On Vulnerability

[Inspired by Brene Brown’s awesome TEDTalk “The Power of Vulnerability”, which I really recommend you watch before reading this post.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.]

[and also inspired by Amber N’s Things I Wish People Knew About Me]

Vulnerability is a scary thing. We spend a lot of time avoiding that feeling, but as Brene says, it turns out that vulnerability is a key component in connection, doing meaningful work, having fun, pretty much all that matters in the world.

This year has been a struggle for me to remain vulnerable.  Being unemployed since January in this current economic climate is a scary thing.  I decided early on to look for something that is a good fit for my skills and interests and that I can get excited about, rather than taking a job that I’d be good at but would not feed my passion and curiosity for exploring the stories behind why people love what they love.  This is great in theory, but in practice has been a constant struggle to not feel like I’m being totally selfish and silly (despite this being the right thing to do according to not just me), which leads to me putting up walls.

Image by JJSchad via Flickr

In any case, I can feel myself putting up new walls, and I think it’s reflected in my interactions online, and probably in person too.  So, this post is my attempt to ‘strip off’, if you will, and thrust myself outside of whatever self-imposed comfort zone I may have put myself in.

That said, here’s my Things I Wish People Knew About Me:

I had a very tumultuous adolescence. By the time I was 11, my parents (who had been together over 20 years) were in the process of fighting constantly and ultimately my mother moved out when I was 14 or 15.  I lived with my father until I was 25.  This became a situation that required many walls be put up to keep my emotions in check, and these walls still exist today, though I’m working on letting them go.

I never went to college, and I only regret it sometimes. People are often surprised by this, but after my traumatic teen years (including dropping out of Bronx Science, before landing at Urban Academy, which I’ve posted about before), I was in no rush to continue the educational process.  So I got a job instead.  Although I’m not convinced that college as it exists today is still a worthwhile investment, I do think that the social aspects of it could have been valuable for me.  This comes up in job interviews.

I have a really hard time giving myself credit for what others think I do well, therefore I’m often dismissive and have a hard time “selling my accomplishments”. Part of the challenge of growing up an only child and being ‘a smart kid’ is that the expectation that we will always do brilliant things leads to a self-censorship of anything we might not be good at.  This New York Magazine article explains it more eloquently than I can, but the gist of it is that somehow the goalposts for me being excited about the quality of my work is always just a bit further down the road.  I’m much more likely to brush off and discount compliments and praise than to own it. See also: this list looking sort of like a document of insecurities.

I’m a nerd for many things, so many paths seem interesting to me. I love baking (I hope to own a tea house with fresh-baked goodies when I retire), music is a central passion (I play five instruments, and DJed for over a decade in local goth clubs), I’ve even become a bit of a tea nerd lately (did you know there’s a social network called Steepster for tea fans?).  I’m always curious, always interested in learning more and it’s really easy for me to find something new to delve into (yeah, I’ve wasted more than a few evenings on Wikipedia)  My broad curiosity, while a great asset when tasked with exploring a topic, sometimes feels like it gets in the way of me being able to choose a focus. I sometimes envy those with a singular passion who can build a goal within it and drive toward it.

Curiosity is my favorite character trait in another person. You take your senses of humor and your big or small anatomical attributes.  Curiosity is where it’s at.  A curious mind is the baseline for all creativity, adventurousness and smarts.  I love curious people, and I hope to pursue my professional goal of feeding that curiosity for as many curious minds as possible.

So there you have it, five things I wish people knew about me.  It felt good to be vulnerable if just for a moment.

Thanks for listening.


Photo Credit: Thanks by kizzzbeth, on Flickr

Align Your Intents: Removing Friction in Brand Experiences By Showing Interest In End-Users

TMobile Coffee Shop, Old City, Jerusalemhe infrastructure for global communication has hit a tipping point in the last few years.  New technologies give each of us an exponentially louder voice with which to share stories of exceptional experiences with companies (both positive and negative).  In order to survive, companies must take a look at existing conflicts between end-users intents and their own, in a way that may initially seem quite counter-intuitive. The points where the brands intent and ours are most in conflict lead to the most negatively memorable experiences, which carry a lot of power.  Let me explain.

When interacting with a company, our intent as end-users is rarely, if ever, based on figuring out how to give them money.  Mostly, our interactions are based on getting a need or a want addressed as efficiently as possible.  This is, more often than not, in direct conflict with the implicit (if not explicit) intentions of the companies we are interacting with.  This conflict of intents, historically ‘part of the cost of doing business,’ has become much more of an active topic of conversation online and offline, which is having an ever-increasing impact on our overall perception of companies and our willingness to engage with them (e.g. spend our money with them)

An obvious example of a decision made in conflict is DRM.   The intent of the business (protecting their self-perceived ‘most important assets’ from their customers) was in direct conflict to the customers intent (purchasing music in a manner that gives them ownership of their copy).  Instead of being interested in interacting with their consumers, the entertainment industry defaulted to treating each and every one of us like potential criminals, and attempts to engage were ignored or met with legal action.  Choosing instead for your businesses intent to involve an active and genuine interest in people, communities and behavior, asking questions, and generally being interested leads to much longer term gains and sustainability (something companies that have embraced DRM are struggling with right now).

My friend Amber Naslund recounts a story about how the Jurys Boston Hotel picked up on something she said on Twitter about her experience there and took the time to email to thank her for her mention and (something Amber glossed over a bit but I think is so important) took an interest in her as a person via email, followed up with her to learn more, and set her up to have an awesome experience the next time.  This resulted in the creation of a new and powerful customer evangelist.  In Amber’s words, posted to a block with :

I have a hotel in Boston that feels very much “mine”. Why would I stay somewhere else when I know the people, and feel like they’re genuinely happy when I come back again?

If Jury’s Boston had simply stuck to the ‘be a hotel where people give us money to have somewhere to sleep’ intent, she most likely would have had a perfectly fine time and probably not given it the thought to dedicate the home page of her site to the experience.  By taking the time to listen, learn and reorient their intentions to match (and exceed) hers,  Jury’s Boston created an experience for her that earned both her loyalty, trust and her voice to others.  For this interaction, the intent of the company was to create a great experience for Amber, and to fufill her needs.   Jury’s is, of course, a business, and would have been happy to take her money and move on.  They decided, for this interaction at least, that their intent was to make the interaction more personal.  Total cost to them: One phone call.  Total return:  A fan for life, with incentive to share the experience with her friends, followers, everyone who reads her blog, each of whom now have a hotel in mind to stay at when they’re in Boston.

Companies may look at this concept and respond with trepidation.  “The whole purpose of a company is to increase its own bottom line, otherwise it wouldn’t exist!” is a popular response.  While this underlying statement may be true, the intent of how one reaches profitability is something that is much more flexible than most companies think.  The challenge lies when they have been set up in a way that leaves no room for taking an interest when providing a service or bringing a product to market.  It is not a question of willingness, but actually deciding to take the time and effort to address a lack of room in the workflow for genuine human interest and curiosity.

So, take a look (and, more importantly, a listen) around where you work.  During the course of the day, how much time is spent in your company being interested in customers?  Pay attention to how interactions with end users are phrased.  Are people interested in connecting, or are they more interested in “identifying target audiences” and “demographics and psychographics” to the exclusion of other things.  I think you’ll find the vocabulary very telling.

What bit of information would you like to share with companies that could make for a more compelling engagement with you? Are they giving you a place to tell them?  Are they interested?