A new chapter, and a look back.

The stated purpose of this blog as of this writing is to foster discussion about the connection between human challenges and business challenges.

Over the last 3 years or so, we’ve talked about giving to others, being better communicators first, being curious about (and with) those around us, handling our fear, dealing with loneliness, de-emphasizing our egos, adjusting when conflict arises, focusing on context more than eventsbeing compassionate, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, giving ourselves a framework for creativity, sharing and connecting through our storiesnot dwelling in the negative, and even about some reflections.

Loch Alsh - reflection
Image via Wikipedia

These topics are ones that a lot of us (myself certainly included) struggle with regularly. What has been interesting is that the same things that we struggle with as people are also things that companies struggle with, and that we can use the same tools that we use to address challenges in our interpersonal lives to begin to shift how companies operate, inside and out.  This is what I’ve tried to point out more often than not here.

The fractal, scalable nature of what keeps us connecting (and keeps us from it, as well) is truly remarkable, when one is attuned to it.

Trying as best I can to avoid us vs. them thinking in my own head through connecting with people has really led me to begin to see the patterns (the “Matrix Code”, to geek out for a moment) behind many of the interactions that happen.   Being able to channel what I’m learning into this blog and have it resonate with even one person is so rewarding.

What I’m thinking about now is: What’s next?   There are thousands of blogs covering communications, from the perspective of tactics, strategy, psychology, life coaching and productivity, Buddhism and even parenting, each sharing variations on a theme of connection.

I’m certainly not the only one who talks about these subjects, nor the best or most regular blogger, but I’m proud of what’s happened here on my little corner of the interwebs, I’m ever grateful for those of you who choose to spend a few moments reading and responding (although selfishly I wish more of you would chime in and join the conversation happening in the comments).

As I begin the next chapter in the evolution of me (with some stuff that I will be announcing soon), I wonder how I can be most useful to you?

My intentions for this blog moving forward are to try to document my refocus on what matters to me (talking with passionate people about what matters to them, and collecting those stories into a cohesive overall story), and the process of making that into my full-time vocation.

What say you?

On integrity, and the corrupting influence of business.

[for @jasonmoriber]

Cover of
Cover of You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

I’ve been reading Jaron Lanier’s brilliant “You Are Not a Gadget“, in which a large section is devoted to pointing out the many dangers of Web 2.0, mainly the fact that we are engineering, coding, and socializing ourselves to be generic ‘worker ants’ in service to an imagined ‘cloud of information’, rather than using new technologies for true individual, weird, unique expression of our humanity.

You ever read a book that scratches an itch you didn’t know you had?   I’ve long had beef with the “Social Media Community”s appropriation (and necessary corruption) of communication to achieve business goals (no matter how much ‘business wants to be more human!’ crowing happens), but I don’t feel like I’ve ever been able to articulate my fear, squickiness and discomfort with the industry that has cropped up, and the discussion that is happening around ‘what should business do with the internet’.

Jaron has managed to hit on many of the points I have in my head but have not committed to text.  Facebook, Twitter, et al remove all of our individual expression and we cheerfully attempt to self-define through a pre-selected collection of ‘what do you like’ drop downs  and ‘about me’ text boxes.  We happily accept that the entity with all the control, power, and agency are in fact advertisers, the very ‘big business’ we all claim to demand have less influence over what goes on in our world, the same places we get outraged by when we find out they pay 0 taxes and screw workers.

Something that he doesn’t touch on (more because its outside the purview of the overall point he’s making) is that business as a construct has no particular adherence to integrity.  We anthropomorphize companies in our minds, via Twitter avatars, via our laws.  Internally, however, although they may be staffed by many ‘good people’ who only have the best intentions, business as a construct arcs toward profitability and specifically routes around integrity the closer it gets to profit as a motivating factor.

One need look no further than the recent (yes, this is one of the few times on the blog I will set something in time) case where Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller to smear Google on blogs.  I do not wish to go into the reasons behind Facebook choosing to make this happen, as they’re getting enough flack.  I want to look at Burson’s contemptuous, condescending, business-style response. (brilliantly parodied by the mystery folks behind Heishman-Flillard)

They could have said “we should have turned down this task when we were asked to do it. It’s good for business but bad karma, and we are better than that.  We are reviewing the process that lead to us thinking this would be okay.”

Instead they wrote the following:

The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media.

It is a total abdication of any responsibility for their actions, a justification of a slimy practice that many PR folks have condemned, and makes no attempt to claim that their work, decision-making process and vetting have any integrity whatsoever.  This from a company that is the poster child for a lack of integrity.  (seriously, Rachel Maddow did an expose about them that concluded with “When evil needs PR work done, Evil has Burson-Marstellar on speed dial”.  You can watch more examples via this Maddow clip.)

This is why I cannot get excited about business on social channels.  Business presence on social channels is by nature a corrupting influence, because business has no integrity.  People may, but the nature of business is to override personal integrity with capitalist interest under the guise of self-sustainment as it grows too large for human compassion to remain the core value.

Are there exceptions? I would argue that there are, but they are rare, generally quiet about it, and the ones that are talked about (Zappos, etc) are talked about mostly in the ‘…and they’re profitable!’ way.

The quietly virtuous ones are the kinds of companies I’ve been spending the last 6 months of unemployment trying to find and be a part of.  I work with integrity, to the best of my ability.

So, anyway… Read “You are not a Gadget”. (for the sake of the article, this is not an affiliate link).

And don’t be surprised that I’m not on fucking Empire Avenue.

Reach vs. Engagement, once and for all.


Reach is a measurement of who exists to be engaged with at any given time. How many people are on your Facebook page.  How many Twitter followers do you have?  It is quantitative and does not translate very well into a qualitative model.

The reason it doesn’t is because reach and engagement are rarely if ever linked.

Engagement is a  measure of the bi-directional interactions between you and another party or set of parties.  It is a qualitative measurement, ideally based on a series of interactions over time specifically leading to a desired action.

Having low reach and high engagement leads to high ROI.  You are building transactional value among a subset of users who choose to interact with you, your engagements educate you about your audience and allow you to engage more usefully.

Low reach, high engagementConversely, having high reach and low engagement leads to miniscule ROI.  Your quantitative numbers may be high, but the quality (i.e. value) per user is low, and remains low.  This means that you end up with a large number of apathetic respondents.

Of course the ideal is high reach, high engagement.

How do you get there?

Well, the first step is separating reach and engagement in your strategy and day-to-day discussions.

The next step is to put “reach” on the other side of the equals sign, and focus all your efforts on engagement.

The funny thing is that it turns out that having highly engaged users actually will go out of their way to build your reach for you.

Quality before quantity.

The power of the third place, and why Twitter ain’t it.

I believe so much in the importance of The Third Place.  The bar, the library, the club, the place you spend time when you’re not at home or at work.  (incidentally, this is at the heart of Starbucks’ model.)  A third place instills a sense of belonging to something larger, of having friends, of being loved.

Courtesy MITThis is not the same as an online community.  Although bonds can be formed and connections can be established, there is a limit to the depth of relationship you can have without breathing the same air.

It just doesn’t replace the third place situation.  It cannot.  So much of the experience is sharing a real space, sharing real energy, sharing your stories and laughing together. It’s real connection on a human level, divorced from specific professional or pre-existing social context, and it just can’t be found in its entirety on Twitter or Ning or anywhere else.

One of the reasons I don’t go to many industry conferences is because (for me at least), they don’t function as a third place.  Most of the conversations I hear are around “lets talk about Twitter or about how much we don’t like talking about Twitter.”  It’s not really a third place, its an extension of one of the first two. Meet me for coffee afterward.  Those are where the bonds are formed.

I guess my point is this.  I’m honestly worried that we (us younger folks especially) may be duped by the rhetoric around technology into thinking IMs, Texts and Twittering are meaningful as a ‘real connection’, and that we will settle for a life with wider swaths of shallower connections and not know what we’re missing.

So, if you run a local business, work at a school, have any connection whatsoever with a space that could serve even sometimes as a place for people to connect, meet up, have good times, talk about their shared experiences and generally feel warm and fuzzy, why the hell aren’t you bending over backward for people to have those experience in them?

Why wouldn’t you want people to have those kinds of experiences and connect them with your space?  It’s never been easier to incentivize people to come give your place a try.

Be a Third Space.  Breed connection.  Save intimacy.  Don’t let Starbucks have all the fun.

Why do we preach authenticity and transparency? What’s all this really about?

Tiger hugging a person
Image via Wikipedia

All this talk about Twitter and Facebook engagement, how you need to be authentic and transparent, let people behind the scenes, tell stories.  This is all well and good, and enough (some might say too much) has been written about the what and the how.

We should talk more about the why.  Not the why in the “so we can help make you money” sense (I would file that squarely in the ‘results of efforts’ column, on the other side of the equals sign).  The why in the “what are the bigger forces we are aligning ourselves with by taking your advice on communications” sense.

Here’s why (I think).  We are all working to dissolve adversarial relationships between people.

We realize that working together toward a common goal is more powerful than any positioning based on “what do I have to give you so that you do what I want”.

We notice this every day in our lives, when we reach out for help, or give a hug to a friend or a smile on the street or put a dollar in a homeless person’s hand, or tell our kids that we love them.

Many of us don’t think that this kind of interaction doesn’t scale to the world of business, where people inside the company are responsible for doing whatever is necessary to get people outside of the company to part with their money.

This is crap.  Not only is it adversarial, but it’s bad business.  People know when your intent is not pure, even subconsciously.  The more strategic you come off, the more adversarial the relationship between you and not-you becomes.

There are so many examples lately of companies and industries that find themselves in a spiral of adversity-based business decisions (see: music business).  Just today I was reading on the elevator (thanks captivate.com) that airlines are beginning to charge for seats with leg room.  My reptile brain takes this to mean that this airline doesn’t want anyone to have a good experience flying with them unless we’re willing to pay extra for it.

So why do we say ‘be authentic and transparent’?  Because when we dissolve the ‘us vs them’ mentality, we can get down to the business of creating and awesome experience for everyone who interacts with us.  If you’re in a business situation, the perception around the exchange of funds shifts from ‘I guess I can part with my money because I need or want this” to “I’m excited to be a part of what this purchase makes possible”.   If you’re in a personal situation, you get that good feeling that connecting can bring.  You make a new friend, or lover, or contact.

This is the position we’re in.  Our job isn’t really to recommend a digital strategy for people.  That’s just a trojan horse.  Our jobs, our passion as communicators (whether we’re conscious of it or not) is dissolving adversity, one communication point at a time.

It’s the most important thing we can do as people, for the health of the world.