stepping up and capturing emotion in a tribute to a man who lived and breathed emotion.
In Walt's words: "That Steve Jobs was a genius, a giant influence on multiple industries and billions of lives, has been written many times since he retired as Apple’s CEO in August. He was a historical figure on the scale of a Thomas Edison or Henry Ford and set the mold for many other corporate leaders in many other industries."
Walt then goes on to write about a walk he took with him while Steve was in ill health. "He explained that he walked each day, and that each day he set a farther goal for himself, and that, today, the neighborhood park was his goal. As we were walking and talking, he suddenly stopped, not looking well.
I begged him to return to the house, noting that I didn’t know CPR and could visualize the headline: 'Helpless reporter Lets Steve Jobs Die on the Sidewalk.' But he laughed, and refused, and, after a pause, kept heading for the park. We sat on a bench there, talking about life, our families, and our respective illnesses (I had had a heart attack some years earlier.) He lectured me about staying healthy. And then we walked back. Steve Jobs didn’t die that day, to my everlasting relief. But now he really is gone, much too young, and it is the world’s loss."
ABC News says, "Industry watchers called him a master innovator -- perhaps on a par with Thomas Edison -- changing the worlds of computing, recorded music and communications. The Wire Cutter has a personal take on Steve Jobs. President Obama on the Passing of Steve Jobs: “He changed the way each of us sees the world.”
From Google's Sergey Brin: "From the earliest days of Google, whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than Cupertino. Steve, your passion for excellence is felt by anyone who has ever touched an Apple product (including the macbook I am writing this on right now). And I have witnessed it in person the few times we have met. On behalf of all of us at Google and more broadly in technology, you will be missed very much. My condolences to family, friends, and colleagues at Apple."
From Sir James Dyson: "He was dubbed a megalomaniac, but Steve Jobs often gambled on young, largely inexperienced talent to take Apple forward; Jony Ive and his team prove that such faith was spot on."
From CEO of Apple Tim Cook: "No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve's death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much."
Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg: "Tonight our City -- a city that has always had such respect and admiration for creative genius -- joins with people around the planet in remembering a great man and keeping Laurene and the rest of the Jobs family in our thoughts and prayers."
Meg Whitman, President & CEO of HP: "Steve Jobs was an iconic entrepreneur and businessman whose impact on technology was felt beyond Silicon Valley. He will be remembered for the innovation he brought to market and the inspiration he brought to the world."
Bob Eger, CEO of Disney: "Steve was such an 'original,' with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era. Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started. With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend."
Jerry Yang: "Steve was my hero growing up. He not only gave me a lot of personal advice and encouragement, he showed all of us how innovation can change lives.I will miss him dearly, as will the world."
Mark Zuckerberg: "Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you."
Steve Ballmer: “I want to express my deepest condolences at the passing of Steve Jobs, one of the founders of our industry and a true visionary. My heart goes out to his family." Apple's Website Tribute: "Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve lost a dear friend and inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple." Apple's Official Statement yesterday on the day of his death: "We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today. Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve. His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts."
Other Informative Links:
- Apple's Iconic Products Since the Beginning
- Top Apple Moments
- Apple Media Advisory (note to employees about his death).
- Interesting story on FutureWell entitled Do Celebrities Get the Best Care suggesting Steve's high-cost aggressive treatment may have sped up the course of the disease - speculative only at this point.
- The Atlantic: This Chart Proves that Steve Jobs is the Best CEO of this Generation.
- LA Times: Steve Jobs dies; Apple's co-founder transformed computers and culture
- Financial Times: Steve Jobs: 1955-2011
- The Guardian: Entrepreneur, Inventor, Genius
- Wired: Steve Jobs, 1955-2011
- Bloomberg: Steve Jobs Dies
- Reuters: Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs Dead at 56
- Gizmodo's Recap of shares
- Washington Post Photo Gallery.
- Mashable Great Steve Jobs Quotes.
- Sydney: http://media.smh.com.au/technology/tech-talk/steve-jobs-a-lasting-impression-2673421.html
- SF Store: Oct 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP0z1HkIwgQ
- Australia - why we love Steve: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/steve-jobs--visionary-to-virtuoso-20111006-1lakp.html
- More Australia: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/steve-jobs-dead-apple-confirms-former-ceo-loses-cancer-fight-20111006-1lag8.html
- Wired: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/10/jobs/all/1
- Steve demos Macintosh - 1984: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0FtgZNOD44&feature=player_embedded
- Guardian Life Career Video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/video/2011/oct/06/steve-jobs-life-career-video
- 2005 Commencement Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA
Steve Jobs Shows Off Macintosh: 1984:
Below is a stream of tweets from my Twitter world worth sharing:
- Photo 1: Apple Website in Tribute on October 5, 2011
- Photo 2: Apple - 1977
- Photo 3: Associated Press: 1984
- Photo 4: Ben Margot, AP - 1991
- Photo 5: NeXT - 1988
- Photo 6: Ben Margot - Associated Press 2003
- Photo 7 - Renee Blodgett, Magic Sauce Photography
- Photo 8: Very early days: Robert Foothorap
- Photo 9: Sal Veder, Associated Press 1984
- Photo 10: Diane Walker, Time eLife Pictures/Getty
- Photo 11: Eric Risberg/AP: 1990
- Photo 12: Richard Drew/AP: 1998
- Photo 13: Ted Thai for Time/Time Life Pictures/Getty
- Photo 14: Louie Psihoyos - Corbis
- Photo 15: Louie Psihoyos - Corbis
- Photo 16: Brand Ward - San Francisco Chronicle - Corbis
- Photo 17: Douglas Kirkland - Corbis
- Photo 18: Lou Dematteis/Reuters - 2003
- Photo 19: Susan Ragan - AP - 2003
- Photo 20: Marcio Jose Sanchez - AP - 2004
- Photo 21: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2004
- Photo 22: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2004
- Photo 23: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2005
- Photo 24: LA Times: 2006
- Photo 25: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2007
- Photo 26: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2007
- Photo 27: Tony Avelar - AFR - Getty Images
- Photo 28: Paul Sakuma - AP - 2008
- Photo 29: Eric Risberg in 2008
- Photo 30: Kim White/Corbis
- Photo 31: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2010
- Photo 32: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2010
- Photo 33: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg - Getty Images
- Photo 34: Renee Blodgett - Magic Sauce Photography (taken at D Conference)
- Photo 35: Gizmodo site (images of people who have shared comments and condolences)
- Photo 36: Paul Sakuma/AP - 2011 (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference)
- Photo 37: Tim Gough Image
Lastly from Apple: "Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple Inc.
September 29, 2011
Wes Moore: The Journey of a Generation & How to Transform Our Youth
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, promising business leader, most known for his book entitled The Other Wes Moore and spearheading the American strategic support plan for the Afghan Reconciliation Program that unites former insurgents with the new Afghan Government.
He is recognized as an authority on the rise and ramifications of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere. When he was a White House Fellow from 2006–2007, he served as a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In other words, a man who is doing something big, bold and electric with his life and my list of accolades has barely touched the surface.
Wes is passionate about supporting U.S. veterans and examining the roles education, mentoring and public service play in the lives of American youth. This passion came from his own childhood, where he didn't believe he would have made it if it weren't for his mother believing in him and making sacrifices so he could be where he is today.
He had people around him willing to say that this kid isn’t perfect and that he was worth fighting for. He emphasized this message in a recent talk I heard him give at the Idea Festival: Kids need to know that they're worth fighting for and someone is there standing by them to prove it.
Wes shared his journey and what led to him writing the book: The Other Wes Moore. The history and how it plays out: two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder, a story of two boys and the journey of a generation.
Here's how the story came to light:
In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.
Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?
That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that has lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices and the people in their lives would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.
He was in Kentucky not only to inspired the Idea Festival attendees, but everyone he came into contact with. Moore references a moving memory he had while he was in the army. A sergeant left parting words with his crew, which was: when it’s time for you to leave this planet, make sure that it mattered that you were ever here. What did you do to make humanity better and how did you used your time.
Hear hear Moore's sergeant who is clearly no longer with us, but his words live on.
What matters in life he asked the crowd? "Education, parenting and service matters," he responded before anyone else. "BUT," he adds, "expectations matter even more. We're products not of our environments but of our expectations." If Tony Robbins and Wes Moore haven't met, they should since they're in the same camp of thinking and something I subscribe to whole heartedly as well. As Tony so often says, "change your expectations, change your life."
Wes Moore was an inspiration and his words not only resonate but sit me days later as I'm sure they will years later. All it takes for people to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Isn't that the truth?
This is also the truth: don’t let where I am ever fool you where I’ve been AND don’t let wherever I am now fool you about where I’m going.
I really love this. As long as our thoughts and our actions can be aligned with the above statement, there's no telling what we can achieve.
I often think back to my own childhood and who inspired me most. Sure, I had family members and teachers make a huge difference like we all did, but so often, I hear something someone told me I barely knew -- in a hallway, on a sidewalk, on a mountain, in an elevator, on a bus -- in so many random places, that have changed the way I think about the world and had an impact on my decision making along the way.
Believing in kids and taking the time to be present with who comes into your path along the way can change lives. As long as kids know someone is willing to fight for where they’re willing to go and stand by them in the process, they have a chance to thrive. It could be the difference between success or death.
Wes adds insight that my grandfather also shared with me growing up. "Take the 5 second pause on all decisions. Whenever we make flash quick decisions, that’s when we get into trouble." I'd modify that timeframe to 5 minute pause, but you get the idea. This obviously doesn't just apply to kids.
Ask yourself: what’s the best case scenario about what I’m about to do and what is the worst case scenario about what I’m about to do? Take the pause and understand that there are people fighting for you and making sacrificing for you and that can change the entire direction of where you’re going.
He said he probably wouldn’t have written the book if it wasn’t for the other Wes. "My story isn’t interesting unless you understand my story in context," he says in response to the question. On the surface, they can look at these two people’s lives and what they have in common except for a name.
A split decision can either close or open doors and many times we don’t even realize how thin that line can be. "That’s why," says Wes, "its important to add a bit of compassion to how we look at the world."
That brings up the question of how do we all think about second chances? There’s not one person in the world who hasn’t needed a second chance in our lives, is there? And, it's important to remember that there’s a very thin line between second chances and last chances.
September 21, 2011
On Horses: Heading to Kentucky for the First Time
They go a bit like the ones I had of the Netherlands when it comes to stereotypes: long, sweeping luscious green hills with gorgeous horses scattered to your left and right, all well groomed and perfectly manicured.
Of course, all of these horses in my mind's eye were ready for a race at a moment’s notice and I imagined that these horses would connect with people somehow in ways they wouldn’t in other parts of the country. Where the hell that came from I have no idea, but typically expectations of how we view a culture or a place or a person comes from some tale or fable long buried in a childhood memory.
Both of my sisters center their lives around horses as do a few close friends. I grew up not far from Saratoga Springs, New York home to the annual month-long horse races they have every August, known locally as the “track.”
In upstate New York, my niece rides every week (English), participates in regular competitions, and one of my sisters houses nearly ten horses on her farm. She also holds weekly events at her home where people in the community come to ride and compete (Western).
I spent several years living in Epsom Surrey in England some 17 kilometers outside London where they hold races as well on the "Epsom Downs". And yet, I’ve never really learned the “art” of riding nor have I fallen for the spell that many who live in the horse world live.
That said, when I see horses, I melt at their beauty and grace. Being on one makes me feel closer to nature. Looking into a horse’s eyes makes me feel closer to understanding humanity.
Listening to their sounds makes me feel more peaceful. Watching them gallop makes me smile. Seeing photographs of horses in all their grandeur and beauty draws me into their world, eager to learn more.
And yet through all that, I haven’t dedicated my life or even part of it to riding. I think part of it is not through a lack of interest but because of other time commitments and passions.
Living a "horse life" is time consuming and expensive. I’m amazed at how much time my sister and her husband spend keeping their horses happy and healthy.
BUT oh god, are they beautiful. When I go into their barn, I love listening to the purrs and noises they make in the evening at the end of a long day. Since I’m not much for early mornings, my time in the barn has typically been mid-afternoon or towards the end of the day when they’re either bringing them in from the field, feeding them or they're getting them ready for a trip.
Recently, someone who boarded their horse in one of my sister’s stalls, was selling him to a buyer in California. I happened to be in the area at the time, so was there for the pick-up, which ended up being late at night since things always take longer than they we think they will, such as finding a remote farm on a Route something road in the Adirondacks.
A massive horse trailer pulled up on the side of this Route something road, put its flashers on and a man jumped out of the truck. His buddy who was sharing the 3,000+ mile drive across country was sleeping somewhere in the truck, in some tiny enclosed area not dedicated to the 8 or so horses he had on board.
We didn’t know a black stallion would be on board nor did the stallion know that he’d have to share a section of the truck with a non-stallion from upstate New York all the way to California. Territorial attitude, control and high energy set in as we moved the horse onto the trailer.
I could see my sister move to angst as she watched the horse’s eyes, which showed fear as he left his known stalls for an unknown journey along side an aggressive stallion who wanted everyone to know he was in charge.
I started feeling empathy for this horse as well, even though I just met him and didn’t have the history my sister did. The eyes say it all – with horses, with people, with life...Off he went on a journey across this massive wide country, into the unknown, into a new life, like so many of us do and don’t look back.
As I sat on a plane heading to Kentucky, I thought of so many images. I always imagined “driving” through Kentucky since I wanted to greet horse farms and meadows slowly, approaching them from a winding turn, where suddenly you're greeted with beautiful green valleys and hills and horses grazing on a late afternoon.
I imagined waiting for the sun to set as I just hung out with these Kentucky horses whose names I didn’t know, longing for their shadows and their end-of-day laziness to set in as the sun did, with me…..and we'd learn about each other together. And only then, I’d take my Canon out and slowly shoot them in all their glory with the late day sun’s stunning oranges, reds and yellows cradling them from behind.
This is what I imagined for my first encounter with Kentucky. As I’ve learned over the years, life greets you with things in the way life wants to give them to you. This doesn’t mean that I subscribe to fate and destiny and that we have no choice of how we experience a journey we wish to take, but what it does mean is that while we can control so many of our experiences in life, some of them we’re just dished, like spaghetti on a platter and our joy or sorrow comes from how we choose to take in the experience.
While the visuals will remain in my mind and I may see Kentucky again in the future, perhaps the next time by crossing a border from a neighboring state, this Kentucky experience would start by landing at Louisville International Airport late at night without any prior research or knowledge of the place.
I’d land, head to the hotel and see where the next few days would take me through spontaneous exploration, one of my favorite ways to travel. My first encounter with Kentucky may have horses in the journey or it may not, but the one thing remains true regardless of what experience I will have: it will be my first time to his beautiful state. And alas, the pilot speaks. We’re about to land…..
How We Need to Teach Our Daughters and Sons to Think & BE
A man who views her as property-and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her-and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women-and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man. And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."
The above was posted by a friend of a close friend. Thought it was "spot on" and wanted to share.
September 03, 2011
Eastern Europe Attitudes Shift as Tourism Leads & Corrupts the Way
Life was different and people were present more often than not, so lacking even in a 1980 and 1990-something America.
The wild west didn't have cell phones and we weren't glued to social networks, yet we still weren't as present and as engaged as Europeans were, at least that was my first experience of the place -- on the continent and the UK.
I've been back to Europe dozens of times since I moved back to the states, but more often than not, the goal was less about being committed to a life there and more about networking or sadly, even shopping. Or, a conference. Yawn.
In recent years, at meet-ups and conferences, everyone had their laptops open and cell phones handy so the "chat" was more to it than it was with each other. Yes, even in Europe, largely because the events were within a particular ecosystem, the one I live in inside the bowels of Silicon Valley -- technology.
I went on a walkabout to London (one of the places I lived btw) a few years back and decided to disengage from technology and re-engage with people and my trusty Canon 7D. One result aside from quality time with old South African and English friends in the burbs was a photo book entitled: Faces of London. I probably "shot" 10,000 photos during my time there across at least a dozen neighborhoods and had nothing short of a blast.
Even though I had "alone" time on my European "city" trips (Paris, Munich, Dublin, Rome, etc) in recent years, I didn't have the same kind of deja vu moments I had in Prague and Budapest over the past couple of weeks.
It started in Budapest where I met with a few start-ups and by chance, was lucky to be there for their annual "Independence Day" equivalent. I stayed along the river at a boutique 4 star hotel, one with a fabulous view of Parliament.
While I have done business with western and northern Europe, I haven't directly worked with Eastern Europe. In London, you can do a walkabout and get completely lost in the fabric of the city and no one will quite notice.
In Eastern Europe, even though physically I could blend in with the city's fabric, there are less tourists and the kind of tourists are likely different than what you'd find on the streets near Knightsbridge and the UK's own Parliament. The same applies to Paris.
What I forgot about the east was how structured things were despite the fact that in many ways, their bohemian past makes them rule-breakers rather than conformers. Like the rest of Europe, they seem to be obsessed with privacy so conversations about social media tend to get interesting.
AND, like southern Europe, things move at a snail's pace. If I send an email at 10 pm on a Friday night at home in California, chances are that email is answered by Saturday morning if I'm pinging someone in the states, east OR west coast. If you want to continue a discussion from a Friday meeting that went from 10 to 2 on a Friday, chances are you won't pick up that dialogue until Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the earliest. (not abnormal of course but in the land of technology start-ups, no response for 3 days feels like an eternity, at least to this overly connected baby).
I was hooked up with an iPhone on Tmobile which didn't work more than it did. That said, there were a number of free Internet cafes in both Budapest and Prague so if I really wanted to give the cities amiss, miss out on the history and culture and merely be connected, it wouldn't be too difficult to do so. Hotels still charge a fortune a day for connectivity and it's not always that fast.
Being connected and "staying" connected makes it pretty hard to truly be present with a destination's history, antiquity and human stories, all of which capture 700 year old castles, its walls and ceilings not to mention the nearby cathedral's altars and stained glass windows.
What was interesting about this trip was the polarity of things. On one hand, I was not as inspired to "shoot" as much as I normally am; somehow I anticipated I'd shoot 30,000 photos or more of romantic Prague, pegged the Paris of the east.
Yet, because of the commercialism I couldn't seem to escape from, I found it hard to be connected to my surroundings because in the foreground, there were countless groups of tourists with cameras and brightly colored sneakers and segway tours with loud-mouthed guides shouting at the dozen of so people in its wake.
Even in Paris, one of the most visited city in the world, I can still barter in a market, but in Budapest and Prague, they were less willing to barter and their prices were steep, i.e., $40 for a barrette sold by a street vendor, $70 for a plate of salad, pasta (no meat) and one glass of wine, $200 for pottery, and so on.
While entrepreneurism wasn't at the core of their attitudes, something had shifted and it was much worse in Prague than Budapest which is much less commercial.
In Prague, tour buses zipped in, leaving droves of people in groups who followed those in front of them like sheep not really lisening to their tour guide who spent far too long telling the history of a brick statue than anyone should.
"Dribble, dribble, 14th century, dribble dribble," her voice echoed as about a quarter of the audience tried to follow along while others snapped shots of the statue they'll never remember the name of later. Then there were others who were merely starring off into the distance, still trying to recover from jetleg.
I ducked under and above the dribble and the wall of people who stood so close that it was hard for me to find my way to a free space. Alas, freedom. Blue sky. Clouds. Soft wind. Breeze. And then, more of them pile out, clinging to each other for safety and belonging, only later to be found at some Americanized or Anglicized pub where everyone speaks English and all the menus have prices listed in Euros as their primary currency.
In Prague, I found myself in angst by day four, ready to declare Prague the Eastern European Disneyland, a city who sadly sold its soul to the yanks, with its McDonalds and KFC scattered through its old town. Local artists have grown so accustomed to the tour buses and wealthy tourists that small photos were $30 and above on the Charles Bridge and a small regular coffee was about $4 a pop.
Grant you, I began to realize quite awhile ago now that the U.S. was on its way to being a third world country and its currency was going along with that title: Thank You George Bush. It was no more prominent in a place like Prague where prices felt more like Paris than East Europe, some of which was the result of the dollar being in the toilet. 20-something year olds even remarked how they remembered the dollar being at 40 when they were younger (5-8 years ago) and today it stands at about 15-16 to the Czech currency making most purchases a serious consideration more than an impulse buy.
Other aspects of disenchantment and disillusion had to do with the fact that Prague had become so commercialized that it was hard to break free from its Disney-like facade. The only way to avoid it was to jump on a metro or tram, choose a funky neighborhood ten or so stops out, get off and start walking. (away from town).
And, so I did. There was no other choice really. Not wanting to declare Prague a commercial write-off (it's beauty is far too magnificent and its musicians too awe-inspiring), I discovered side-streets and neighborhoods that locals told me.
I requested grit and grunge. I requested working class communities. I requested graffiti. I requested former bomb shelters. I requested local pubs and bars. I requested cafes with local prices and local service. I requested parks and steps, stairs and alleyways. I requested stone walls, weathered and torn. I requested places that didn't have places to serve me at all, but merely buildings, houses and terraces where people lived and life was exactly the same every day.
The discovery process began of course, but like every European city, you really need a few months (a year is better) to really get acquainted with its smell, culture, nuances and quirks. The more I meandered outside the inner walls, the longer I wanted to stay. The more I got stuck in old town and the tourist areas, which seem to spread for miles in Prague, the more I wanted to leave. (even Paris felt less saturated I thought).
I met 26 year old Marek, who told me his life story. I found him on a side street and intrigued by the fact that he was in old-fashioned overalls, I learned about his trips to various countries, all of which were escapes from commitment and a "real job," the primary reason he left Prague in the first place.
He would work for a month or so at high wages, so he'd have enough in his pocket for a few months of travel and then the cycle would repeat itself. (not uncommon for adventure-types in their early twenties, but I got the sense that Marek -- a high school drop-out -- would be doing this two decades from now.
He lived on "weed" and not much else. Connections with interesting people and diversity seemed to be important to him and after awhile (a long while), he admitted to the main thing missing in his life: a woman in his life, just one. Aren't we so much more alike than we are different, despite our demographics, despite our income levels, despite our goals?
Then there was the placid nature of my late twenty year massage therapist in Prague. She didn't seem to know the protocols of more formerly trained therapists yet she listened to what you needed and responded like a robot. I found it hard to find a male masseuse and wondered how much that had to do with protocols and culture than it did interests, norms and trends.
Everyone seemed to be afraid to break the rules, whether that was giving you a cup of tea 15 minutes after the breakfast dining room closed or sampling a taste of ice cream because there were 25 flavors to choose from. (on that front, the ice cream in both Budapest and Prague were so well presented, you thought for sure you must be in Italy not Eastern Europe -- and might I add, ten times more tasty than the U.S.)
My experience of Prague was about as close to my memory of it from the mid-eighties as Disneyland is from central Africa. Because of its intense overly processed structure, I had to move beyond my notion that Prague sold out to the yanks -- from its coffee to its tour buses to its castle tours and postcards to its outlandish prices.
The talent of the local musicians made most of this melt away, not to mention the incredible textures in the bridge walls and other antiquated buildings in the city. Then there was the outstanding art, conversations with local vendors and shop owners and overdoing it daily with chocolate, wine, duck, venison, lamb, foie gras and other such delicacies without feeling guilty for taking it all in.
Certainly a different experience than twenty years ago or even ten. The East has caught up with the west even if its governments have not. Go but go with more research and be sure to get out of the city centers into the neighborhoods and have conversations with people -- young and old -- and hear their stories. After all, isn't that what makes every trip memorable?
August 22, 2011
The Music Doesn't STOP in Budapest!
I feel as if I'm about ten, have just come back from music camp and my life is full of endless possibilities. It's as if I fell upon a candy fountain oozing with different vibes and rhythms from around the world, and they're firing out rainbows of melodies, each one asking me to be part of its creation.
This isn't a mash-up and I'm not even online. All day, I wandered the streets of Budapest getting fed, not with food, but with song. The soul is so full after a day of song that it forgets about food, even with plenty of it around.
With Vienna only a couple of hours away, I felt as if I could have been within its walls, the music permeatration was so intense. Yet, it's not Vienna, but -- some would say -- its less cultured cousin, Budapest, split by the Danube River so that Budapest doesn't even call its city its own entirely - one side gets Buda and the other gets Pest.
My first and only memory of the place was in the mid-eighties and music was first and foremost in my mind, even in an era when East Europe was mostly gray and full of restrictions. I was very young and had not yet been exposed to composition -- REAL composition that is, despite the fact that both art and music teachers had tried. We were in some traditional old world restaurant eating goose & duck and drinking Cabernet before I knew you could have orgasms on the stuff. Around us swam violin players who played throughout the entire meal, one which lasted six hours long and ended with a $25 bill including several deep, luscious reds.
I remembered the violin because both players were so damn good. Every form of expression, whether it be on the keyboard, or on a blank white canvas, happens for me at a visceral level. Back then however, I wouldn't have known a great violin player from a good one and yet, I was stopped in my tracks.
The musicians forced me to stop eating and pay attention. They forced me to understand composition. They forced me to cry at their nearly perfect musical offering. They forced me to hear their texture, whether I was in the mood or ready to understand it or not.
Exceptional talent forces great things on you when you're ready to listen, which I almost always have been, other shortcomings aside.
Exceptional talent stops you in your tracks and then somehow, you're fundamentally changed because you listened and because you heard what they had to say.
Budapest spoke to me all day, starting with folk music at the top of the hill in some enclave within Buda Castle. It was "okay" (better than average), most definitely 'local' but more than anything else, the musicians were committed. God, I love that word. (it's probably because I live on the west coast of America now where I feel as if I'm swimming among the least committed people I've ever settled down with and that's after spending time "settling" in 11 countries).
After the "okay but very committed" folk music performance, I fell upon traditional music which included the top Hungarian dancers from around the world, each one doing a chosen number within a three hour period. All of them were, yes...you got it, committed.
Each in their native custume attire, they flew out on stage ready to perform, none of them fearful or worried about people shooting them with a still or video camera, none of them caring where their "performance -- their committed performance" would show up.
In the states, where the Internet and social media reign, its amazing how much performers care about the potential publicity a 2 minute clip would lose in revenue despite how much publicity and connection it would generate. Then there's their publicists, agents, handlers and middle men.
The Hungarian performers said "bring it on," as their committed selves showed up and played 200% in front of the camera and when the light was no longer green. I get that Hungarian culture doesn't embrace entrepreneurship and so you could argue that their lack of loving green paper has kept them behind socially and economically.
Having an entrepeneur spirit myself, there's no question when I saw a tent loaded with interesting pottery created by the Secondary Technical-Vocational School of Folk Arts and Secondary Academic Grammar School, that I was annoyed that the art was not for sale when every other tent was collecting money for their 'creations.' Let them sell I, I thought. "Teach them entrepreneurship. Profits from their pottery could go towards a future dream," I said to the late thirty-something very blue-eyed woman who struggled with my response. (Below, their beautiful masterpieces)
I knew she understood some of what I said but also knew that my plea was one that would be noted but not transferred into something actionable in the next 60 days, and so I made my pitch, told her the work was stunning and moved on.
From folk to traditional to guitar (one called the ZITHER, which had me mezmorized in the same way that the Indonesian gamelan does does), to world music and Mbaye Ndiaye & the Afro Magic Band, which has its roots from Senegal but did a nice job blending African, reggae, jazz and global fusion together.
Within the hour, I was up on stage dancing with their lead drummer (solo btw) and shortly thereafter dancing with Gabor stage right, a blue-eyed Russian, who while may have been adorable, had so much alcohol on his breath that I had to politely decline after our first attempt at a cha cha to a slow-ish African jazz number.
The performers went out of their way to bring the children on stage and coach them on not just how to dance, but how to move by feeling their way to the rhythm simply by listening. It was fascinating and I loved every minute of it.
I was sorry to see Mbaye Ndiaye pack up...their energy and spirit only made me crave more of it. And so, I meandered over to another area of the massive hill which houses the castle only to discover more folk dancing and guitar, soon to be followed by traditional Gypsy (also spelled Gipsy) music which carried on for another 3 hours.
While it may be hard to dance on uneven cobblestone ground that is well over 500 years old, it was even harder not to try. I ran into a Scientologist who looked like Joseph (yes, Jesus' Joseph) who was selling corn on the cob while simultaneously trying to convert me in VERY broken English, all while tapping his foot to the Gypsy band.
I had already gleefully become ten again and full before I left the castle, when I suddenly fell upon more live music. I was on a search for one of the old world bars, bistros, cafes or restaurants recommended by my host, friends and a bunch of online pals who sent me great suggestions via Twitter and Facebook.
I had crossed the chain bridge, hung a right looking for the decadent chocolate stand on the street (she must only set up on Friday and Saturday nights I quietly cursed), knowing that I had been thinking about that dark chocolate pistachio and cranberry creation for half the day. I asked for directions from a local cafe to two different locations and was told it was a 25 minute walk.
The backpack was heavy with camera lenses and a fabulous set of hand-painted coasters I picked up with a local artist along the way, yet I was in it for the haul, so re-adjusted my bag and foot bandaids (necessary for any Europe trip where you're wearing sandals and plan to do a lot of walking) and began my journey towards my Hungarian bistro on the other side of town.
And then I heard it. Clapping. Voices. Cello. Violin. The violin...ahhh, it purred. This was no ordinary violinist, something I could tell from four blocks away. I was told to scout down Lakatos and hear him play if he was in town for a performance but little did I know that I'd get a surprise I hadn't anticipated: Zoltan Maga accompanied by the Vac Symphony Orchestra, playing outside the Szent Istvan Bazilika, a church named for Saint Stephen I, the first King of Hungary.
Imagine the scene: a gorgeous, ancient white-stoned church named after a Hungarian King on a warm summer night.
The moon was out, glistening over hundreds of people sitting outside, sprawled on chairs and the ground while an orchestra of cellos, violins, tubas, saxophones and clarinets played. Zoltan Maga's passion was addictive as his talent for the violin led the way, together with the conductor and nothing -- I mean nothing -- could have distracted you from the two hours of musical joy.
What I failed to remember is the influence of Austrian music greats at the time when Hungary used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Because of that, people appreciate classical music and embrace it. The country combines composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn) coming from Austria/Germany with strong Hungarian folk and gypsy blends.
AND, Hungary has its own greats, the most famous being Liszt, followed by Bartok, two of the all-time greats. Kodaly is probably next followed by Kurtag and Ligeti, who are two of the most prominent classical composers from the last 60 years -- both Hungarian.
To top it off, they have an amazing number of top-rank conductors: Ormandy, Szell, Dorati, Solti, Reiner, Kertesz, and Fischer. And then there's their pianists: Kocsis, Schiff, Fricsay.
Crikey, it's no wonder I felt like ten, that the world has endless possibilities and that incredible talent was following me around the city all day -- and night.
Thanks Budapest for the incredible memories and the musical talent, all of which was infused with so much passion and commitment that it made me dream of practicing piano again and the idea of searching for a saxophone teacher as soon I got home.
Below, Zoltan Krulik and the Makam Band!
August 20, 2011
The Connecting Flight, The One Following the Mad Tearing Run…
The flight is delayed and you have to make that connection….or else.
It seems to happen to me more often these days and I’m not sure if that’s the result of airlines having less planes available resulting in fewer connecting flights or the fact that systems are just breaking down.
Certainly, most of the internal systems are antiquated or ridiculously absurd and don’t have a lot of logic.
For example, recently I was on an Air France flight to Paris and had to catch a connection to Budapest. I saw the connection time on the flight itinerary and in “theory” it seemed fine. After all, it was a connecting flight and for some odd reason despite how much I’ve traveled, I thought there’d be one of those “side lanes” where you could transfer to another flight within Europe. You know, arrive at gate C and just walk down a hallway to Gate D and board your plane. Logical right?
The flight was actually on time (ish) however it took awhile to settle at the gate delaying gate arrival by 15’ish minutes. Again, in theory, I didn’t think I’d have a problem making the connection. After all, I was arriving in Gate C and I was departing out of Gate D (Gate D2 that is) from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Sure, I knew it was massive but as I was scurrying out, the Air France agent assured me it was close, repeating the C and D twice, which certainly seemed logical to me as well.
I started with a brisk walk but not a sprinting one until I realized that D was nowhere close to C since the signs for it kept reappearing after every corner turn and after yet another walking escalator disappeared behind me, there was another one on the horizon with D2 off in the distance.
We’ve all done a short sprint but this one seemed to never end until I finally stopped to ask an Air France staffer who was lingering in a busy hallway with a clipboard pressed up against her. “Budapest D2” I gasped short of breath. “Pardon,” she replied. “BUDAPEST, DAY-EH DEUX” I said, gasping even more dying for my bottle of water which had fallen from my carry-on backpack by this point.
“Tout de doit and sortie,” she motioned. “Sortie,” I thought, NO, I don’t want Sortie, I have a connecting flight. When I heard Sortie and realized she wanted me to exit, I said to her exasperated, “I have a connecting flight, une connection a Budapest. Je ne reste pas ici a Paris.” She pointed straight ahead and repeated Sortie.
So what does a seasoned traveler do with 15 minutes to go, knowing that their flight “in theory” was supposedly already boarding. She sprints of course.
Now, I’m not a marathon runner and nor am I in the best shape of my life, but having grown up as an athlete, the muscle remains. In other words, it re-emerges when it needs to, in cases of emergency or when you know you’ve spent far too much time in front a PC monitor and your body is desperate for a little oxygen.
I was wearing out and not getting a minute of sleep on my 10 hour flight didn’t help matters. When I saw the long line through passport control, I panicked as my heart raced. “Fuck,” I thought, I really don’t want to miss this flight. It’s not that I mind getting stuck in Paris, but getting stuck at an airport waiting for a small plane heading east after a half day of travel across 4 time zones wasn’t my idea of fun. Besides, Hungary was waiting.
In fact, Hungary was calling in a loud voice, saying, “Renee, you’ve been to Paris hundreds of times, I’ve been waiting for your Gypsy spirit to come taste my wine, come eat my beef medallions and my goose pate.”
I firmly but politely grabbed another Air France rep explaining the urgency, flashing my ticket and pointing to my watch which I had just changed five minutes before the plane landed. She took pity on me and ushered me through an empty line, obviously waiting for loud, late, ill-mannered Americans like me. (after all, aren’t we all?)
Passport control man was in no hurry despite seeing me out of breath and sweating and I knew it didn’t help when I hurriedly said in my pathetic French, “Je ne reste pas ici, Je suis en retard pour mon vol de Budapest.”
Quietly I was cursing, thinking, what the hell are they giving me a stamp for when I’m going to be here for 15 minutes? I also knew that the number of pages and blocks which could be stamped was running out and I still had a few years left on this passport. Slowly and smugly, I got my stamp and flew like a bird running from a cat who hadn’t eaten in days.
Sortie was ahead of me but when I re-entered, I noticed that I was somehow standing in the middle of F. Where the hell did D go I thought? It looked like arrivals and I started to move from exasperated to pissed. What kind of connection was this I thought? 45 minutes to get through Immigration’s long line and find your way half way (no, all the way) across what should be one terminal (C to D)?
Here I could speak the language (enough anyway) and was sprinting like a failed marathon runner but one who had a reason to win, and yet boarding had already begun according to my ticket 20 minutes ago and I had not even gone through a NEW security gate.
Security found me amusing no doubt as I whipped off my belt with fury like I was ready to have quick and passionate sex with a 23 year old lover. My boots came flying off as did my jewelry and I was sweating up a storm, as if the sex was already over and it was the best I ever had.
My hair was tossled, my brow was wet, my light cover up was off which showed that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
FINALLY, a sexy polite French security agent who wasn’t 23 came to my rescue. He smiled as he assured me I would make my flight and that I was in D2. but still had to get to D70 WITHIN D2. But, he added, “it’s just around the corner. I’m trying to help.”
Carry me I thought, that’s how you can help. Show up in one of those airport mini-trucks that shuttle the handicapped and seniors and make the damn thing go faster than you think its capable of going. Whisk me away. Call them and tell them to hold the plane for 30 minutes and let’s do a driveby the Air France First Class Lounge for a Parisian cappuccino & some pate for the road and then drop me off in front of my plane.
I imagined him kissing my hand bidding me Au Revoir after he completely turned my nightmare mad dashing run across the entire Charles de Gaulle airport into a nice sweet travel memory.
Cursing under my breath but remaining focused like a good seasoned traveler always does, I made a hard “gauche” after exiting security where they confiscated my mini-bottle of Merlot from my last flight. I looked up and saw the number 58. Of course I was at 58 and of course, the Budapest flight would be 70, at the EEEENNNNNNDDD of the hall. And, so I sprinted.
Nothing about arriving in Paris felt like Paris but thankfully I had so many positive memories of Paris that it would be easy to give this one amiss.
Even if the plane didn’t screw around at the gate for 15-20 minutes, anyone would be hard pressed to make this connection with the long immigration line, the distance they had to travel, and the likelihood that they didn’t speak French if they got lost on the way…easy to do at Charles de Gaulle and easy to do if you’re not a seasoned travel.
Puffing (and huffing) and puffing, I flicked my passport and ticket at the woman standing behind the gate who was about as calm, collected and type Z as you can get.
It was 12:39 and the flight was supposed to take off (up in the air, take off) by 12:45 pm. Obviously the flight was late, so while I was catching my breathe, I asked how late it was. “It’s not late,” the woman behind her said.
Hmmm, I thought. No one was on the plane yet, I was informed they were still cleaning it, yet 6 minutes before take-off and they didn’t classify it as late. Welcome to Hungary I thought, although both agents were clearly French.
I did one of those circular paces that people do when they need to think for a minute. (clearly that is). I circled around 3 or 4 times and then made a slow-paced walk over to the coffee stand where I learned that a bottle of water with the horrific U.S. dollar exchange rate would cost me $8. Had I ever been to Europe when the U.S. dollar was weaker than the Canadian one? At a time, when there are plays, comedians and talk show hosts talking about China as the new super power and America as a third world country?
I didn’t want to think about the exchange rate or the likely $10 beers and $500 shoes that lay ahead which was unlikely to be the case in Hungary since they weren’t on the Euro and I figured I’d lay low and avoid purchases in Paris to and from until Obama fixed SOMETHING, anything, so I could return and buy those $500 shoes for $200 again.
I opted against the $8 water and flopped down on a bright pink “kitch” plastic couch that wrapped around a plant sitting in a bright pink "kitch" plastic pot. It only then occurred to me that I made my flight and as I was looking for napkins at a nearby café to wipe my sweaty body down, a 15 year old Italian girl came down and sat next to me, bumping into me twice when she did so, despite the fact that there was a ton of space on the other side of her.
As we boarded, I stripped down even more since the mad tearing sprint caught up with me and not only was I sweaty but I was baking.
As I got close to the entrance to the plane, I could see the Paris day through the open crack and feel the August sunshine and feel the warm breeze coming through, hitting my face, blowing my hair back just slightly. AHHH yes, Paris in the summer I thought.
There’s nothing like boarding a plane from a place where the weather is fabulous knowing that you’re going to a place you really want to see and knowing that the weather is fabulous there too. The last time I had been to Budapest was in the mid-eighties. Yes, really.
I flopped in my seat, which had no one next to me and the seats were slightly wider than normal with an actual place to sit two drinks to my left. Recline worked. I was in the front. The Hungarian flight attendant handed me a bottle water when she saw the way I looked and I settled in for my 2+ hour flight on Malev, an airline I had never flown before.
Budapest, I reflected as my heart rate started to finally slow down. Gypsies, artists, dreamers, foodies, lovers of wine, musicians, old souls and historians. I remembered an “old world” dining experience I had with an ex-boyfriend so many years ago, where the violin players circled around us and I thought of how young I was. A kid really. What did I know of violin players and good red wine? Or duck, liver, pork, mousse, goulash and cured ham?
And then I smiled when I remembered I was coming to meet technologists not gypsies. From Silicon Valley to Hungary because there’s a wealth of incredible engineers in Budapest I was told and knew I would soon discover. As for my host?
Look for the bald man he had said. I thought, “would there really only be one bald Hungarian at the airport?” “Some say I’m as wide as I am tall,” he had added. A little more data I thought, certainly more than Air France provided me about my connecting flight.
I drifted off curled in an arch, my last visual memory of blue sky and powdery white clouds through my window, knowing that Germany was below us by that point. Hungary is waiting for me I thought as I drifted off into my thirty minute nap. Hungary is waiting for me.
August 20, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On France, On Geo-Location, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, South America, Travel, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack