Monthly Archives: April 2007

How Do We Measure Success? Or Failure?

Sometimes success is easy to measure. Who won the Super Bowl? Clear winner. Who won the Boston Marathon? Again, the fastest runner is declared the winner.

Winning and losing seems to be easy to measure, at least on the surface. Competitive sports tend to have clear “winners” and “losers”. Yet for many runners, just making it to the end of a marathon, or beating their best time to date is as much of a victory as if they came in first place. So perhaps finding the winners and losers is not so easy after all.

In education, we are now measuring success of schools by using test scores of students to try to measure teaching competency. Yet some of my tutoring students have admitted to just getting bored and deciding to fill in the dots randomly on the test- clearly, not reflective of the competency of their teachers.

In New Media, many of my friends are having the discussion about what constitutes success for them, success in the marketplace…what makes someone an expert? What do you have to do to become “qualified” in such a new field? Is your own personal podcast and blog now your resume, more than any typical CV and its credentials, allegedly acting as stamps of approval?

I believe that success is personal. It’s not one-size-fits-all. You can and should have measurable goals to make sure you move forward. You should have yardsticks to measure your performance.  While these benchmarks and goals measure progress, I’m not at all sure they measure overall success.

Success is often ephemeral. I feel successful at parenting when my kids are happy. I feel successful in my relationship when my husband and I walk hand in hand down the street, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I feel successful in my work when I get a new client, complete a job, receive a compliment on my performance, or otherwise seem to make a difference or an impact on something. Yet if you ask me whether or not I am successful, I often would say “I’m working on it.”  I can feel successful from time to time, but I don’t feel comfortable with it as a label. Somehow, saying “I am Successful” out loud triggers immediate feelings of panic and a sense of being a poseur- Can I really determine whether or not I am successful?  At What?  To Whom? Is success ultimately context-dependent?

The concept of successful often seems reserved for the self-satisfied wealthy and celebrities. People who have “made it”.  They appear successful to us, based on their fame or fortune, or perhaps on what we think they have.  We covet these badges and markers of success. Yet whether or not those “stars” are really successful as people should be measured in other ways. Are they happy? Are they satisfied with their life? Do their children like them? Do people like them, or fear them?  We know they either are or should be wealthy, but is material wealth the only measure of your success, or is it just a small piece of a much larger puzzle?

I think one of the best exercises to do is to complete the following sentence with five different answers:

I feel successful when ________________________.

When you feel successful, you are probably doing something you love or take pride in, whether it’s family or work related.  But success is individual- it’s not always the external money and power thing.  Or at least I hope not.

Let’s face it. We all screw up from time to time. We hopefully learn from our mistakes, but it often takes many attempts to get something right. Which brings me to the flip side of success- failure.

One of my favorite writers, Seth Godin, has a new book out, The Dip. (Seth is going to be speaking in Philadelphia at the World Cafe on May 16th, 8 am to 10 am. I can’t wait!)

In his book, and on his blog, he talks about the seven reasons you aren’t the best in the world- you should read the whole post, but here’s an excerpt:

The seven reasons

 

Seven Reasons You Might Fail to Become the Best in the World

  • You run out of time (and quit).
  • You run out of money (and quit).
  • You get scared (and quit).
  • You’re not serious about it (and quit).
  • You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit).
  • You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
  • You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).

Even worse than quitting in the first six cases: not quitting. Settling. Sticking with it but not succeeding.

Is failure the opposite of success?  There seems to be a lot of life that falls somewhere between out of the ballpark success and absolute, dismal failure. Maybe knowing when to quit can be success. Maybe knowing what you’re getting into and preparing for the good and the bad is success. Maybe knowing your strengths and working with them rather than against them is success.

I do know that success breeds success. Success feels good and is compelling; failure is demoralizing and stressful. If you want to be successful, you have to know when to give up, and what to give up; you have to also be willing to do whatever is necessary to be remarkable and special.

This kind of special is rare.  It involves making a personal investment in excellence.  It isn’t simple.  There are no checklists or workflows.  And it involves recognizing all the small steps and goals towards “success” and celebrating them as much as the end product.

Maybe this means failure is a destination and a stopping point, where success is more of a journey.  Even after stopping off at “Failure”, (I’m hearing a train conductor in the background… Weehawken, Secaucus, Failure….) we can get up and catch the next train towards success.  After all, it’s all about the ride, anyway.

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The New Business Plan- 8 Questions to Ask Yourself before Risking It All

    A girlfriend of mine has asked me to review a business plan, and this has made me think of the tough questions you should ask yourself before starting or buying a business.

1. What is your passion?  You are much more likely to succeed at a business venture if it is based around something you love and are passionate about.    Likewise, you need to play to your strengths and know your limitations.  I may love baseball, for example, but I won’t ever realistically play in the major leagues.

2.    What do you know about this business niche?  There are so many people who think “I love to cook, Let’s open a restaurant!”  or “I love to Shop, let’s open a store!”  No, No, a thousand times, no.  Loving to cook is not the same thing as the restaurant business, and loving to shop does not give you very much information about how retail works.  These are not the same thing at all, no matter how romantic the idea strikes you.

The restaurant business, for example, is tough.  You have high spoilage rates.  You need dependable staff, in an industry with really high turn over.  The insurance is high. The workman’s comp rates are high, because people are always getting cuts, burns or slipping on something.  You have to deal with health inspectors.  Then, there’s cooking quickly, on demand, rather than when you feel like it. This quickly gets to be a job, not a passion, and can quickly rob all the fun out of your love of cooking, permanently.

3.    Do you have enough capital (money and personal energy) to see you through rough times, or are you looking for a quick, money making opportunity? 
If you are looking for a quick return on your dollar, invest in the stock market.  If you are looking for a job, something to occupy all your time and effort, and much of the free time of your family as well, then start a new business.  If you are just looking for an investment, buy money market funds, stocks, or do something else.  Even real estate and fix & flip homes, as much energy and sweat equity as they take, are a much better deal than opening a store, for example.

Building a business means building a reputation.  I have seen more small shops and businesses go under because they are under-capitalized- not enough cash is around to see the business through the development phase, and it folds before it really has a chance to take off.  Or the people involved just get worn down and exhausted, and have to give it up because it threatens their emotional and fiscal solvency.

4.    Is there a way to accomplish the same thing “on the cheap”? 
For example, a friend of mine owns a yarn store.  It’s in the basement of her house.  She has a group of knitters that come to her house to socialize, and purchase tons of yarn at the same time.  The rest of her business takes place online, through a website and Ebay.  She has the cost of her inventory and her website, but she doesn’t have to pay rent, nor does she have to employ anyone else, except maybe at crunch times, to meet all of her orders.  No rent, no salaries, no worker’s comp- she still has a yarn store, but so many fewer headaches than if the business was a traditional bricks & mortar type of business.

5.    What is it about this business opportunity that intrigues you?
  If you are thinking of buying a shop, for example, are you in love with the idea of going places and buying cute things and then sharing them with others?  Fine, but who runs the store when you are away?  On vacation?  Who do you trust with your money and livelihood?  What happens if you get sick?  On holidays?  Look at your underlying motivation- why does this opportunity sound or probably more likely,  feel like a good idea?  Is the impact of this feeling enough to see you through inevitable disappointments and difficulties any business faces?

6.    Think About The Worse Case Scenario. 
What would happen if the business failed?  If you lost your whole investment into it?  How much time are you willing to give to this venture to ensure it’s success?  One year?  Five years?  You should have some markers of success and failure before you go into it.  Are you looking to make a living and feed your family on this business, or is this really a hobby?  Are you better off getting experience working for someone else in this industry before trying it on your own?

7.     Be Careful Mixing Money and Relatives/Friends.
  One of the first things you learn in law school is “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative.”  This means whenever money is involved, people come out of the woodwork, and quite often, there are dramatic fights over resources.  It is great to have a business partner, especially a close friend.  This can see you through all sorts of rough times, but you also have to have clear boundaries between business and pleasure, otherwise, trouble is on the horizon.

Will you feel resentful if your friend is going on vacation while you mind the store?  Who takes off on holidays?  Are you equal partners?  Who makes the final decisions?  Who has to put in what money up front?  Is someone putting in all the money, the other all the labor, and how will you both feel about this in the future?  Can you have frank, honest discussions with this person, even about bad stuff, with no hard feelings on the other side?  Having a business with someone can be like getting married- you have to be there, for better and for worse, not just for better.

And as you consider having a partner or relative help you, how are you going to share profits?  Are you willing to do it alone if they decide they’ve had enough?  Would you have to close the business, or could you afford to buy their share out? Do you just want to do it alone?  If you do, do you have the time, money and energy to commit to this, or will any day job interfere?

8.    Invest what you can afford to lose.   There’s the old saying, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.  Sure, there’s always the “He risked everything, including the shirt on his back, and now he’s a millionaire” stories- but like the kid at the playground hoping to make it to the NBA, there’s a certain amount of luck and good fortune, as well as raw talent wrapped up in that success story.  See #1 again- you need to have not just an interest, but a talent at this “thing”, and don’t risk the farm unless you can afford- emotionally, financially, everything- to make this thing a success- to believe in yourself that much.

And here’s another hint-  if  you ask five friends and then five acquaintances what they think about the idea, and you get any sense of doubt or skepticism, consider that carefully before jumping off that bridge.  (Call it market research – but it is testing an idea ahead of time- and this reaction from the people who love you most and want to see you succeed is a good, but biased thermometer- the general public will inevitably be much more harsh in their evaluation.)

The basic advice here is not to be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions, the kill-joy questions when it involves business and money.  Go in with open eyes.  Know what you’re looking at, and if it all looks great and worth and risk- Go for it with a full and joyous heart, knowing you have what it takes inside to make something work on the outside.

It’s one thing to feel like a failure at a hobby, it’s another thing to fail professionally.  It’s a heck of a lot more personal, and there’s a lot more riding on a business venture.  Hopes, dreams and expectations.

In a hobby, if I knit a crap sweater for my kid, he’s still got to wear it every once in a while because I gave birth to him, and I can make a better one  (hopefully) next time.  In business, if your product or business service or store stinks, people won’t come back, think of you first when they have a need, and you only have one chance to make a good first impression.  You need to try to be the Purple Cow, as Seth Godin says, and know how to be remarkable.

If you are only looking for a diversion, or for good enough, what kind of investment are you willing to make in mediocrity?

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Intellectual Property

I’ve been thinking a lot about intellectual property- if you create something new and exciting, and have a vested interest in seeing this idea succeed and propagate, what should you do?  In this world of new media, of share and share alike, where do you draw the boundaries around what’s “yours” and what belongs to everyone?

If you go back to basic economics, many things are considered valuable based on simple supply and demand. When something is scarce, f the demand is high, the price will be high(er) as well. When something is abundant, if demand is low, the price goes down; if demand is high, but does not outstrip supply, the price will remain fairly level. Just look at the Nintendo Wii. Demand for these game units far outstripped supply, and the lucky few who got units could have made a killing in the secondary market on ebay. They’re still in short supply, but it’s finally much more routine that someone pays retail rather than premium prices to get their hands on one. (And yes, we have one, and they are totally worth the fuss, but that’s a post for a different day.)

So how does supply and demand figure into cyberspace? Seth Godin posed the question in “Small Is The New Big” about what would we do if bandwidth were free? What would we do if the cost of doing business were free? And I think we are approaching the time when entry into any business online is getting cheap enough that it is approaching free. So that means the hurdles to enter cyberspace and the cyber-economy are minimal, almost negligible, and will continue to shrink in size.

This means we can communicate ideas across time and space like never before, in written, audio and visual formats. The limitations on our ideas and creativity have always been boundless, but the ability to share them with others has expanded tremendously, to the point of becoming boundless as well. So, now what? If you have an idea, and you put it on public display on the internet, how long is it really yours and yours alone?

Lots of people have ideas. Lots of people even have great ideas, but ultimately, you need to be able to execute on these thoughts and notions.  The rubber has to meet the road.  The dream needs to become a reality.  And frequently, those with the good ideas and those that can implement them are not one and the same.  We need to blend the thinkers and the doers together to move things forward.  After all, executing on ideas can be hard.  It can be time consuming and costly.  The great idea doesn’t necessarily hit the person best suited to transform it from a thought into an action.

But what happens if ideas are abundant, and it is the execution that is in short supply?  I would argue this is the case right now.  There are lots of great ideas, but a limited amount of human and financial capital to bring many of them into fruition.  And part of the problem with the instantaneous communication of ideas is that they now spread, not only exponentially, but logarithmically as well.  They spread by orders of magnitude, more quickly than ever before, much like a drop of food coloring into a glass of water.  The color spreads slowly, but in no time, all the water is “infected” with the color, and is no longer clear as before.

It’s also harder to predict which ideas will spread like a drop of food coloring in water,  like a virus, and which ones will not.  But it’s clear that if you want to profit personally from sharing your ideas, you have to find a way to contain them.  This means regulating both the supply of the idea, and perhaps maintaining some quality control over the ultimate product.  This is not easy.

How can you maintain standards of excellence, of responsibility, of community, as an idea spreads?  A friend told me a tale recently about one person in a community making a mistake with a sponsor, and as a result, that sponsor is totally turned off and will never engage with the community as a whole again, just because of one person’s mistake.  This seems both tragic and short sighted on the part of the sponsor, but it also goes to show that we do have responsibility to each other to behave like grownups.  As much as the internet breeds a certain amount of freedom and anonymity, I think it ultimately makes us accountable for everything we do or have ever done, in ways we’ve been able to avoid in the past.   Your reputation is now your currency, but it is much more fragile than ever before, because you exercise much less control over what is said about you, or how people see you than ever before.

I have no easy answers for how we protect our ideas, how we make them real, or how we maintain quality and responsibility as ideas leave our hands and undergo many changes, tweeks, refinements, and the like.  Do we risk micromanaging authenticity and gradually drain the blood out of it in the process?  Are we left with the seemingly  simple conclusion that you can only be true to yourself and your ideals? Yet don’t we carry some responsibility for the acts of others, especially as we put our ideas, our power into their hands?

I really want to know what you think.  How can we share ideas, yet maintain some level of original intent?  (Just look at the Constitution….)  How do we know what the founders meant, and how do those ideals apply in a world that is so radically different from theirs or anything we could have even imagined even a decade ago?  How do we adapt to new paradigms before they even solidify into something you can call a paradigm?

What comes next?

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Broadcast Ethics

Sparked by the Imus flap this week, NPR remarked this morning that shock jocks and shows with degrading, insulting humor exist because there is a market for it. I found this comment intriguing, from a podcaster’s perspective.

Up until recently, people have only had the choice of what Broadcasters think we want. And given the limited choice of what is available on any given dial or channel, people will migrate to those programs that are engaging, whether or not the “good content” is mixed with bad; people haven’t been able to slice and splice thier perfect program together. I listened to Imus because I loved to hear what people like Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, Howard Fieneman, and others thought about the news they were reporting. I didn’t listen to it for the sophmoric jokes or the locker room humor. I took the good with the bad, and often found myself flipping between channels when things got stupid.

Likewise, I love NPR. I like Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Radio Times with Marty Moss Cohane , Talk of the Nation and Justice Talking. But after Imake my anuual pledge, I also find I need to turn of the pledge drives before my head explodes. Pledge drives are necessary evil to be endured, like Imus’s childish stuff.

The point here is that Broadcast journalism is “one size fits all”. The reason why podcasting is getting more popular, is partially because people have decided they can either create their own idea of the perfect show, or find something that’s a heck of a lot closer to their idea of what they want to hear. Podcasting and videocasting are threatening to traditional broadcasts because they are meeting more niche and individual needs that broadcasts ever could. They are also systematically stripping away audience from Broadcasters, as people who are unsatisfied with broadcast choices can, with a little effort, find something that suits them.

I was struck when the NPR folks, discussing Imus said “He had a big audience, and people wanted to hear that stuff” – but I ask in return, what were the alternatives for similar content? Terry Gross serves some of this “behind the scenes” purpose, but few other shows have this relationship with guests; and of course, there’s always a hestiancy for Broadcast people to appear on other Broadcast shows on different networks- after all, it is a competitive medium. And let’s not forget that many people went on Imus’s show in order to promote their own book projects, shows and other causes- they didn’t go on the show to have a tea party.

I love podcasting because I can hear all about what’s going on in Canada by listening to the Canadian Podcast Buffet; I can get a line on great independent artists by listening to CC Chapman’s Accident Hash; I can have a visit with girlfriends by listening to Mommycast or Manic Mommies; I can even get the inside scoop on Iraq from Alive in Bagdad. My kids love the puppet video blogs like Jigsaw Fanclub. If I need sophmoric stupidness, there’s more than enough of this available as well. I can learn more about podcasting and other cool podcasts from Podcast 411, I can hear writing tips from I Should Be Writing– the point here ebing that there is plenty of independent content that meets all of my interests and needs without ever turning on a TV or a radio.

So, before broadcasters accuse the audience of wanting to watch the tripe they are dishing out, they should remember that for a long time, we had little choice and were choosing between evils. Now, as podcasting and videocasting continue to grow, audiences will have the power to be more discerning and make better fitting choices as never before. This fragments audience and advertisers; yet messages become increasingly targeted to very narrow and engaged audiences.

When boradcasters and “old” media types make decisions about what to put on the air, they have always given us the lowest common denominator. I am always struck by the quality of all the shows on the BBC, for example, even those that do apeal to our sense of silly are significantly better crafted than much of what we see in the US. Yet, the US networks don’t appeal to our more intelligent side- they appeal to our lowest common denominator and the voyeur inside us all. How else can you explain media creatures like Anna Nicole Smith?

As the viewers gradually slip away into the narrowcasting spectrum, Broadcasters will have no one to blame but themselves.

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Why is Being Authentic So Hard?

I woke up this morning and heard the news that Don Imus has been thrown off the air permamently with MSNBC because of some stupid comments he made about the Rutgar’s ladies basketball team on his show. Then, I heard a presidential candidate, Barak Obama, weigh in, saying he deplored the comments and he would be happy to have his daughters play on such a team. This, after days of outrage by Rev. Al Sharpton, someone who I have often thought of as an opportunist, and this trend seems to continue.

No one can defend people saying stupid things. But how many times do we need to just consider the source? Imus never holds himself out to be exemplary of polite society and miss Manners political correctness. He is the opposite, and it’s his irreverance that people like. I often tuned in to his show, not for the Hoawrd Stern moments of sophmoric stupidity, but for mus’s talent at being himself and getting others to do the same.

Imus is popular not only because he constantly flirted with the line of what was appropriate and what was not, but because he is honest and authentic. While Imus’s show ended up clothed in more of an “official” news show mantel, than say, Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, it was never supposed to be 60 Minutes or The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Imus’s talent has always been in getting people to stop with the sound bites and just say what they think. Whether it’s Tim Russert, News anchors, journalists, or politicians, he had a way to get people to be themselves on the air that is becoming ever more scarce in main stream media. And I will sincerely miss that aspect of his show- hearing what people like Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, Jeff Greenfield, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and others had to say, taking off the social mask and mantle of political correctness, and just being themselves.

I guess people are always looking for external validation of some sort. Whether it’s a raise and using that as a proxy for your worth in your job, or just hearing something nice from your spouse or kids, we feel better inside when someone from outside ourselves gives us praise. Yet, I have come to believe that no external source of validation will ever be able to fill up that hole you have inside if you are not comfortable with yourself first.

I found it was a blessing to turn forty. The magic thing about 40 for me was a realization that I was in charge of my life, not others. I had to stop waiting around for life to come and grab me, I had to start actively engaging life head on. Rather than waiting on the sidelines, I had to get into the game, or stop whining about spending my life in the shadows. Shadows are safe, but boring; sunlight is risky, but a lot more fun.

And part of this transformation means being honest with myself and others. This doesn’t mean trampling over the feelings of other people with “brutal” honesty, but it does mean needing to say No instead of a polite yes when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do. I need to be centered with myself, to be able to be honest with myself, in order to be honest and open with others.

We all have a closet full of social masks, of sides of ourselves we bring out for special occassions, or for people we are trying to impress. Are we insincerely polite to people sometimes, trying to impress them with our more extroverted, or projected self? Do we put on a brave face for going to that business dinner with people we really aren’t that fond of? Sure. And all of this is necessary. But I think we need to think in these terms concurrently:

  • Not everyone will like us, no matter how hard we try to please them or pretend to be who they want us to be;
  • Trying to please everyone will just end up causing contridictions, and trip us up as we try to find the “right” mask for this person or situation, and they will end up seeing our naked underbelly anyway;
  • Being authentic to ourselves does not grant us an excuse to be vile, ever, to anyone;
  • We can respect others while still disagreeing with their thoughts and opinions;
  • We need to learn when to comment on something, and when to be silent;
  • Silence does not necessarily mean “opinion free”;
  • Changing your mind about something is not a weakness but a strength;
  • and lastly- If you can’t tell yourself the truth, how can you be honest with others?

Making the shift to this sense of truth with myself means accepting things that aren’t always pleasant. Yes, I need to take better care of myself. I need to manage my time better. I need to avoid situations where I find myself compelled to be someone I am not. But I can tell you, deciding to be myself and to stop trying to always make others happy at whatever cost has been a life changing experience. It means that I also spot the “smoke screen” self of others much easier than ever before.

I wrote this post in part because I ‘m disturbed by the piling on on Don Imus, and our vilification of people, without giving them an attempt to be honestly sorry and make reparations. People make mistakes, and need to make mistakes to learn. If we insist on crucification for every mistake anyone makes, rigid consistancy at the expense of thought and reflection, how are things every going to get better in the world?

How can I realistically teach my children to take risks, to live a life of exploration of new things, if we make the penalty for failing, for making errors, for being imperfect so high?

What Imus did is not okay, but he deserves a chance to try to make it better without losing everything in the process.  Politicians, like Barak Obama, who are competing for our trust and faith, need to make sure they know their own truth and can be honest will all of us about who they are.  We don’t need anyone else who looks at government as a melodrama, where they are just portraying a character in a political theatre presentation.

For a country that seems to be so religious, we certainly seem to be forgetting the key concepts of forgiveness, charity to others, and mercy.  Civil discourse would be a lot better if we could just remember than kindness is not weakness but strength;  forgiving need not equal forgetting; and we all deserve a chance at redemption.

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Measuring Success

Chris Brogan wrote a post today about how many of us in new media seem to be multi-tasking all the time, and wondering whetehr we are accomplishing everything we set our minds to, or merely juggling too many things to make adequate progress on any ONE thing.

Chris then went on to ask a more important question, which is how many, or what percentage of projects fail, and what succeeds? And I think the biggest question is how do we measure success?

In podcasting, we are all worried about metrics. How do we measure our audience? How do we measure our audience’s level of engagement? How do we turn listeners into subscribers? How do we turn any of these numbers into something that might be meaningful to others, including advertisers or sponsors?

Personally, I look at the “numbers” part of podcasting and blogging as a set of discrete data points, where trends in the data are more important than any single day or post or entry’s stats. I am much more interested in the comments I get from people who read my blog or listen to the podcast. If it reaches them, or helps them in some way, then the effort was worth it.

Sometimes the blog posts are more theraputic for me than anything else- a rant if you will, about something that really makes me crazy or angry or otherwise moves me to express myself. The podcasts can be about talking to someone I admire, about learning something new, about teaching these things to my audience in turn.

I find it hard to quantify the level of satisfaction I get when someone comments on a post, sends me an email, or otherwise continues the conversation. There’s no specific measure that says “This is Good, That is Bad”- but the iteractivity is what I seek more than anything else.

Some people measure success solely in terms of dollars & cents. Yet, the jobs I’ve made the most money from to date have not always been the jobs that I’ve loved the most. I find that I’m not as motivated by the dollars as I am by things that are exciting and engaging- and often, I find I do many of those things for free. And currently, the ability to have control over my work along with the support of my family have made me happier than I have ever been. This feels like success.

I subscribe to the “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” philosophy. If you are getting paid to do something, whether it’s by an employer, a sponsor, or a client, there will be work involved. You have to measure, or calibrate whether your effort and stress to accomplish Goal X will be worth the monetary compensation and intangibles, such as reputation, relationships and the like.

Sometimes projects go on and on, without any clear beginning or end. Raising children can be like this- What are the goals? What is success? Is it if your child goes to Harvard? Is it if your child is happy? Is it if they don’t go to jail? Clearly, a report card is a measure of mastery of the material a kid’s supposed to learn, or at least a reflection of how well they communicated this information back to their teachers in a marking period. But in honor roll the only way to measure success? And even if it does, whose success are we measuring? Yours as a parent? The Child’s? The job the school has done in molding their little brains?

I often feel education is a long term Research and Development project, where the endpoints are open, not closed. Similarly, I think all of this “new media stuff” is very much an online interactive R &D project, where the goals and endpoints are always clear or quantifiable. This brings up the next question, which is: “If you aren’t getting anything out of it, why are you doing it?” And the answer is that what I get out of it are intangibles, not always dollars & cents.

Helping to organize Podcamp NYC and see how well it went was very much in this vein- I didn’t get paid to do this, yet I made many more new friends, and gained a level of satisfaction and sense of accomplishing something big I would not have had otherwise. Sure, I hope someday that these efforts, having proved myself in the real world , will lead to a paying gig. But it also has to be the right gig, something I feel I can contribute to, and make a difference.

I am done (hopefully) with the days of punching a clock, and instead have entered the stage where I want to make meaningful contributions to others, whether or not these things are easily measured.

Success to me is measured more in my happiness and satisfaction, even when things are crazy-busy, than it is ever measured in material terms. How do you define success? What does it mean to you? Will you be successful if you have a house in the Hamptons? Is it Fame? And if you become “successful”, what comes after that?

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PodCamp NYC !!!

I am back from PodCamp NYC, the first Podcamp that I’ve helped to organize that has actually happened. (I am also one of the organizers for PodCamp Philly- September 6, 7th & 8th at Drexel University!)

The final count for the number of people who registered for PodCamp NYC was 1312.  We can confirm that at least 631 people showed up, by who signed in and registered on site.  (We know there were some more people there, because a few people, like me, simply forgot to register because I was helping set up for the event at the time!)  This makes Podcamp NYC the biggest Podcamp to date, despite a last-minute change in venue and its occurrence on a holiday weekend.

There were lots of concerns about whether Podcamp could maintain its inclusive nature if it got too big.  I still felt like I met a lot of great people, and had a chance to connect.  But running an event is definitely different than attending one.  Much like planning  a wedding, if you are the person getting married, the connection with every relative is a lot less than if you were attending the wedding as a guest.

As I think about how the event worked, what you would change in the future, and what you might do differently, I have the following thoughts:

1.  The Venue Is Important.

Which is better?  Colleges or Hotels?  Or Someplace else? 

At Podcamp Boston, and Podcamp Toronto ( The 2 podcamps I had attended before PC NYC), the venues were colleges.  Podcamp NYC was at a hotel conference center.  Colleges and Universities are big, academic institutions, and event planning is not always a focus.  They host many events, but they are not service-industry focused in the same way a hotel is.  Hotels focus on pleasing clients, Universities have more of an educational and “This is ok- that is not” focus.

So for Podcamp NYC, the helpfulness of the staff at the New Yorker was outstanding.   Where the previous venue we were working with had us swimming in streams of red tape, the New Yorker, by contrast, made things easy for us, and we could not be more grateful.  But the expense was considerable over the initial cost for holding the event at the educational venue in NY.  The Hotel also allowed us to expand the event to allow up to the fire code amount of attendees, we had many more additional rooms available for presentations, and the hotel obviously was a great place for attendees to stay during the event.  Great advantages for a hotel-based conference.

But hotels are not really designed with as many “group congregating” spaces as colleges are.  At Podcamp Boston, and at Podcamp Toronto, there were lots of places where people could sit, chat, have coffee, record sessions, and continue conversations.  We got a little of that in Podcamp NYC, especially in the Podango Room, where lawn chairs and tables were placed all around,  allowing people to sit, record and/or blog .  But I think because the sessions were spread over three floors, with not much space in hallways for just talking and connecting, it made it harder to get that participation thing going than it was at other podcamps.  Less people camped out in hallways just talking, sitting on the floor, etc., more people moving from session to session in an efficient manner.

So I am left thinking that architecture and space matter more than we think.  (and perhaps even food and drink as well).  Actively encouraging people to sit and schmooze, with couches, bean bag chairs,  coffee and snacks available- all of that encourages connection.  As people, we eat and we talk.  Without that component, we simply move into analytical working mode, not social mode.  The networking party and after party at SLATE were terrific for this purpose, and it would have been great if more of this seemed to be happening during the day at Podcamp NYC.

I think it was not anything that we as organizers could control- architecture dictates use- but I think we also underestimated the power of coffee and donuts.

2. Tracks and Schedule Organization 

We had a bunch of debates on how the sessions should be organized, and whether having themes or tracks was a good thing or not.  the feedback so far seems to indicate that tracks worked well.  Knowing that one room would have video things going on all day, or marketing oriented sessions, for example, made it easier to find what you were looking for.

We assigned sessions to different rooms by trying to get a handle on how big the sessions might be, how popular they might be, and I think we did an okay job, but I know we weren’t perfect in this regard.  I am not sure you can always predict who will want to see what speaker, and where people will congregate.  I think bigger rooms are harder to fill, with people and with sound, even with popular speakers- just like filling a huge cathedral for your family wedding- the empty pews make it look weird.

I think the lesson here is rooms that holding around 100 people are better than rooms that hold 600.  Smaller rooms encourage more audience participation, they’re easier for people to speak in, and create more sense of a community and intimacy.

The last thought for today in this vein is that the number of sessions seems to matter as well.  When you have 10 things going on at once, people are often confused and conflicted about where to go, what to see, and how to be in more than one place at a time.  Previous podcamps only had three or four sessions at once- this may be more of an optimal number that 10 competing topic at one time.

3. One Day or Two?  Or More? 

For PC NYC, we had the conference on one day.  This made following up with more advanced topics on day two impossible, and made it harder for people to connect yet again and expand the relationships they just started n day one.   While one day is certainly cheaper and less exhausting (perhaps) for organizers, I think the two day experience is important.  The social time, the connections from previous podcamps are the things that have meant the most to me, and these things take time- a luxury I didn’t feel I really had as much of at Podcamp NYC as I might have liked.

Just so everyone is clear-  These thoughts are just compare/contrast- not critique or slams in any way.  I think Podcamp NYC was a clear success.  The growth just in terms of interest- the number of people from all different walks of life-was amazing, and I think Podcamp will continue to grow as a way to make new media about connecting, in a very real way for real people.

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