Monthly Archives: December 2006

2006 Wrap up and Blog Tag

My dear friend, Chris Brogan started a new game of blog tag with  these 2006 wrap up questions.  In your view, what is the:

  1. Most Useful application
  2. Best Web site
  3. Worst Web site
  4. Hottest Trend
  5. Favorite Gadget

So here are mine:

1.  I have to say I love everything Google and Mozilla.   Gmail, my Google front page with the widgets, and Google Documents have changed the way I do things,  They rock!  Although, I have a soft spot for PB Wiki as well.

2. This is difficult, because the definition of best depends on what its function is.  I like Comedy Central’s ability to view shows and queue up favorites;  I like the New York Times website, even when I have to pay for archives;  I love Flickr for photos.  All of these simply work and work well.

3. Worst website- this is also hard.  So many “amateur” and professional sites are set up badly- the navigation is horrible- But one of the all time worst is Thompson Prometric– a website where you can go to schedule professional testing.  I had to use this website to schedule a standardized test for one of my kids, and the website was so frustrating to use, I had to use their 800 number (costing them more money).  You can’t even just find out what times are available to take a test- you have to “Guess” what time you might want to take a test and then they will tell you if it’s available- we went through 30 minutes of this on the phone.  In stark contrast,  The Apple Store does a great job of letting you schedule appointments with a “Genius” at their retail stores from home- I wish all appointment services were set up this way.

My new online pet peeve is the people who are in new media but  make it nigh near impossible to contact them if you need to.   You can’t expect the world to love you and then not give them a way to get in touch with you if an opportunity arises.  If you’re a band, for example, and no one can easily find your contact info, how do you expect to get gigs????

4. Hottest Trend: I think it is virtual collaboration.  I have had long distance projects with several people, working with podcasts, gmail, google docs and wikis to great effect.  I think more people with collaborate on projects even though they are located no where near each other, for real money.

5.  My favorite gadget, outside of my video ipod (Thanks, Hon!) has got to be my Olympus ws-100 digital recorded.  It records with acceptable fidelity for “field” interviews, plugs right into a USB port for download, and I can slip it in my pocket.  Maybe this is the year for a serious web enabled phone, but since we will be paying for it ourselves, we have to be able to justify the additional $45 per month charge.  Not sure we’re there just yet.

Thanks, Chris!

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Back to Basics for the New Year

I have spent some time in book stores lately, trying to find something new and magical- something that either intrigues me, fiction or nonfiction.  I am coming up woefully short on the whole.  Why?  Many things are seeming so very much the same out there, and very few new or original ideas are being presented.

This is normal- not everything will be new and novel.  But my favorite quote is “An original is hard to find but easy to recognize”- we all know what genuine originality looks like- it is a new spin on something, a new point of view.  The underlying themes may be classic,  but the presentation is fresh and inviting.

Most of the business books out there invite you to the same meat and potatoes meal.  If you adopt their 7 (+/-3) step strategy plan, you, too will be ensured immediate success, however you choose to define it.  Most self help books of any nature have this same structure.  If you can just channel your inner child/Mr. Rogers/Lee Iaccoca/Rudy Guiliani/Harry Potter/character to be named later, you will finally understand how the universe works.

Well, here’s my “original”spin on all of this.  People are humans- we are all variants on a theme.  We all have brains.  These brains are individually customized, determined in part by our genetic gifts, but largely by our experiences.  The things that drive people to make the choices they make are largely based on the core motivations we all have pre-programmed into our systems, ranging from meeting our core needs to out-competing others for scarce resources.  If you’re an adult, just consider real life office politics- this is really no different from high school, just on a larger scale, with the benefit of earning a salary for your efforts.  I swear, I only know about 8 to 12 separate people- everyone else is a variation on a theme.  This may seem cold or too reductionist, but if you look for patterns, you may seem the same themes emerging time and time again.

I had this experience not too long ago.  There is one particular person I know who just drives me crazy- Lady Z- she is negative, she likes stirring the pot and causing misery for others, and rarely has a nice thing to say about anyone or anything.  She is a pessimist at heart.  Interestingly, another mom I know, we’ll call her Mommy Y, began sharing an experience she had with another mom, Mommy X, and it finally dawned on me that the reason I never really warmed to Mommy X is that she a) reminded me of the girls I could not stand in grade school, and b) she was the same general personality type as Lady Z.  Now, it all made sense.  I could now use all the skills I had divined to ease my relationship with Lady Z with my interactions with Mommy X, and Voila- similar results.

This means that finding the patterns makes dealing with the infinite number of people you encounter so much easier!  Sure, everyone is an individual, but if you can see the general patterns of behavior in people repeat themselves time and again, predicting behavior and interactions in, say, committee meetings becomes a breeze.  Picking the people you want to work with and avoiding those who rub you the wrong way simply saves you time and stress.  Plus it keeps you from seeking to change or revise people, when the truth is we all revert to our natural mode of action over time, anyway.

I think people are fascinating, but to a certain extent, we are like legos.  We can be put together in an infinite variety of ways, but the same basic structure and the way each piece fits together is the same.   What do you think?  Does this resonate with you?

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The Holidays- How’d They Go?

We have returned from our Christmas away from home.  It went remarkably well, considering that there were over 15 people at Christmas Dinner,  all with many divergent opinions, and not one Jerry Springer moment!  Fortunately, despite the fact that my husband’s parents are divorced, his mom, Dad and his wife, and my brother in law’s parents were all well behaved and cordially, even friendly at all holiday events. It was pretty comfortable for everybody, most of the time.

The funny moments of course come from the culture clashes.  My bother and sister in law send their children to a religious school, and my eleven year old has been taken by the Da Vinci Code, and likes talking about ancient symbols of male and female, and whether any of this speculation about Mary Magdelene is true; my brother in law slipped and said Mary Magdelene was Jesus’ mom, not companion.  Despite the oedipal giggles this engendered, we decided James should keep the theological and historical conversations away from the more religious parties of the group.  Or when my brother in law’s mom kept calling me by a different name, so we started making up new names for everyone on the spot- Matt became Mark, etc.

The best thing about the holidays was that forone of the first times, I didn’t feel that I was visiting my husband’s family, versus my family- just that it was our family, together- and that was a truly wonderful feeling.  I love them all, despite their quirks and idosyncracies, and it was one of those rare holiday gatherings where no one was having a snit about anything at all.  I hope this is a harbinger of future holidays, and the us vs. them stuff is a thing of the past.

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Contributing to the Blogosphere

There are a couple of interesting projects being tossed around the blogosphere- One, the 5 things you didn’t know about me, and Ben from the Instigator Blog’s What did you learn this year? I decided to answer both here.

1. What I learned. I turned 40 this year, and while some women find it depressing, I found it a really freeing experience. This year, I’ve learned to let go (more) of worrying about what other people may think about what I do, and instead, concentrate on how I think and feel about it. My podcasts and blog posts have to meet my standards, not those of others- I am in charge of my creativity, and I am no longer afraid of it. I have learned to not allow myself to be put on hold, but take initiative and make my own future and opportunities. It feels great! 40 feels more like a birth of being a whole person wearing many different hats, rather than several people competing for center stage- being a mom, attorney, podcaster, etc. I feel like I now know myself better, and I like it.

I think the other big lesson I learned this year was to step out of the comfort zone and take risks.  You have to be able to recognize opportunity and grab it when it appears- be willing to say yes sometimes, when No seems easier and “safer.”  Walk through the door when you could stay standing on the threshold or fence, considering your options.  Live your life, rather than letting life live you.
2. The five things you might not know about me.

1. I worked for a small law firm right out of law school that did a lot of medical malpractice, social security disability and worker’s compensation work. I didn;t particularly like torts in law school but I thought maybe I was prejudging the practice- I found out I was not. While I was good at reviewing medical records, researching issues, and the like, I hated the aspect of the practice that seemed to take advantage of other people’s misfortunes. It seems wrong, especially when coupled with the fact that some people view law suits as an opportunity to win the lottery, not to compensate them for wrong that has been done to them. Many people don’t even see the difference.

2. I was a nationally ranked squash player in high school, and played on the Squash team at Penn during my first 2 years there, and I played flute in the Penn Band.

3. I was headed towards med school at one point, and then thought about a PhD in Biology, but turned down a position at Georgetown and moved to Florida. I took the LSAT’s, did really well, and ended up in Law School. The few years off did me a world of good.

4. The worst job I ever had was working for a guy at the University of Florida who ran experiments on tropical fish and mullets. He bred tropical fish- I had to feed the fish a special brine shrimp mixture every day, clean the tanks, and there were roaches and spiders that could have been hired out as weapons of mass destruction by the Defense Department. The science was just plain bad; the guy wasn’t very talented, and he was not easy to work for. I still occassionally have nightmares about those rows and rows of fish tanks.

5. I’ve had many mentors over the years, but my absolute hero has got to be Dr. Stephen Roth. Steve was head of the Biology Department at Penn and taught me so many things, ranging from how to be exact and precise in using language, how to really dissect information and look for the root basic cause, and how to not take yourself too seriously. When I told him I was going to try law school- a tough thing for me to say, after spending so much time in his lab, he said “If your choices in life are between getting a PhD in Biology or becoming an attorney, you really don’t have any problems at all.” I will always remember this moment, and how much it meant to me that he put all of this into perspective. And some day, I’ll recount the lab field trip to the shooting range.

(Steve’s cousin is the writer, Phillip Roth- they look like brothers, which always freaks me out a little in the book store when I see Phillip’s book jackets.)

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Decisions – How NOT to make them

I  am pretty confident most of the time, but like everyone, I can lapse into self doubt.  I made a Google home page that I love- all of my favorite widgets all in one place- giving me the condensed versions of information I use every day- NYT front page, favorite blog entries, etc.  For some reason I cannot know divine, I also put the Magic 8 Ball on the page.   So in a moment of  indecision, I asked the 8 Ball to prognosticate the future.  I got mixed messages, and finally asked- Should I depend on other things that the Magic 8 ball to make decisions?  And its answer was “It is decidely so.”  I started laughing out loud- a random, turthful message from the cosmos I needed this morning.  Never underestimate the power of fun and silly.

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So Over the BS

I have a big event to attend in a few days. I’ve been spending the weekend working on my pitch, making sure I sound professional and have the concepts digested down into their most basic form. The basic quesion is Where is the value add- why does this idea merit attention over all the others? Why should the client sink time, money and resources into making this a reality? Well, fortunately, these answers are easy. This is an easily defendable idea, not one of those ideas we saw in the first web expansion period, where sillier and sillier ideas kept being funded and then crashing when their product didn’t score with consumers.

It comes back to something I wrote about in an earlier post on my LD Podcast Blog – you have to look at the basic needs people have, and find a way to meet those needs. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you look at things that are wildly successful, at the root of each of these products, you find that they meet a very real world and neurological need.

The internet. Why does it work?

1. It is self organizing- no one runs it. It is democracy. So everyone can participate without too steep of a learning curve.

2. It fills our need to access information. With google, a quick string of words, and you answer just about any question you might have. You can locate resources, hard to find products, shop, predict the weather, apply to graduate school, anything at all.

3. It fills our need for community and connection. People are not solitary animals- they want to be with other, like minded creatures. And you can find those people much more readily on the itnernet than you can at your local sports bar, or unfortunately, even in your own household.

4. You can assert your status as a cool person, knowing more about these technologies than anyone else, and you can be an autonomous power of one- an individual who can contribute to conversations anywhere, anytime, or stake out your own homestead in the wilderness and build your own cult.

5. The right piece of information, to the right person, at the right time, can change the world. Ideas and content matter and are the currency of the internet- and meet our fundamental needs to be heard and acknowledged- this is the ancient greeks marketplace of ideas on steroids.

Ok, you are saying, I get it.  Find a Need, Fill a Need- wasn’t this the theme of that somewhat putrid movie Robots?

So Why, you are asking, is the title of the post So Over the BS?

Well, I was looking for some information this morning and went to a podcast from someone I respect tremendously. It ended up being a name dropping session of all the people who were getting to gether and talking about new media and its uses, but it was what we refer to as oral kegels around here. The lips are moving, but the rest is “Content free speech”.  I had to turn it off.  No nutrition here, on this episode, at all in the first 10 minutes-so I am gone, out of there, and I dunno when I’ll return.  Gimme the meat- skip the appetizers and the drinks for social lubrication- get down to the heart of it all ready! Not only that, the content was not helpful- just self promoting and self congratulatory. So, I am proud of you, my friend, for meeting so many people, and trying to move the conversation forward, but let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

If you want to make this new media space pay, you need to first read the following books: The Long Tail; The World is Flat; The Tipping Point; Blink; and Freakanomics. Advanced students will want to add Now Discover your Strengths and other books by Marcus Buckingham. Read, put in a blender and meditate on these for a while. Marinate well.

Add the information about meeting basic human needs, and know what the internet is good at, and what it is not.

And then, design ideas and programs that use the tools to their best advantage.

The internet, blogging, video, podcasts- whatever- are just tools. Content is king- ideas- the intellectual property, is what is important, and that is the value add. The tools are ways to get the content of any message heard in an efficient, and hopefully entertaining way. The reinvention of marketing involves connecting consumers to brands as never before.  If you are going to do marketing, you need to know how to make products and ideas useful to Joe Six pack, or whoever the market is.  Ask yourself the hard questions- Why is this thing necessary?  Why does my aunt, mother, son need one of these things?  Who does need one?  Does it solve a real problem, and if it does, how important is that problem?

For example, I will admit I do not get SecondLife at all. Number one- it doesn’t work well, and the learning curve on the thing is steep. Number 2- it’s an interactive video game you can use for business purposes, yes, but it’s not where I need to burn time and cash-let me call the person I need to speak with, or conference call-I have VOIP in the office, so it doesn’t cost anything, so who cares?  I’m not sure I care to do business with people who can’t pay for the phone call, you know?

Now podcasting I can get.  Videoblogging and videocasting I get.  Bruce Springsteen’s 57 channels and nothing’s on sums up the purpose for these things in a moment.   But Second Life- an interesting experiment, and I am sure it has made the originators wealthy, but not an idea or thing I can’t live without.  It doesn’t really meet the above tests.  The same need can be met in simplier, less complicated ways.  It’s cute, but I don’t want clients spending ridiculous amounts of time learning this flukey system for the minimal paybacks.  If I want a book from amazon, or a T-shirt from Ambercrombie, I don’t need to go to Second Life to make it happen.  Pointless calories out, for little real return.

So, I am so tired of the “new media, new media” propoganda without any real substance behind it.  New media is a collection to tools and ways to connect people in a very personal way, much more one to one and many to many than the One to many model used in traditional media.  So let’s get real and substantive and move ideas and content forward, and stop using chalk and crayons when we need to use sharpies and mont blanc fountain pens to sign real deals in the real world.

(boy am I cranky today!)

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The Fear of Success

A new opportunity has come my way. It may go very well, or go nowhere at all. Either way, I will have learned alot about myself in the process.

I was talking to a close friend last night, and we spoke about what I call the New Mommy Conundrum. When women have children, especially if they are at home moms, we get very used to becoming invisible. Our lives are easily sublimated to the wants and needs of our families. We become selfless, spending hours volunteering at preschools, cooking for bake sales, tying shoes, doing laundry and the like. We go to adult gatherings, and we are passed over as the least interesting or compelling people in the room. We grow used to being in the corner, to being treated as unimportant, and sometimes even become uncomfortable with seeking attention for ourselves. We feel invisible. Sometimes we even start to dress and present ourselves in ways that further diminish our visiability to others. Sweat pants and no makeup aren’t a good way to draw attention to yourself, but it’s the uniform of legions of moms.

We are invisible. While this can be frustrating, sometimes there’s a comfort in being in the supporting cast of the main story. We drive the story, make the main story and plot possible. We guide things from the background. For example, I know many families where, when the husband actually goes into a store, he is SHOCKED by how much things cost, because he hasn’t had to buy his own underwear, shirts, socks or pants literally for years. Kids assume you will be there to pick them up or make sure their every logistical need is met, along with on board catering and entertainment requirements. (Mom, did you bring me a snack? Where’s my gameboy?”) We become house wives in every sense of the word- we are married to home and hearth and making sure everyone else’s lives are perfect, while sublimating our own wants and needs.

And then, we get to a point where we start to carve out some space in our lives for ourselves. Maybe it’s a hobby. A regular date night with your spouse. A girl’s night out. A part time job. And all of a sudden, you have value beyond your enormous set of mad skills regarding stain removal and anticipatory catering. You start to have your own interests and develop a sense of yourself as a person with value. But how far out of the shadows can we go before we get burned? How much proverbial spf do we need, in terms of personal armor, thickening our skins to critique, before we can feel comfortable out there in the sunshine?

Women are different creatures than men. Men are much more naturally overtly competitive than women. Women are subtler, much more envious creatures. For example, when we were trying to concieve our first child, I remember someone I knew got pregnant by accident and weren’t sure what they were going to do. I couldn’t help having those secret thoughts that that woman was having MY baby. I wanted one, she didn’t, and the world was unfair. It was like having a brief psychotic moment where I was willing to believe there were a finite amount of pregnancies being passed out by God, and somehow, I forgot to get in line, or was simply passed over as being unworthy. Of course, this is all stupid, but the feelings of vague jealousy and that the Almighty had one weird sense of humor were rampant. My friend reported in the Moms group she went to, that when several women were trying to concieve and one did, there was that moment of forced joy from the others, who wanted to be happy for you, but were much more consumed by their own situations to be able to truly feel or share your joy. As my friend said- that moment of emotion on the face where they flash to the Oscar nominees that didn’t get the prize.

So, what happens when we leap out into the sun? It’s scary as hell. It is going WAY beyond my natural, “well, do they know it’s just me??” comfort zone. I keep trying to wake myself up from this dream world. But I am finding that as I practice what I preach to other parents and friends- to find your strengths, and that when you use your natural talents to their potiential, you cannot help but succeed.

I used to get caught up in the traps of “If I just lost some weight, then my life would be wonderful.” Or the “My life is on hold until the kids are in school, then I will find myself.” For a while, I’m not sureI was really looking for myself, and I was overly grateful for meager scraps that came my way. I allowed myself to be treated in a less than professional manner, because I had flexibility, and I needed some flexibility, and the person in the back of my mind was saying “well, what do you expect? You’re a mom- who is going to take you seriously? Why do you think you know what you are talking about? Who made you so special? Why do you deserve any better? What do you really add to the situation?” In an interview I did for the LD Podcast with Jim Conroy, we talked about the first thing people ask you at a party is “What do you do?” and I joked that there are packs of women in the ‘burbs on antidepressants and margartias because of having to answer this question and try to justify their existance.

Well, as a result of this lack of self esteem and self value, diminshed during the years of sublimating many wants and needs gladly to those of my terrific family, I have gotten very used to throwing ideas around cavalierly with people I know. Never expecting any of them to stick, and expecting that if others actually like the idea, they will be the implementers., Much like teaching a child to ride a bike, I will sit there, from the sidelines, cheering as they make it happen for themselves. Taking satisfaction in being a small part of the overall success, but not taking credit for the achievement. Just planting the seeds, maybe even helping with the fertilizer and water, but never reaping the harvest myself.

As I have done in the past, I pitched an idea to a good friend who I think the world of, because I thought it was something that could really help them out. It’s a great idea, in fact. But I was surprised when I got a very quick response from them saying- “Wow! This is just what we’ve been looking for! Can you put something together so I can show my friends and see if they want to do this? What can you do for us now?” So I put something together. Now we wait to see if the friends are interested.

I am anxious and excited and scared and ecstatic and – it’s all a bit overwhelming. And why? Because I am used to not being taken very seriously. I am not used to success. My husband has always said- You have to be ready for them to say YES. But all the softballs I pitch around, the ideas that come off the fly wheel daily, so often they lay fallow. I have gotten used to having low expectations, and only recently have made what was a huge leap into the sun for me- moving to the “Well, if you don’t ask, you won’t get” mode of operation. Now I have to adjust to the next important step which is “Well, if they say yes, then what?” part of the program, and become as prepared for Yes as well as No.

I guess I have treated life somewhat like a lottery. I play, but I never expect to win, and sometimes keep myself from enjoying the fun of dreaming and saying “What if”, because I don’t want the crushing disappointment of the “No Luck This Time, TryAgain.” But without dreams, there is little hope and joy, and I have to prepare to let myself experience the joy and the hope, without the guilt chaser.

Because there is guilt with success for some of us. We are happy for ourselves, but we are aware of the others who are struggling. Others who think they deserve it more than you. Others who think your hard work, your ability to harness and focus your ideas and energy is a fluke. (Also because you are using your strengths, it just isn’t as hard for you as it is for them, as hard as they think it should be.) Dumb luck. Others who you know will say that you didn’t pay enough dues before finding the winning ticket. You skipped too many levels of suffering. These nay sayers undermine our self confidence and joy. And it is really hard when some of the snarky people are people you like, admire, or enjoy.

I have the experience where you rush to tell a family member or a best friend the greatest news ever, and they are under-whelmed or negative about what you consider to be a life-changing moment of happiness. I hate this. I hope I am never this person for anyone I know-family, children, friends. And this is where the thick skin comes in. We have to be willing to take their lack of enthusiasm, not as a signal that our news is not great, but that their own insecurities and worries prevent them from being happy with you and for you. Sure, you may need to be grounded a bit and be lead back to reality, but you deserve the right to enjoy the successes, however big or small.  So my new favorite saying is “A good friend will come bail you out of jail if you need it.  A great friend will be sitting there next to you saying” Dang, now THAT was a good time!” (It’s a dead heat between that, and the bracelet I saw in a catalog with “Cleverly dsiguised as a responsible adult” written on it.)

So how to sum up here….

We are all in charge of our own personal destiny. We have to be able to recognize opportunity when it comes knocking, and not be afraid to take a risk or say Yes, when No seems so much safer and more conservative and more “Sensible”. We have to be willing to take in other perspectives, but be willing to have the confidence in our own ideas and vision, and be willing to drag those dreams out into the sunlight as well. So for now, I am loading myself up with sun block and sunglasses, preparing for a long day at the proverbial beach, and hoping I brought enough supplies. Wanna come play in the sand with me? Let’s have some fun, and not lose sight that this is gonna be a really fun day in the sunshine!

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