Category Archives: Technology

Understanding Bitcoin might mean accepting it

Last week, one of Silicon Valley’s most respected venture capitalists wrote in a blog post for THE NEW YORK TIMES an explanation of why he’s so excited about Bitcoin, the virtual currency.  Marc Andreessen is actively seeking startups to fund in this area.  The creator of the world’s first computer browser, Netscape, Andreessen makes a strong case for going virtual.

Andreessen’s essay is good reading — as is the ebook, “Conversational Bitcoin,” by Christopher Carfi.  Chris makes Bitcoin easy to understand.  It’s free to download here.

pennyThis week’s coverage of illegal activity by Bitcoin buyers and sellers is making it easy for some to reject the emergence of virtual currency.  Yet things like a black market and theft have always stained the human condition.  Look at the banking industry’s 2008 doings.  Or think about how the island of Manhattan was “purchased” from Native Americans.

Corporate executives, political activists and private citizens are debating the nature of personal wealth in America.  It’s a good time to explore anything that might make us all think about our financial reach.  And what we can be doing with it.  Namely, being open to new means of financial transaction that might enfranchise every human being.

Captains and floozies

On Monday, I wrote in the weekly newsbrief about how we can find talent on our teams in the unlikeliest places.  How project leaders who discover and promote talent can trust them to take work to innovative places.

These project leaders generally have the foresight, strength and confidence that equip them to let those they lead to excel — to enter and capture the spotlight — to extend the project message in other interesting, often unplanned ways.  The story of Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi serves as the case study.  The man was selected without any acting experience by a director who taught him as well as hired him and knew a good line when he heard it.  The ad-lib heard around the world is showing all of us, not just Hollywood, how to be delighted by the unexpected.  Not threatened by it.

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like Twitter are not truly women of the tech workforce.  Who then refused to explain what he meant.  For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate.  To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering.  Should this man be challenged, watch out.  He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either.  Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

If tech women are leaving anywhere in droves, it’s for two reasons.  First, for being expected to behave, code and program in the manner of the teen tech stars who have captivated Silicon Valley for the first decade of this century.  Second, women leave because guys like this appoint themselves gurus of all things female and feminine without working — hard — with the founders and teams who are actually building companies, products, services and customer lists.  There is not a conspiracy to prevent women from succeeding.  But there is money to be made selling books that tell us there is.

Guys like this think the only good women are the ones who have multiple degrees in engineering related disciplines.  Guys like this think that women who write stories or build customer communities are not really women of tech.  Guys like this believe Minimum Viable Products spring forth unaided from engineers who need marketing, accounting, sales and legal experts only to serve them, not advise them or stand beside them as founders.

At least this is what I assume.  Because in the absence of a real clarification from Mr-Women-in-the-Tech-Workforce, I can only conclude he’s like a few, not the majority, of the guys I’ve encountered in my decades of experience:  suspicious of anyone in heels, assumptive that mascara and brains do not go together, and convinced he knows better than anyone else, including women, what they need and want from a career.  He’s a misogynist.  And the only woman he can begin to trust is one with a pure engineering pedigree.

Well, even the women with those kinds of pedigrees don’t tend to believe that.  In fact, one of the great things about women in the workforce is that we understand the importance of being open to the possibilities, wherever they emerge and from whatever corner.  I’d rather see this guy write about that than feather his own nest with nasty diatribes against the producers — like Twitter, Facebook and Google — who are hiring women and creating open opportunities based on merit, not gender.

Whether the talent was once a limousine driver or is a woman with a BA, we have to celebrate the people who are inviting them to the talent pool.  And we have to celebrate the talent.  Because even the business-side floozies deserve their moment in the sun when they engage users and customers in technological marvels.

By the way.  First rule of PR:  acknowledge your own missteps.  Second:  assume the questioner is sincere and respond with clarification, even if you think it’s a “mindless rant” [his words, not mine].  That’s the only way you get in front of your own mistake.  Own it and explain it or you’ll never move beyond it.

Facebook helps you leave the world better than you found it

Organ donation helps so many people — the donor’s family, the recipient, the recipient’s family.

The donor’s family honors their loved one and realizes extra meaning from the lost life. The recipient receives a chance to sustain and continue and, in many cases, start over and see life in new ways. The recipient’s family takes a journey that begins with potential loss and continues through both gratitude and the realization that we must live every moment with gusto, humility and purpose.

My father received a liver transplant at Baylor in 1993. The team of specialists in Dallas, who had a level of professionalism one can only be grateful to witness — steely talent, focus and empathy, shared the gift offered by a young man’s family with ours.

While our particular family drama took many more twists and turns in the ensuing months and years, I remain convinced that the gift of this procedure is not just the saving of a physical life. Dad’s organ transplant gave him, my mother, their children, and our extended family and friends the opportunity to consider what we can do with our lives in each day and in every relationship. This is almost beyond description. All are empowered to experience a rejuvenation in perspective and outlook.

While it is up to every person in the circle to take the transplant as an enabling moment of change — the transplant does not always deliver a fairytale ending [something I learned from the friends I made as I did my transplant research] — the act of participating in organ donation is nonetheless an important gesture. In acknowledging that we must try to help each other, either by giving generously or accepting graciously, we are doing the kind of thinking we’re on this planet to do.

Facebook’s decision to illuminate the power of organ donation is a neat personal moment in this regard. The company and its tools play a daily role in my professional world, largely because I decided to take a new direction and come to Silicon Valley in 1997. There’s no doubt in my mind that my father’s health journey sharpened my own sense that destiny is largely within one’s own control. In tying my destiny to technology, I made a huge change. I moved myself to the headquarters of the new age, and the fact that one of the companies shaping the age, not just my work, has chosen to focus a philanthropic act on organ donation is a nice bit of serendipity.

Social networks like Facebook may play a smaller, supporting role in your journey. This is still an opportunity to consider what the people behind Facebook are suggesting we do with their technology. Most definitely become an organ donor, and most definitely consider, every day, what you, your companies and your circles are doing to leave the world better than you found it.

The next generation of Internet startups

In March 2012, I read about a new startup called BrandYourself and signed up.  Inspired by one of its founder’s negative search engine results — he was being confused with a drug dealer — BrandYourself is nonetheless about much more than deleting bad search results.  The company is one of several new startups that enable regular people to optimize their online activities and/or make their lives easier.  I am so impressed with BrandYourself that I talked with CBS Interactive about it.

There are plenty of so-called reputation management plays out there, well-funded, in fact, but BrandYourself represents a super-important shift in technology — what I see as the next generation of startups.  It is one of a bunch of companies that were born where their customers live, and they enable customers to manage and optimize their content — giving them a bit of control they did not have.  In BrandYourself’s case, you tell them what you want turning up in a search, so the Internet is not just happening to you.

Another new generation startup, Citrus Lane [my client], packages and delivers products for babies and their parents monthly, saving them time and money.  This is great, but Citrus Lane also invites customers into a community of parents who share their experiences and wisdom.  The so-called mommy bloggers are running with it, taking to their sites and YouTube to talk about their experiences with the brands that Citrus Lane packs — and talking about how Citrus Lane covers all their bases:  monthly surprises, good things for their babies, product research.

Wix.com [I use it for my consulting practice], makes it possible for anyone to create  a beautiful, compelling, differentiated website for a small business.  Their designers and programmers work on the art and the underlying engine, giving you templates to follow that extract the content that makes for a good story.  At the same time, you have a creative outlet that gives the world a picture of the real you.  This is essential to strong marketing [something I always tell my clients].

These startups use technology to pull ideas from you to shape your presence and your circles online.  And while BrandYourself and companies like it do have the luxury of following the quirky programming geniuses who perfected web platforms, they are very wisely taking those innovations a step further, not copying them.  They are addressing what regular people need, now that we have Facebook, LinkedIn, et al,  and providing services on top of those platforms that meet real expectations.

Marketplace differentiation starts with a story. Your story.

The advent of the social enterprise is upon us.  We are all about to embark upon corporate communication as we have never known it.  Communication across multiple media and multiple lines, with folks we know or want to know. Immediate communication.  Precisely targeted communication.  Democratically sourced communication. 

722673_waters_edgeFluid boundaries are the mark of the social enterprise — so enterprise messages must be ever more precise.  And they must be distinguishable from those of other enterprises, especially from your competitors.

One thing has not changed.  Differentiation begins with your story. 

So before you even begin to embrace the potent advantages of the social enterprise experience, know the story you want to tell.  Don't even think about technology or new marketing initiatives without pondering your story.

 

 

 

The leading corporate advisor Nancy Duarte has a terrific approach to the personal story, and it applies perfectly to the enterprise.  

   Duarte focuses on what she calls the transformative idea.  What is the idea that led to your enterprise?  What are the ideas that gave it shape?  What are the ideas that keep it relevant and of use to your customers and stakeholders?  Who are the characters that enrich your story?  Where are the new chapters of your story being written?

Your story drives your messages, your brand, your presence.  Or it should.  Think Zappos, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Apple, Dyson.  Your story will fortify your organization as it transforms into a social enterprise.  Your story will help your stakeholders understand who you are and give them reasons to build relationships with your enterprise, person to person.

 

Beyond bookmarking: Sharing five articles I Stumbled, Google-read and stored

One of the best aspects of living life digitally is being able to share what I read in a millisecond.  I remember copying, faxing and mailing articles to clients.  Then I remember emailing them.  The tools we have now are an article clipper's dream.

Today, I use StumbleUpon and Google Reader both to catalog my favorites and to share them with followers on those sites.  I'm starting to do more on Facebook and LinkedIn as well, mainly through a standing link from my Twitter feed to those networks.  My goal is to wean myself off saving things to my computer.

As part of this process, I'm attempting to share five articles, saved and shared to my various networks, here on the blog every week, too.  So here they are.

  1. The obituary of Edward Stobart in The Economist.
  2. How to hold attention, by the brilliant John Hagel, with John Seely Brown, on Harvard Business Review.
  3. Figuring out where your buyers are, from the blog by Content Marketing Institute.
  4. The backlash against the academic Mafia [my phrase!], in The Atlantic.
  5. Mitch Wagner's take on Don Tapscott's view of capitalism, on The CMO Site.

The seven business books I believe are right for right now

These books, which I've read or am reading, are works whose content can inform business life. 

The Power of Pull:  How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in MotionJohn Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison.  Aptly describes the change that is afoot and how anyone — and any business — can sustain relevance and connection.

Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham LincolnDoris Kearns Goodwin.  Shows how competitors can collaborate when their leader is clear about the objective and recognizes how their motives can help reach the goal.  [Side benefit:  I found the description of the actions of biased journalists soothing.  If this country survived a civil war and those reporters, it can survive anything.]

The Divine ComedyDante Alighieri [The John Ciardi Translation].  Amazing that despite every other kind of growth, the human character really never changes.  Very useful.

I Hate People:  Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your JobJonathan Littman, Mark Hershon.  The authors do an outstanding job of categorizing every personality you can encounter in the workplace.  The psychology and the comedy of pathological behavior.

Delivering Happiness:  A Path to Profits, Passion and PurposeTony Hsieh.  Sometimes nice works. Here's how to do it and prosper without becoming a patsy.

Power:  Why Some People Have It — and Others Don'tJeffrey Pfeffer.  How to get comfortable with power and decide whether you want it.

Overlook Much, Correct a Little:  99 Sayings by John XXIIIHans-Peter Rothlin, editor.  The musings of an enlightened mind, these thoughts inspire action that benefits every stakeholder in an organization — most especially, oneself.