July 03, 2013
Honoring the Legendary Inventor of the Mouse...Doug Engelbart
Today, the renowned inventor of the computer mouse, Doug Engelbart, passed away at the age of 88. While he is known to be a legend among many of the technology illuminaries, he is two generations behind me and the technology world I knew in New England so his name wasn't on my radar when I first landed in Silicon Valley. That said, despite the fact that I haven't yet lived in the Bay Area for a decade, I was coincodently introduced to him within months of moving here.
You see, coming from Boston's more conservative and traditional world of tech, I didn't really know where to begin when I first moved out here, who mattered or could get me a "job." Six or seven years ago, I really didn't know that many people and so I started to "network like hell," only to realize that getting a "job" would be the last thing on my mind.
In the early days, Sylvia Paull, Ben Gross and Michael Tchong led me around a bit, John Battelle invited me to a few things, a few people I had met from Intel, Adobe and Microsoft and Oracle put me on lists, but for the most part, it was watch, listen and well....just show up everywhere. My friend Sandy Rockowitz who I knew from back east told me about the events he went to and since Sandy was the geekiest friend I knew at the time (oh how that has changed), I figured I'd start to hang out where he hung out.
It took me longer than it should have to realize that not all geeks are alike and spending my time at engineering meet-ups in Berkeley, the SV Forum and SD Forum wasn't exactly where right brain technology people hung out. BUT, they were such fabulous places to learn.
Truth be told, SD Forum was where I got my kicks in the early days and where I met some of my earliest geek friends.
They knew the lay of the land and the "language", not the venture capitalists. Doug Engelbart and those who followed his work were the kinds of folks who showed up there, so suddenly I started hearing about people like Doug Engelbart in those circles. I learned about his life as well as names that anyone under 40 or even 50 might not have heard of, like Paul Friedl, Daniel Tellep, John G. Linvill, David Hodges, Dan Maydan and others.
Soon after making California home, I got to meet the legendary Doug Engelbart at some function I can't now recall and then in 2005 at a speaker dinner I was invited to. Doug was actually at my table as was my bud Tom Foremski who wrote a wonderful write-up and tribute today about his death as well. We were both in awe at how people marveled at his accomplishments as if he was long gone and not actually hanging out with us in the room.
As Tom points out, John Markoff, and many members of the Homebrew Club, and former colleagues of his spoke about Doug's incredible influence on their work, ideas, and how he changed their lives. We learned about this man from the inside and as Tom so eloquently writes, "it seemed as if he was the Buckminster Fuller of Silicon Valley in terms of how insightful and how brilliant he was, in story after story shared by people at the event. Others compared him to Leonardo DaVinci."
It was a treasured moment and frankly, I felt as if I was (and probably was) the only right brain at the event. This of course made it even more treasured. Doug moved me in those two encounters I had with him in such a short period of time, and through the stories so many others around us shared that I decided to meet him again. Thanks to Bill Daul, the meeting happened, as I was keen to include him in a book project I was (and am still working on) about innovators in the industry who are driven by their hearts moreso than their heads.
On that memorable day two years ago (May 2011), his wife Karen led me into their Silicon Valley home and out into the back garden where we had tea and biscuits and talked. The sun was shining, the garden was beautiful and Doug wore a smile all afternoon.
The day brought me joy and snapping photos of this intelligent, creative, amusing and inspiring legend was more than just memorable. It falls into the realm of magic moments which all of us have over the course of our personal and professional lives.
His work touched my professional life and made me remember and respect the people I worked with in the speech recognition industry for so many years. They too were trying to change the way we interacted with the world in a way that would be transformative....like Doug and other technology visionaries like him. As Clint Wilder said in a Facebook comment when I posted about his death, "this is the passing of an era."
Yes, it is. It was an era of Silicon Valley that this generation won't ever truly know or understand. It was a time when these legends were changing a paradigm of all communication, not enhancing a digital one one we already have.
Legends like Doug don't build mobile games, check-in apps, quirky photo apps or another social media network. They work on things that will change the way we not just interact with the world, but see the world.
John Markoff wrote a great book entitled: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, which pointed out that Doug Engelbart didn't get the recognition he deserved, specifically for yes, the mouse, but also for timesharing, which allows many users to share the same computer. Take a look at the 1968 demo which altered the ideas of what people thought was possible. In that historical demo of the mouse, the world first saw hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.
I write this post in honor of him today...for the work he did, for the history and memories he created and for the lives he touched. Rest in peace Doug Engelbart, rest in peace!
Note: I shot the above photos in his backyard on that memorable day in May 2011, a little over two years ago.
June 28, 2013
Meet Startup Reykjavik, Iceland's #1 Accelerator Program
When I was in Iceland this month for Startup Iceland, an event started by serial entrepreneur Bala Kamallakharan, I had the opportunity to meet a host of locals working on start-up initiatives.
Leading up an effort within the Startup Iceland community is Kristján Freyr Kristjánsson, who is spearheading Iceland's #1 Accelelerator program: Startup Reykjavik.
Startup Reykjavik is similarly structured to TechStars but open for any type of businesses to apply. The program includes ten teams (16k at 6% across 10 weeks) and ends with an investor day on August 23, 2013. It kicked off while I was there and one of the team building exercises was to take 20 or so entrepreneurs into the interior of Iceland's natural wonderland for games and bonding. They headed to a place called Thorsmork, within the Þórsmörk Nature Reserve where they had pow-wows in volcano huts and hiked, a little different from our pizza and soda networking shindigs in Silicon Valley.
Here is an overview of the teams for this year's program:
- Mindlantis: While helping children discovering their true potential, they make high quality products based on their ideas.
- Activity Stream: They enable capture, processing, visualization and reporting of Business Activity Information - in real time - cloud based.
- Golf Pro Assistant: GolfPro Assistant is a web app designed for golf professionals to help them manage all aspects of running a golf teaching business.
- SARdrones: SARdrones develops unmanned drones and image analysis software for search and rescue purposes in barren landscapes.
- Snjohus Software: Snjóhús is a two man team, programmer and artist, working to make high quality apps.
- Silverberg: Designing and developing a measuring equipment for fitness centers, along with a software solution where users can track their progress.
Non-Tech companies (e.g. Bio-tech, Fashion, Alumnium Roller coaster, Whiskey Brewery)
- Herberia: Herberia fills the gap between unregistered natural products and medicines by manufacturing herbal medicines of the highest quality.
- Y-Z: Y-Z is an innovative fashion brand aimed at forward thinking women - classic design with avant garde flexibility.
- Zalibuna: Zalibuna will design and build a one man rollercoaster in the most traveled area of Iceland, Kambarnir.
- Þoran Distillery: The Þoran project it the brainchild of a few like-minded individuals who dream of establishing the first whisky distillery in Iceland.
They have 10 alumni teams and a database of 100 Icelandic startups they have been helping through the past years, with roughly $20 million invested so far. Below are some of the entrepreneurs who participated and are part of the startup scene, from the Hackathon, the Startup Iceland and the entrepreneurs who will be part of this year's accelerator group.
May 31, 2013
All Things D 2013 Wrap: Rockets, Authentification Pills & Speech to The Future of TV
All Things D just held their 11th annual conference in Rancho Palos Verdes California this past week. Imagine a few hundred billionaire and millionaire game changers in a room at an oceanside resort, discussing the latest digital technology trends that impact a host of industries: from government, retail and consumer electronics to mobile advertising, digital TV and everything in between. It makes you wonder: Are we moving to a world that looks something like this?
Some of the trends and reccuring themes are not new this year, but they are more pressing as storage gets cheaper, bandwidth gets faster and it is becoming more common to program your home and tap into a mobile device for nearly everything we do.
How people think about things that were once a Star Trek-like discussion are now becoming reality: energy sources, Google Glass that brings virtual and augmented reality to life in more ways than one, electric versus gas powered cars, a trip to Mars if you have a bank account big enough to afford a ticket, wearable devices and how we will view what we now call TV in the next decade. And, that's just the beginning.Some of the leading CEOs and thought leaders driving change in this space were on the D stage this year, hosted by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.
Mary Meeker who I have tremendous respect for and think of among other things as the "Data Chick", shared her annual Internet trends. No one I know can better convey data faster with as much content as she has in a way that is comprehensable to both geeks and creatives. She somehow manages to get through to both. Here's her latest report.
Two themes which continue to come up again and again are privacy and security despite prolific users of social networks and geo-based services like Foursquare suggesting that they no longer matter.
Where else would fingers be pointed than Facebook? Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg took the stage to address those issues in the first day's morning session. A Wall Street Journal reporter asked her about "trust."
He raises the issue of snapchatting, which seems like a direct reflection of mistrust. Trust is the cornerstone of our users says Sheryl. She adds, "its critical that we are transparent in understanding how the product works. It used to be complicated and that translated to mistrust so we've made our privacy page and other sections much more visual to make it easier for the user."
She also talked about the new social world where messaging, texting and photos are continuing to explode and 'it's not going to stop.' While she wouldn't speak to any new 'product announcements,' focusing on those three areas was telling.
Unlike Mark, she's fabulous on stage. Even if you don't trust Facebook for whatever legitimate reasons, she's a great face for the company and knows how to turn that mistrust around.
Hunky Elon Musk seemed to get respect from everyone around me - the techies, entrepreneurs, CEOs and women who seemed to reference more than just his "accomplishments." For those who don't know all his accolades, he's the Co-Founder, CEO and Product Architect at Tesla Motors and CEO/CTO of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
Et hem, before we get into his D stage shares, just look at those arms. Combine that with his adventurous spirit, desire to go to Mars, lofty sustainable goals and his South African accent and it's no wonder he has so many woman at "Hello."
Elon's major message, at least the recurring one was sustainability. Elon is a man who defies odds -- a bit of a quieter Tony Robbins icon, where his sense of solitude and confidence meets the resolve of a politican and the demeanor of a trusted geek. Or, something to that effect.
He says, "car manufacturers said we could never reach certain goals and we keep beating and meeting our goals, defying odds again and again. Our challenge is that we need to convince them that what we're doing is much more than the niche market Tesla is today. To convince them that electric cars are a mainstream product will require a lot more work but its work we need to do."
His tone suggested that it wasn't work he needed to do because it was best for Tesla's bottom line, but because it's the right thing for the planet.
He also announced the expansion of their supercharger network a day earlier than planned. This move is an obvious and required one to move Tesla more into the mainstream limelight. Clearly, the more people who own a Tesla, the broader the network of superchargers Tesla can support and the more superchargers there are, the more compelling it becomes to own one. If there are not enough charging stations, people won't think of purchasing one as their main car and it will remain a secondary car for those with oodles of money or who live in a city where you don't have to travel very far. Below is their expansion plan in the U.S. over the next several months.
On immigration reform, which he wanted to support, he said there was too much Kissinger-ness! He added, "what we encourage is the political system we will deserve." Hear hear. In an interview on CNBC this morning, he said he left Mark Zuckerberg's political action committee, FWD.us, "because the organization became too cynical."
He also addressed carbon and believes in having a carbon tax that will honor the right behavior and penalize the wrong behavior just like we do with alcohol and tobacco. He says, "how we collect the money is irrelevant but the government needs to be paid so we need to reallocate where that money comes in from and set up a system that condemns bad carbon behavior."
With Steve Jobs legacy still lingering and the fact that he was such an icon on the All Things D stage every year, it's no surprise that the fireside chat with Apple's CEO Tim Cook filled an hour and a half on opening night.
He avoided any commitment over rolling out a TV set, so much so that a Sony guy I talked to after hours was hissing about it. He wasn't the only one since it wasn't just Tim's reluctance to talk about an Apple TV set; he avoided discussing anything related to future product plans.
"While the company has seen modest success with Apple TV," he said (selling more than 13 million since the device debuted), "it has been less a flagship product than a sort of learning experience for the company. It’s been great for customers, but it’s also been good from a learning point of view for Apple.”
Chatter in the corridors throughout the conference was twofold: he did himself a disservice by showing up and not sharing any deep insights, which would have helped to re-ignite faith among thought leaders, partners, press, pundits and the pools of money in the audience and b) while Steve Jobs might have been able to get away with secrecy in that Apple culture and aloof kind of way, people had faith in the silence because they had faith in Steve.
While Tim claimed that Apple had a "grand vision" for TV and innovation was needed since there hasn't been much progress in the last two decades, he didn't convey much more. When Kara asked him what kind of CEO he was, he didn't answer despite a couple of attempts.
Here's one thing I think would have worked: talk about your operations and "bottom line" strength - while he's not the creative genius or stageman that Steve was (and btw, no one is), focusing on what he can and does ace, can go far. Secondly, people want to see a personality through texture, color and energy even if that energy is a quiet one.
Even if not theatrical on stage, he could show confidence and humanity (a kick-ass combination for any CEO in my humble opinion), by bringing up two or three personal examples in his own life. If he went with that approach, I am certain that if the wealthy and influential audience at D did't hang onto every word he said, anyone and everyone watching him on the live stream and the video of the interview later most certainly would. My two cents...
He also addressed wearable devices, the growth of their adoption and seeing it as a trend. Here's a video the All Things D team took that shares a few insights on Google Glass and its current value-add including Tim Cook's take. Four or five guys were wearing them at the conference, so I got a chance to test a pair out. The experience was a bit eerie and distracting, making me feel unsettled about my physical environment - in other words, I was more fixated on the potential augmented reality rewards and "digital data" within my surroundings than the person or physical object in front of me. A good thing? Perhaps I'll rephrase that. A healthy thing?
I also might add that it didn't do wonders for my otherwise stylin' dress and unless a different designer gets involved in future versions, I don't see this being a fashion add-on, at least not for women. (from one woman's viewpoint. To add to that, even Tim Cook agreed that people wear glasses because they have to and that they should reflect a person's fashion and style while being unobtrusive).
Another D speaker favorite is Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo, who I've known since his early Feedburner days. He has fabulous energy on stage and this year was no different. Personally I think his Chicago edge and humor play well in this environment. Fortune 500 CEOs who present often, TAKE NOTE: Wit Matters.
Kara who took the lead on topics addressed the news aspect of Twitter and asked whether Dick sees Twitter as a "news organization"? Interesting question since she's right, so many people, myself included, use Twitter as a source for our news, or at least catching up on trends, ideas and events. It's a curation of all three and more from my vantage point and I get to select who I read, when and how.
He says, "I see us partnering with news organizations to distribute news in real time and to help organize and sift through the noise. The beauty of the feed is that you follow who you want but you can also get an aspect of discovery in the mix. The accuracy of the signal that it delivers is remarkable -- we are seeing in the data that people are using the discovery tabs more and more. In the future, I see us surfacing discovery in a simpler way."
Simplicity was a core theme. While it's easy to keep adding more features, the challenge is in removing complexity while keeping the functionality and value-add there, something he says Jack Dorsey aces. Dick says of Jack, "he has remarkable product sensibility - he sees things in a way that no one else does and has a unique way of finding innovative things early on. He's extraordinary."
What is Twitter missing today? Simplicity, he says again. "Because of the 140 word constraint, people have created memes and language that everyone knows in the tweetoverse but newbies have to learn."
A capital investment guy asks him, "Twitter is having an extraordinary impact on the financial markets - it's a constant flow. When does government say to Twitter that you need to control it?"
Dick says that it will likely flow less from government and more from how the media laws are written in each country. They are so different depending on where you are, referencing the UK's broadcast media world as an example.
Another D favorite was Pinterest's Ben Silbermann, largely for his honesty and down-to-earth approach on stage.
He talked about how people use Pinterest today - people ask themselves: what activities should I share with my kids? What gift should I get my wife? Pinterest was started to address those needs. He says, "Collecting physical things was always a passion for me and I think what you collect says a lot about who you are.I was interested in taking things offline and putting them online."
When asked what he didn't know at the beginning and what they have learned along the way, he talked about the overlapping pins, as a way to learn about someone else or a group of people who shares similar interests as you somewhere else in the world. He says, "people who share things creates an interest graph - it gives you an intuitive and human way to discover things."
Some call Pinterest the sleeping giant although it isn't really sleeping anymore. Media in general is becoming more visual and while there have been discovery platforms over the past ten years, the timing didn't match the adoption of integrating a digital lifestyle as a normal and daily routine. Timing isn't everything but it matters more than a lot of entrepreneurs think it does.
I see this with clients all the time! Many start-up founders see, feel and taste the vision long before a consumer is ready to embrace it and often, no amount of advice will stop them from moving full speed ahead even if the market isn't quite ready for it.
Ben also talked about how their team thinks about Pinterest on a mobile device or iPad differently based on user behavior. He says, "we ask the question from your access point, 'are you on the web to browse and put collections together or are you at the supermarket accessing Pinterest through your cell phone to find a recipe with ingredients you need?"
What about Pinterest as a lead generation for brands? Your phone and tablet is always around you so it matters, he says and mobile is huge.....and growing. It begs the following questions: Is Pinterest a mobile interest graph company or will it become one? What business is Pinterest in today and in five years?
Simplicity was as core to Ben and his team as it is to Dick and his at Twitter. Says Ben, "when the average person uses Pinterest, it has to be easy-to-use and intuitive." They are taking feedback from both the partner and consumer sides.
The latest evaluation? 2.5 billion evaluation today. To that Ben says, "If Google teaches you anything, it's that small things can get big."
Dr. Regina E. Dugan, Motorola's Mobility SVP of Advanced Technology & Products was on stage with the CEO of Motorola Mobility Dennis Woodside.
Last time she was on the D stage, she was at DARPA and her personality, wit and confidence was a hit with the geeks and entrepreneurs alike. She was equally compelling the second time around.
Regina talked about some of the things they and others are working on around authentication. She showed a tattoo on her wrist, a tattoo that would ultimately authenticate everything. While it's only a prototype now, the thought of wearing one of those for authentification purposes is freakingly eerie. What scares me most is if the government or pieces of it decide that tattoos or a variation of them should become a standard, in the same way there's now a standard way of airport security and opting out is possible, but awkward and time consuming.
There's also an authentification pill and no I'm not kidding. The pill would emit an 18 bit code using your stomach acid as an electrolyte (think battery) and you'll be able to transmit that digital code repeatedly. The latter means that you'd have to take a tablet every day at least initially. If you were forced into one method of authentication, would you choose the pill or tattoo? Frankly, a button on my cell phone that matches my personal thumb print would do just fine.
Other issues the Motorola Mobility team is working on is battery life and broken phones and disruption in the mobile and TV world - who gets paid what and what becomes the new "fair" in the new digital world? What does mobile innovation look like when it is less feathered and tampered with by carriers?
Regina was proud to announce that Google Glass wearers walking around with the new Motorola phone slated to come out in August will be made in the U.S., not overseas. (70% will be assembled in Texas).
Lastly, they're kicking off a fun project this summer that will test the limit of "great new ideas." In true makerfair fashion, they are taking a van 10,000 miles over five months to universities and fairs, giving people access to tools so they can create things -- from medicine and mobile to 3D printing.
Less exciting on stage was GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt, but then again, it's hard to compete with Regina's fabulous energy.
GE is clearly thinking about and innovating with 3D printing. He says, "the practice of 3D printing has some practical applications in the big industrial world of building jet engines." Like Musk, he and his team are thinking of big ideas, not iPhone and social media applications.
Nuance's CEO and Chairman Paul Ricci talked about the future of speech recognition. As someone who led communications efforts for Dragon -- now owned by Nuance -- I'm a sucker for any advancement in the speech world. He says, "most of what we do is service large enterprise service companies, cars and the consumer electronic industry."
Clearly, as has always been the challege with speech recognition accuracy and mainstream adoption, it's not just the literal accuracy but the understanding of what you mean: natural language processing and beyond. It continues to get better but still has a long way to go.
That said, recognition is better than it's ever been in history. I'm a user of Siri and find the accuracy remarkably good, so much so that it has become habit, unlike so many other false hopes and useless technology promises.
While B2B and enterprise remain a core part of their business and embedded speech to enable things we use everyday will continue to grow, there's still the consumer application for speech which has helped so many.
I felt a sense of pride and nostalgia when he referred to Dragon products as the only products in his lifetime which has had such a profound impact on people's lives. I too remember so many times when people walked up to me and shared stories about how Dragon's recognition software had literally changed their lives. It was a nice touch and great to hear on the afternoon of the last day.
There's always new & innovative demos shown at D and my favorite was from Max Levchin, formerly of Slide and Paypal. He showed a demo of a new fertility app called GLOW, which is a mobile app that calculates, tracks and monitors data for a woman's pregnancy, such as optimal time of month, and so on. That data can be used to assess the best time for a woman to get pregnant.
There were also demos of Fanhattan and August. Fanhattan is a cloud-based app that is attempting to aggregate video sources into a single location making it a more seamless user experience.
August uses an iPhone and Bluetooth to automatically lock and unlock the door of a home or office as you come close. When you leave, the same process will lock the door behind you. You can access the app through the web or your mobile device, where there are controls, such as digital key sharing and log data of who entered your home and when they were last there.
The app is in synch with the theme of needing to speed up and automate authentification since we are doing it more and more often every day. There's clearly a need for a solution that tackles this problem. I'm feeling a bit better about this than the Motorola authentification pill to be honest. How about you?
Below Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher bid the crowd farewell and thanked their team for yet another successful D. Other speakers not mentioned here include Walt Disney's Thomas Staggs, Box's CEO Aaron Levie, John Chambers, Barry Diller, CNN's Jeff Zucker, Anne Sweeney, I. Marlene King, Scooter Braun, Troy Carter, Guy Oseary, Google's Sundar Pichai, Steven Sinofsky from Harvard, Kazuo Hirai and the 49er's CEO Jed York.
And, a hats off to the crew I came down to D with for making the to and fro such a pleasure: Patti and Larry Magid, Gary Lauder, Shireen Piramoon, Gary Kovacs, Nat Goldhaber, Renee Blodgett. Also, a major kudos to Nat's incredible flying ability. As always, the best conversations of any conference always happen offline. Hallways, elevators, cars, planes, taxis, swimming pools and bars all count! :-)
Photo credits: Top photo of globe from intentblog.com, Sheryl Sandberg shot is a screen grab from the All Things D video from MikeIsaac's article on the All Things D site/blog, Tim Cook Shot from Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com and all others Renee Blodgett.
May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 05, 2013
Reflections: A Walk Into a Past & Present Estonia...
I'm lost as I navigate my way through the outskirts of Tallinn, but purposely so, as I know that magic lies in the unknown and what a better way to discover that unknown than to get lost. I flash back to my grandfather who would never hold my hand as we walked through the woods in the dense Adirondack mountains when we embarked on our summer hikes.
I know now that I never left his vision although at the time, he made me believe I was on my own after he purposely disappeared out of sight and watched me from behind a tree as panic entered my small face, those youthful child-like eyes searching for his familiar red and blue flannel shirt. Bringing me out of my comfort zone again and again was something my grandfather sought and it was less of a 'thing' he did from time-to-time, and more the way he lived his life.
It wasn't until I had long passed my twenties that I realized what a gift he had given me so many years ago despite the fact that to this day, anxiety still swallows me when I lose my way.
That anxiety occasionally moves to a "fight or flight" place and yet there's an excitement in that kind of anxiety, for I know that in that unknown place, I'm bound to make some rare encounter or learn some bizarre lesson about some bizarre piece of life I never deemed important before.
I reflect in that memory as I turn another corner, realizing that I left no trace of where I had been nor did I have a clue about where I was going. Having moved beyond the boundaries of the old town at least thirty minutes before, I stopped looking for landmarks I may have read about in some brochure or guidebook, and began to notice what was around me.
It was one of those off-blueish colored moments, where I realized I was pretty far from Kansas, in a part of town where people lived and didn't deal with tourists as part of their day...not unlike the small town and world where I grew up, they too didn't fit the storybook culture up until know, I had only read about.
I was struggling with the notion that Eastern Europe could become as modern and western as the rest of Europe even after over 20 years of independence. The last time I had been this close to Russia was the mid-eighties when I didn't have permission to have free-flowing conversations with locals nor did they with me, there was a thriving black market, our hotel rooms were bugged, shops were stark and restaurant menu offerings were slim.
Even my return visit to Budapest and Prague a couple of summers ago didn't convince me that everything had transformed even though I could rent a segway, buy a t-shirt with the city plastered on it and order fine wine.
If that wasn't enough, every newspaper, history book and photograph proved that it was all very real and we were now living in very different times. And yet, like the abolishment of slavery didn't transform America's attitudes about how blacks should be treated after 20 years, you can't remove the impact of more than a century of tyrant rule and communist life in one generation.
Like many cultures in Eastern Europe, Estonians didn't always rule their own land. In fact, for over 800 years, the Swedes, the Poles, the Danes, the Germans and the Russians have all invaded the country and put down a stake.
I learned through my visits to Kolga and Sagadi Manors that the Scandinavians and Germans held fort for many years while Estonians served them tea and watered their gardens. While they've enjoyed stints of freedom -- for two short years in the 1200s -- and for 19 years in 1920, not ruling their own land has been more common than ruling it.
Not being given control of your own destiny time and time again must play a toll on one's attitudes, personality & outlook on life I thought as I wandered aimlessly down yet another street, one that didn't seem to have a visible street sign.
I also thought about what else I knew about Estonians aside from the factoid that my fellow travelers were most thrilled about: Estonia is the most connected country in Eastern Europe. Aside from connectivity, the other topic that came up again and again was the one that breaks up countries, marriages, families and cultures: Religion.
You can't go to many places in Europe and not be inundated with churches and people's fixation with them. Yet, Estonia is apparently the least religious country on the planet with Ireland, Poland and Greece being the most religious...at least in Europe. In talking to a few locals in the first few days, the proof was there.
Women in their twenties and thirties both told me they didn't go to church nor did they grow up believing in a God. 80% of the same group of women said that they didn't feel the need to marry their partner even if they wanted to have children.
Like we do when we want evidence of stereotypes to show up in our face, I looked for more irreligious types on my walk, as if they'd somehow show such a trait in their walk or attire.
I remembered the live strip show on Viru Street I had passed on my way out of town, red satin dots across fake diamond studded banners fell in and around the Golden Dolls Gentleman Club, where they hold shows every day from 10 to 6. It was next to a Veta clothing store, Restaurant Cru and a Baltic amber shop, one of the dozens you'll find on any street in Tallinn.
This wasn't quite the evidence I was looking for however, nor did it support my theory that more remnants from pre-Soviet days were still around moreso than tour guides would have you believe. I, for one, would have loved to sit down with an 80 something year old male Estonian and drill him on every decade of his life, from his job, the wars, his military duty, his experience with Russian soldiers, how he provided for his family then and now, what his daughters thought they would become at ten and who they are today, politics, the environment, education and every miniscule detail in between.
Lacking a victim born in 1924 to sip coffee with for the afternoon, I continued walking. Urban shops and signs gave way to more stark buildings, some white washed and gray with weathered textures that wove in soft pinks, oranges and yellows in that antiquated way that old stone buildings display after a century of wear and tear.
Olive green paneling is plastered across the top of a turn of the century stone building and graffiti in more than one language decorates the bottom half. Two smoke stacks protrude into the sky ahead of me, one with a red stripe I can barely make out in my hazy view, one which suddenly feels more surreal than what actually just met the eye.
A woman in a bubble gum pink coat wearing matted gray rubber shoes with furry tops, stands with her son at a bus stop. She has a faux leather bag with keys dangling from a worn-out fringe and she looks away from her son while she takes a puff from her cigarette, as if doing so, will ensure the 36 bus comes that much faster.
While in the country, they spoke of mushroom farms, Juniper forests and limestone gravestones, in Tallinn's greater urban-ness, I learn about relics from the past, savory dishes that are more meaty than not, amber and the the attitude dynamic that exists between a not-so-wide generation gap.
I chalk up a conversation with a man in his forties standing a few feet away from my pink-clad woman with the cigarette dangling from her mouth, now on her third and there are still no signs of the bus. His English isn't fluent, yet we can communicate and his blue sparkling eyes which exuded generosity and authenticity in double doses, were enough to make up for whatever word or phrase that might present a communications challenge.
Not knowing what bus he was waiting for if he was waiting for one at all, I figured that I didn't have much time to start the conversation with trivial chit chat and work my way up to what I was really wanting to know.
And so, rather than begin with "Is it always this cold in Estonia in April?" especially since I had already heard countless times that this was an unusually cold year, I dove right into a question about his life as a teenager and oh btw, what were your twenties like while we're heading down that path? Luckily, he didn't think I was some American stalker or loopy redhead hitting on him on a random Thursday afternoon.
Andrus used to drive a military truck and spent time as a night sniper, oddly not the first one I had met since I arrived in Estonia. The Soviet army brought him to Moscow for training when he was just 18 and as he drifted off into memory lane, I learn that he was brought to the "KGB House" twice during his 2 and a half year stint with the Russians.
Afterwards, he was given an offer to stay where he'd receive a one room apartment and a black Volga or return home to a small town an hour or so from Tallinn. He chose the latter wondering if that choice might land him in Siberia instead, for who knows how much was required to demonstrate one's loyalty to the Party way back when?
As he shares his stories with me, I take in the volume of graffiti adorned on two century-old buildings across the street, while the structure next to it meets me with a mixture of urban decay and remnants from a Soviet past. Signs in a language that look as unfamiliar as Klingon might; Mustikas, Karamika, Infoveva, Euro Vaistine line up next to brightly colored plastic bubbles, where I think locals might dump their recyclables.
I move on and lose myself for awhile until the word Turg presents itself, a sign that is next to or part of a long blocked off area with a plastic cover draped over its top.
The ceiling has ripples of sorts, a flimsy covering that barely seems as if it could give the people below it shelter if the sky should open up. I can see that it's a market of sorts.....flowers, fruit and vegetable stalls face me mostly in open air, yet the stall tellers don't flinch despite the beckoning of rain.
Cars lined up on sidewalks in front of the shops without any logical reason given the volume of open parking spots scattered nearby. Bright colored clothing with over the top costume jewelry is the fashion order of the day, their glitter too much for the eye to bear against its otherwise stark background...I can see the glare from the shine echoing through the windows. Most of the shops appear to be closed yet the cars linger....another mystery in a mysterious land.
In these near suburbs of Tallinn, I don't see architectural evidence of the Gothic, Baroque and Rococo styles that swept through the centuries and still remain in tact at some of the country manors and estates.
I see a Tallinn struggling with its past and its present, trying to figure out its future, one where East not just meets the West, but embraces it with fortitude.
I continually met welcoming hospitable people, inside the city and out, eager to protect their heritage and history even if that history didn't include a religion or two that mattered.
They are if anything resilient. Moving. Intriguing. Reserved and yet warm. Authentic. It was an Estonia I wanted to return to and as I decided it was time to navigate my way back to more familiar streets as the light began to fade, I bid farewell to the part of town where locals lived not worked, smiling into the distance and thinking: this was a trip worth taking.
Note: I didn't take many photos as I ventured out of the old town center, so these are selected shots taken in and around Tallinn's old town.
May 02, 2013
Lithuanian Start-Up Demos Cool GooGPS Travel App on Tablet PC
I discovered (and used) an interesting new GPS app from a Lithuanian company when I was in Vilnius Lithuania recently.
They call it GooGPS, and the model is data for travel and tourism for visitors. Imagine a Samsung like tablet PC that is loaded with all the best of a city - main attractions, festivals, events, museums, churches, restaurants and hotels, that is light enough to hang around your neck while you meander through a new city.
Then, imagine along side of that data, you have access to all your social apps like Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram, a video camera for easy capturing and a browser to check email....all on a device that is connected 24/7 and limited for E10 a day.
UAB is a global pioneer that is successfully developing a new business model – rent of tablet PCs for travelers. These guys have created a set of programs called “interactive travel guide” that works with a modified Android operational system.
In the system which is within a portable 7-inch tablet, you have 3D navigational maps, connected to their controlled interactive guide with places of interest, routes and audio content.
It is currently available for visitors to Lithuania and Latvia with plans to expand to other regions in the future.
I tested it out for the day, which included site seeing in Vilnius, the main city and the outskirts. The only glitch I had was limited battery life, so the tablet died half way through my day but when it was up and running, it worked like a charm and was fun to use. Below is a video of me chatting to the product manager.
April 29, 2013
What a Trip to Helsinki Reminded Me About Life's Lessons...
It’s a funny thing in life in that quite often, the opposite paradigm of the same thing applies: when you ask for something, you usually get what you ask for and equally, when you least expect something to happen, it often does.
I find that I’m much more aware of both paradigms when I’m on the road.
The week I was due to fly to Eastern Europe, I found myself wondering why I was once again heading to a cold climate country when I had been dreaming of warm weather destinations for months.
I often visualize myself listening to Chopin’s Concerto in D (any of the minors really), on a beach in Chile, breathing in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or dining with a Mr. Handsome in some scrumptious steak restaurant with award-winning Mendoza wine in Buenos Aires, an evening which ends with a dance that equally embraces artful precision with unbridled passion. So Argentina I think. Grace and beauty at its best.
As travelers, we all cherish such moments on our around the world adventures, as we check off magical moments and experiences we have on some bucket list. Many of these moments forever change who we are and ultimately who we become.
These are the magical moments of travel: cultural faux pas’ that end in laughter, culinary experiences when our tongue is awoken to a new taste we never knew existed, or a hug from a child who doesn’t speak our language. It’s not just the tender moments which forever change us but the painful and unpleasant ones as well. We know this, but we try to avoid them at whatever cost.
With little sleep from the previous week, my emotional energy was thin, worn down like a pencil which had been sharpened so many times it had lost its original form. In that state, with bags under my eyes, I boarded an American Airlines fight from SFO to JFK and climbed into a tight space with someone close to 250 pounds next to me, a seat I had paid an extra $50 for the privilege of this insufferable leg.
I tried to recall earlier moments in time before airlines nickeled and dimed you for blankets, pillows, headsets and more, shrunk your leg room and seat size, you know....the times before you were charged extra to sit closer to the front, regardless of whether it was a middle seat or not and before you were charged for each and every bag. This was a period of time in travel, if you’re old enough to remember, that the flight to your destination was as pleasurable as the destination itself.
After five hours of cramped flying, I boarded another overbooked flight, my first with Finn Air, tweeting that it was so, as I made my way down the ramp. It was the ‘whitest’ flight I had taken in years, perhaps at all, unless a puddle jumper in northern Canada counts.
The other observation was how structured and controlled the boarding process was, so much so that I made a mental note that I was heading to the Switzerland of the very north.
Rules were not meant to be broken under any circumstance I thought.
It wasn’t until I sat down in my seat and endured several hours of resistance and persistence, that my trip to Eastern Europe became clearer.
My Finnish neighbor was sadly one of the rudest women I had encountered since my Egypt trip so many moons ago, and even worse, her bitter attitude didn’t lift for the entire seven hour journey.
As she jabbed me in the side of my ribs, barking over and over again that the arm rest was her’s and her’s alone, not to be shared, I found my anger and resentment building. She then proceeded to include me in a bucket of “god awful Americans”, clearly the result of one negative encounter she experienced at some point in her life.
Trying to reason with her in any way that seemed logical failed again and again. After a very sexy Finnish airline steward with sparkling blue eyes also tried to reason with her and also failed, I spent more of the flight standing up than sitting down, chatting with him in the rear of the plane about her stubbornness, he assuring me that all Finns were not like this. His dreamy eyes gave me cause to believe that he must be right.
When I finally surrendered to the fact that sleep wasn’t in the cards, I tried to change my own attitude towards this difficult woman, the one whose arm and elbow continually dug harshly into my side as she proceeded to show me who was boss all the way to Helsinki.
Breathe deep, I told myself and followed with other mantras and incantations of positive energy hoping that this mental exercise alone would melt her stubbornness. Sadly, this didn't work as it had already become personal since it was clear she hated Americans. She verbally said so.
As I saw how tightly wound she was, I realized I had been as tightly wound over the last few months for my own personal reasons. My work schedule has been insane, with barely a break to do anything much at all except to handle the myriad of external and internal requests and the same cycle repeated again, day after day, even on weekends. Ever have the experience when you exceed all expectations, work over and above what is humanly possible and received less acknowledgement than if you simply played the soldier? Alas, the soldier, which Seth Godin refers to as the cog in the wheel...the obedient employee who delivers precisely what he or she was told, regardless of whether it was a savvy decision or best for the company's success.
Perhaps she had been experiencing something similar in her own life? Ambushed by some ill form of logic that defied her own odds and deflated her own sense of worth and being? By her employer, her husband, her child, her sister, her colleague?
Either way, I realized that before the plane landed in Helsinki, I had to rid myself of the notion that all Finns were as rude as this encounter so I didn’t leave the country thinking they were all a bunch of control freaks who needed the rules to be precisely as they were or else they'd torment you into submission.
The thing about cultural stereotypes is that so often many of them hold a "certain" truth. The danger of course is that there are always exceptions and over time, people can dramatically change as we saw over two generations in Japan...two groups who couldn’t be more different from one another. If you're not sure this is true, just talk to a friend of mine whose brother wears punk clothing and purple sneakers, has an earring and four shades of hair while his grandmother who doesn't speak a word of English, still wears a traditional Japanese kimono, bows and serves tea.
I know that Eastern Europe is slower to change since they are fixated on the past more than most regions of the world I’ve visited and I wondered how much of this had extended over its borders to nearby neighbors like Finland.
My first time to Helsinki was in 1980-something in one of those old-fashioned boxed vans hippies drove the decade before. We had driven north from mainland Europe, across Scandinavia, into Finland and finally into the Soviet Union – the old Russia -- the one that detained us at the border, strip searched everyone and literally dismantled the vehicle searching for everything they deemed propaganda or trade-able on the then thriving black market.
It was a very different time for European travel and nothing was exactly what it seemed. Just like the experience with my Finn Air flight companion, when you least expect something to happen, it often does and back then, it did more consistently than not.
The wall was still up in those days and tensions were fierce behind not just THE wall, but the invisible walls, the ones that led east that is – Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic (the then Czechoslovakia).
Finland was the most foreign to me, even moreso than Russia and Poland in many ways, largely because I didn’t expect it to be as foreign. We knew about the Black Market, about the minimalistic hotels with dingy barren rooms that were bugged, the stark food supply, the weathered buildings and surreal lack of optimism...a place where women paraded around in unfashionable rubber boots and in-need-of-repair colorless coats. Finland never fell under that umbrella however despite its proximity to Soviet borders.
What I remember from my first trip to Helsinki was how clean the streets were and how distinctly organized everything was in that Switzerland kind of way...a little disconcerting at first, especially if you had just come from a country like Italy which embraces chaos and passion more than order and structure.
I visited a friend who was in my South African high school in Johannesburg, where we had spent our senior years. Not originally from Helsinki, he was either living there at the time or drove in just to see me. We were but 'babes' and that innocent and youthful naivety was floating in the air. Combine that with the fact that Helsinki streets ooze playful energy all night long in the summer since the sun never sets: drinking, walking dogs, sipping coffee and eating ice cream is how you spent your time on open air streets at 3 in the morning.
Mika and I had a magical time walking through the city, lounging on park benches discussing our life's dreams and aspirations as youthful warriors in-the-making so often do. I think I may have been but just 19 at the time.
The lens at which I experienced Helsinki so many years ago was through his lens, a native of this strange land with a strange accent and language that differed so greatly to those on the European mainland. On my most recent trip, I talked to a French couple from Paris who stopped over in Helsinki on their way to the states. She said to me with a surly smile about her experience, "it's only a two hour flight and yet the culture is so different to our world, it's as if a solar system separates us not a thousand miles."
Structure is the word that comes to mind, something they wear on their sleeves, much more than their Scandinavian neighbors. The Swedish and Danish travelers I hooked up with for short jaunts of my first trip to Europe presented a free spirited energy to their walks and talks. While my Swedish friends all seemed to have summer homes with saunas they ventured to annually, there was an equal hunger to explore the world which I didn’t find from my conversations with the Finns at the time.
It was as if once we crossed the Swedish border, things and people had more rules and alignment and order reigned. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time – after all, Mika’s eyes were dreamy, he was courteous and sweet, and won me over by swinging me under his arm next to a luscious hovering tree that took us into its breath, creating an aura of moonlight when the Northern Lights ensured there wouldn’t be a real one.
He treated me to dark roasted coffee in outside cafes and introduced me to other Finns who were intelligent, quirky and funny, as long as you could understand their dry off-beat humor. We drank beer well into the wee morning hours, at the time, the most expensive beer I had ever had. Everything seemed insanely expensive from my recollection….and insanely odd.
Remembering that it was the mid-eighties, Helsinki had price tags that made your jaw drop. An apple was $3 a pop, beers exceeded $7 and meals in restaurants were simply beyond my reach and so I lived on bread and cheese. Today, the same is true. A 50 Euro dinner for a starter and main course isn't that uncommon.
Within the confines of those beautiful summer walks under Helsinki's skies, I felt taken care of by Mika and his friends and it was this memory I brought to the forefront as my Finnish companion on this hellish long flight jabbed me once again.
While hot places like St. Maarten and Greece have been on my mind, and I’ve been puzzled by all the trips to cold countries I’ve taken in the past two years, I realized that on this sleep deprived flight all the way to Finland with an angry woman at my side, that we throw ourselves into the experiences the universe wants us to see, as if they are in fact, a mirror of ourselves, showing us exactly what is happening in our lives.
It is that visual representation and that insight that allows us to change the course of our lives....that is, if we are paying attention to the signs and can admit the truths we see in the mirror's reflection.
Relinquishing control is not inherently a natural trait of northern Europeans or the Baltic states and if you think that is a broad statement, compare the relationship with control and structure of those regions to cultures like Jamaica, Italy, Spain, Kenya, Fiji…..need I go on? You get the idea.
Upon this reflection, the plane makes a harsh landing at Helsinki’s International Airport and I remind myself that so much of the flight felt like “torture” because I allowed myself to be drawn into “her” tortured state. She clearly lived in that place all the time and because I was so out of balance and overworked myself, her torture became my own. I hadn't taken time to look in the mirror - the internal or external one. In order for me to "see" again, it seemed to require a long haul to northern Europe and a flash back in time. I call this a "walkabout," where we venture far away from our everyday reality so we can get clear again about who we are, where we are and more importanty, where we want to go.
These are the lessons we learn on the road. And, for all those precious marvelous moments we share with new cultures that draw us into such delicious foreign experiences, we also run into people who are internally tortured or who inflict their pain on us for whatever reason and in most cases, we’ll never learn what they are. We wonder why were chosen to receive their torture until we realize it is us who chooses that the experience be one of torture or joy.
It happens on the road, whether it's in a third world country where someone steals your bag, or gives you the wrong directions because they’re not a fan of your nationality or overcharges you because they think you’re richer than they are and can afford it. The list goes on. Every day life is like this too.
In those moments, we learn about ourselves – what we’re showing of ourselves to the world in a mirror, the same one that reflects back to us if only we take the time to notice and acknowledge it. It’s in these moments – painful and precious – that we grow and move forward on our life’s journey.
My experience here in Finland and soon, Estonia and Lithuania, will be far from warm sandy beaches with pineapple trees and the blissful sound of waves that could put me to sleep every night. I won’t be sleeping in a hammock nor will I be eating fresh fish from a warm salty sea.
But now, I know why I’m here. And with my winter coat, mittens and toasty wooly hat packed in my bag, I will venture into yet another cold country experience paying close attention to what I can learn from countries that need to be more in control than not, taking in the gift I learn from it and from them. New cultures to learn from, to play with...to be grateful for and most importantly, to remember what's real and truly matters along the way.
Photo credit: The Telegraph
April 15, 2013
Fourth Annual TEDxBerkeley Event To Kick Off April 20
The fourth annual TEDx Berkeley Event (a 501c3) will kick off on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall with 13 thought provoking and renowned speakers and three performers, set to tackle this year’s theme: Catalyzing Change.
This decade presents significant and global change that will impact how we use technology, how and where we work, communicate and use utilities and applications across industries, from education, mobile technology, biotech and biofuels to healthcare, government, sustainability and beyond.
Learning and sharing ideas in a way that provokes change and making the world a better place is what TED events are about. Given that Berkeley is an epicenter of innovation, inspiration and talent, it’s the perfect location for speakers and attendees alike to participate in this important global conversation.
Below is a list of the 2013 TEDxBerkeley speakers and performers:
- Chris Anderson: Chris is the co-founder and chairman of 3D Robotics, former editor of WIRED Magazine and author of The Long Tail, Free: The Future of a Radical Price and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.
- Louann Brizendine, MD: Louann is a practicing neuropsychiatrist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor at UCSF, founder of Women’s Mood & Hormone Clinic, and a media commentator specializing in sex differences and The Male and Female Brain.
- Mallika Chopra: As a media entrepreneur, Mallika is the founder of Intent.com, The Chopra Well, author of 100 Promises To My Baby and 100 Questions From My Child, and a notable voice in the fields of parenting, meditation and intention.
- Alexei Filippenko: Alex is a UC Berkeley Professor of Astronomy and member of both teams that discovered the accelerating expansion of the Universe, who was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.
- Eden Full: Eden is the founder of Roseicollis Technologies and spearheaded the solar panel tracking invention called the SunSaluter.
- Dan Millman: Dan, an author of 16 books which have been translated into 29 languages, have influenced millions of lives. His most popular book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, was adapted to film in 2006.
- Robert Neuwirth: Robert is the author of two books on alternative social and economic structures: Stealth of Nations, an up-close investigation of the value of street markets and underground trade and Shadow Cities, which looks at squatter communities as normal urban neighborhoods.
- Kim Polese – Kim serves as Chairman of social finance startup ClearStreet, was founding product manager for Java at Sun, co-founder of Marimba, CEO of SpikeSource & was named to President Obama’s Innovation Advisory Board.
- Ananya Roy: A UC Berkeley professor in City and Regional Planning and distinguished chair of Global Poverty, she authored City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty and Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development.
- Karen Sokal-Gutierrez: Karen is an associate clinical professor at the University of California and Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health.
- Curt Tofteland: Curt is the founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars, and has produced dozens Shakespeare Productions at correctional facilities around the US.
- Cecily Sommers: A global trends analyst who helps organizations understand and prepare for the emerging technologies, markets, and ideas shaping our world, Cecily was selected as one of Fast Company’s Fast 50 Reader’s Favorites, founded Push Institute & authored Think Like a Futurist.
- Erica Wides – As national authority on how to find, afford, cook and eat minimally processed natural food, Erica is host and co-creator of Let’s Get Real: The Cooking Show About Finding, Preparing and Eating Food on the Heritage Radio Network.
Performers include Ambiance Lights, a student group dedicated to glove lightshows, which is a style of dance that involves finger and hand manipulation with strobelights, California Golden Overtones, a UC Berkeley all-female completely student-run A Cappella group and Victoria Theodore, keyboardist, musician and background singer who was in Stevie Wonder’s band since 2007. Yaelisa is an Emmy Award-winning flamenco dancer/choreographer and the artistic director of Caminos Flamencos and The New World Flamenco Festival.
For the first time, TEDxBerkeley also falls on Cal Day, UC Berkeley’s Annual Open House. This independent TEDx event is operated under license from TED. Visit the TEDxBerkeley speaker page for more information. Mobile users can also download the AppBaker-created iPhone app for the event.
April 03, 2013
Kundera's Immortality: A Person is Nothing But His Image, But a Woman is Nothing But Her Truth
I just finished yet another Milan Kundera novel: Immortality. He is, as always intense. I happen to be one of his fans, one who patiently understands the flow of his meandering style, knowing the poetic philosopher in him who needs us to read each and every line.
It's as if I'm in his head when I really listen to his meanders, and can even sense where and how he is sitting as he writes a passage, can feel the women he has known and not known and all the intricate details which make up his life, or least the bit which give it meaning.
The first meander centered around image and the premise was that a person is nothing but his image. "Philosophers can tell us that it doesn't matter what they world thinks of us, that nothing matters but what we really are. But philosophers don't understand anything. As long as we live with other people, we are only what other people consider us to be. Thinking about how others see us and trying to make our image as attractive as possible is considered a kind of dissembling or cheating." (I'd add, dying).But does there exist another kind of direct contact between my self and their selves except through the mediation of the eyes? Can we possibly imagine love without anxiously following our image in the mind of the beloved? When we are no longer interested in how we are seen by the person we love, it means we no longer love."
I thought about a kind of love which isn't whole, one which leaves behind fragments...mere fragments, as if flashes in time like two ships passing in the night, a long weary night. Or the kind of love that leaves behind the violent yet exciting sound of a thunderbolt on a stormy night, one which will never be repeated in precisely the same way again.
These are loves we never fully understand just as Kundera's characters never fully understand theirs. As humans, we ache to understand love and what went wrong in love. We grasp for that understanding and repeat the story in our heads as if its a mathmatical equation we must analyze, even if only in our mind's eye. In that analysis, which we continue to play over and over again like a broken record, we must have an answer, a truth of some kind, for surely it can't possibly just be about an image, of an image...hers, his, your own.
We look for the truth amidst that analysis as a way to better understand ourselves and perhaps to better understand humanity; in that understanding, we think we will find a love which is whole, the kind that is rich in color and texture and full of so much vitality and connection, there is no space for fragments.
If we speak of image and of love, we must of course speak of and to the feminine voice, which brings me to my second favorite meander. It couldn't be a Kundera novel without women, who are brought in as almost subcategories into bigger themes of existence, like Chance, the Dial of Life, Image and of course Immortality itself.
From painters Rubens and Goethe to author Hemingway and a radio host, lawyer and professor in Paris, we hear about their desire of women, their inability to escape from women and their adventures with women.
He asks, isn't the story of Ruben's life nothing but a story of physical love? For the artist who looked at women as "life itself?" We hear from Rubens as Kundera's character, an acute observation when one day he can't remember anything substantial about any of the women he bedded. The details, their names, their parents, their childhood, any anecdote other than a flash of an instance.
Rather than continue to conquer a future of a string of women, he decides to revert to the past, as told to him by the hand on the dial (of life), of which Kundera dedicates an entire chapter to.
Rubens reflects, "but how is one to be obsessed with the past when one sees it only a desert over which the wind blows a few fragments of memories?" He decides that yes, one can in fact be obsessed even with a few fragments.
But then, Rubens discovered a peculiar thing. In those fragments, they are not moving. In other words, memory does not make films, it makes photographs. What he recalled at most were a few mental photographs. He didn't recall their coherent motions, but only short gestures, but only in the rigidy of a single second."
One day, a lover he saw over many years decides not to see him again, an incident he he becomes fixated on trying to understand, certain that something must be wrong, something he could somehow resolve. Then, he thinks of an Australian woman he decided never to see again and she too, was rejected for reasons she couldn't understand. He wonders if he can understand them himself.
Throughout our lives, don't we all have stories or chapters of stories which have ended yet we didn't understand the reasons why? Maybe later, at some future time, we begin to understand those reasons and other times, we don't and perhaps never will. Time marches forward, each of us never understanding why her or his story ended with yet another person, another association, another encounter.
He quotes Aragon's "Woman is the future of man." One of the main male characters in the book explains what he thinks Aragon must have meant.
"This means," he says, "that the world that was once formed in man's image will now be transformed into the image of woman. The more technical and mechanical, cold and metallic it becomes, the more it will need the kind of warmth that only a woman can give it. If we want to save the world, we must adapt to the woman, let ourselves be led by the woman, let ourselves be penetrated by the Ewigweibliche, the eternally feminine!"
Later he goes on to say: "Either woman will become man's future or mankind will perish, because only woman is capable of nourishing within her an unsubstantiated hope and inviting us to a doubtful future, which we would have long ceased to believe in were it not for women. All my life, I've been willing to follow their voice, even though that voice is mad. But nothing is more beautiful than when someone who isn't mad goes into the unknown, led by a mad voice....The eternal feminine draws us in."
It reminded me of how important it is for us as women to go to our source of strength through that eternal feminine, each and every time we need an answer...the real truth.
It is that source that will guide us out of muddy complicated waters which are led by masculine ego, give us the power to say no when the world forces us to say yes, provide us with the clarity when it is being fogged up by mindless chatter aimed at sinking the very core of who we are and most importantly, ensuring we return to a place of authenticity, love and purpose so we won't look back years from now as we pass along meaning to a child and not be able to say: I embraced and lived a true life.
Yes. To be able to say I lived a true life, one which I painted on a bright white clean canvas, one which was virgin before I myself lay down the paint brush.
To be able to say I decided what was me and what wasn't me and along the way, returned to that eternal feminine strength for the truth. In this truth, I'd be my own character and not a facade of another in a novel I didn't write, nor would I dance to another's drums I didn't subscribe to or respect.
Oh, such a noble way to live, I can hear my great grandmother saying. And yet, it has less to do with noble, and more to do with truth. Men have this instinct too, even if it shows up with a different voice, a louder thunder and in an external embrace.
When we become lost, which will happen often on this long life journey, we mustn't forget our truth, that for which we will accept and not accept as a definition of who we are. We must never ever forget that.
It's ironic that Kundera weaves Goethe in and out of his chapters because just then, at the moment I had turned the corner of the final page of the book, I thought about a quote that I return to often for a source of strength, one which rests on the front page of this blog and has since the very beginning. As I thought of the source of the quote, my heart began to race....it is nothing shy of a quote by Goethe himself...Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It may be only ten words of Johann's wisdom, but they are ten very powerful words: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.
Photo credits: hplusmagazine.com, templeton.org & artmarketblog.
March 07, 2013
Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity's Dreams, Not Their Overhead
Dan Pallotta's work brought the practice of four-figure philanthropy within the reach of the average citizen who had never raised money for charity before in their lives. 182,000 people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds participated in these inspiring, often grueling, long-distance events that raised $582 million in nine years - more money raised more quickly for these causes than any private event operation in history. Three million people donated to the events.
Then, he faced issues because of how things are currently structured for non-profits. Dan spoke on the TED 2013 stage this year and below are a mish mash of my notes from his talk.
He notes that there are many discriminatory issues that the philanthropy industry faces today:
1. Salaries: the median compensation for a Stanford MBA is $400K, but for a medical charity, it is roughly $232K. For a hunger charity, it is about half of that. You can’t get people to do that year after year and take that kind of financial hit when in the for profit world, you can yield so much more.
2. Marketing and Advertising: He says, "we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising and marketing." It has remained at 2% of GDP in the United States and hasn’t grown. How can it grow if you’re not allowed to market?3. Taking Risk on New Revenue Ideas: If you don’t produce 75% return in the first year, then a non-profit's reputation goes through the mud. You kill innovation because of fear for failure.
4. Time: Amazon didn’t produce profits for years and yet we had patience, yet the rules are different for a non-profit.
5. Profits: You can’t pay profits in the non-profit sector. He says, "you don’t have a stock market to fund any of this like you can in the for profit sector. From 1970 to 2009, we were dealing with social problems which were massive in scale but things still didn't grow to help them over that time and they're still not beyond the 2% mark.
Dan says, "this dogma comes from puritan beliefs. The Puritans were Calvinists so they were taught to hate themselves and self-interest was a path to damnation. Making a lot of money was a way to send them to hell so charities were created to deal with that."
In 400 years, nothing has intervened to say that this approach is counter-productive and unfair.
He remarks, "it makes us think that overhead is not part of the cause, particularly if its being used for cause. This belief that overhead is the enemy means that people are reluctant to contribute. The notion is that the less you spend on growth of the non-profit, more can go to the cause."
Fundraising has been stagnant. He shares his own failure which was the result of this broken, out-dated system, "we made $71 million in 2002, our best year and then we went out of business since we reinvested 40% back into the organization. So in one day, 350 of our employees lost their jobs because they were labeled overhead.”
He asserts that this is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality.
How this all impacts the bigger picture? If we could move charitable giving from 2% of GDP to 3% by investing in that growth, that would be an extra $150 billion extra in contributions. He says, "it’s never going to happen by forcing these organizations by demoralizing organizations to keep the overhead low. We need to change the game."
As for advice, he offers, "Think about the scale of an organization's dreams, not their overhead and how they measure the progress towards their dream. Who cares what the overhead is if these problems are getting solved?"
His mission is to change the way the world thinks about these issues and suggests that this needs to be our endearing legacy....that we in fact took responsibility for the legacy that has been handed down to us and change the way we think about philanthropy, so real problems can be solved, changing the scale dramatically.
Photo credits: sunyocc.edu (hands) and Dan's shot from his site.