Monthly Archives: September 2007

Juggling, Triage and Honesty

If there’s anything I know about, it’s juggling many balls in my life.  Between being a Mom, working and volunteering, I often have so much on my plate, things risk falling off the edge and getting lost in the shuffle all the time.   This has always been an issue for me, because I like to be involved and engaged with other people.  And I have always felt horrible about myself on some levels,  because my intentions to get things done have always exceeded my ability to do so.

Once I found out that part of my problem was due to ADHD, I could put things in perspective.  This didn’t excuse me over-promising myself, but it helped me recognizing when I was doing it and learn to say no a little more often.  I stopped beating myself up for taking on too much, for being enthusiastic about so many things, and instead, just tried to narrow my focus and give myself a break and allow short cuts when necessary.

For example, it is probably just fine to buy store bought cupcakes for a school party rather than insist on making them myself all the time.  I’m no longer convinced I’ll fail my parenting tests or get kicked off the parenting olympiad team.  No one has yet shown up with gold medals or rewards beyond hugs and thank yous, and I’m not convinced that these occasional “hacks” significantly damage my children, and they save on my therapy bills.  (Like I have time for therapy.)

Likewise, I probably don’t have to knit every new baby in our social circle a blanket or a hat.  I could write a check. I could buy a gift.  I still do knit in the evenings, mostly because it’s therapy and  the results do fit into that “I care” category which is really important to me.

This means constantly having to triage the importance of different tasks.  What is adding value to myself and others, and what is creating busy work?  When am I becoming a “messianic control freak”- someone who thinks no one can do it as well as they can, so therefore, everyone NEEDS my help, a compulsive volunteer on a quest to improve others lives but not my own?   What am I getting out of various things, and when am I just mucking up the works?

But what I’ve also realized is ultimately, the world doesn’t care about excuses and “I wanted to” or “I intended to, but just ran out of time.”.  It only cares about actions.  Your friends care about you, but they want to see and interact with you.  So does your family.  Work also wants to see some tangible results- you need to deliver, not just promise to deliver and never follow through.

And if you end up developing a reputation as someone who promises a lot but never delivers, well, that’s simply not good.  You end up being the person people shake their head about, saying “He’s a great guy and all, but when it comes right down to it, nothing ever gets accomplished.  He said he’d do it, but I can’t count on him, he’s always got too much going on and he can’t seem to execute when I need him to.”

A long time ago, when I worked as a legal secretary before law school, I tried to treat each client in our firm like they were our only client.  This worked well in the days before the fax machine, and we still had to wait for mail and even Fedex took a day or two.  Now between fax and email alone, the speed of business and communication has increased exponentially; we are all connected all the time, so the expectations of you delivering “all the time” have increased accordingly.  Meeting the standard of “You are the only person I care about” is harder than ever.

What I’ve opted to do instead is to go for the “underpromise and over-deliver”, a bit like the New Orleans concept of lagnappe.  It’s the something extra that makes you remarkable and memorable.   It’s the equivalent of the mint on the pillowcase- the small touch that makes something special and puts it above ordinary.

In order to do this, it means being honest and transparent like never before.  It means telling people what’s happening, and if there is a delay in delivering, why that is.  It means being willing to say no.  It means being honest, even if you’re worried about hurting someone else’s feelings.  But that sure is better than leaving them disappointed, angry, confused and let down, that’s for sure.

I hate coming to the conclusion that I can’t count on someone doing their share.  Whether it’s checking up on my kids to see if they “really” cleaned their rooms, or team members who said they’d do something, but you suspect it’s going to be one of the items falling off their plate.

And I hate being the person who lets other people down. I would rather hear an honest “I can’t get to that” than go around assuming it’s taken care of when it’s not. Keeping people on the hook while you figure out your life is unfair and selfish. You are consuming their time and emotional energy, wondering whether or not you will execute, when you know in your heart of hearts you won’t deliver.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

My goal is to try to refocus my projects, keep to the underpromise/over deliver mantra, and look for where my value-add is.  I can only change me, not the world at large.  It’s not about what I say to others, it’s about what I do.  If I say I am going to do something, then people have to be able to take that to the bank as 100% reliable.  And I have the same basic expectation of others.

You need to put “verbs into your sentences” as Dr. Phil is fond of saying, do rather than intend, and then you’ll have something to show for it in the end.

What do you think?  Is this an unreasonable standard? Are we measured by our intentions or our actions?  Does it matter?

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Thinking About a Year as a Podcamper

Podcamp Logo

Originally uploaded by Chris Brogan.

It’s been a little over a year since I attended the first Podcamp. Since that time, I’ve been to and spoke at Podcamp Toronto, helped organize and spoke at Podcamp NYC, attended Podcasters Across Borders, was the Lead Organizer for Podcamp Philly, and am currently helping to organize Podcamp Boston2 and Podcamp NYC 2.0. Clearly, I am a Podcamp Junkie.

Chris Brogan, along with Chris Penn, have asked some of us who have run our own Podcamps to think about where Podcamp might be going in the next year. So here’s my contribution, based on my experience.

What Podcamp Is About and the Secret Sauce

Podcamp is not just about audio podcasting or videoblogging. From the very first podcamp, sessions have not only dealt with technical issues surrounding media on the ‘net, but topics ranging from blogging to search engine optimization, to community building, to social media and where it’s heading.

Because of this, the name Podcamp is kind of a misnomer. While podcasters/videobloggers/new media makers are the focus audience, the use of the “tools of the trade”- blogs, audio and video media on the internet, are important to almost every business, educational institution, public relations person, and almost anyone with a presence on the internet. It’s not a conference solely for gearheads- it’s for anyone looking for a way to have their voice heard to a greater audience.

The Secret Sauce to the success of Podcamp is the people and the community. Unlike the Podcast and New Media Expo, Podcamp is more “educational” or academic – it’s about sharing knowledge about what’s happening on the bleeding edge of the internet, as communities form, grow and change. You can’t yet take a college course on new media or social media, but if you did, the finest professors in the Country could come out of our ranks.

I’ve always thought the beauty of Podcasting has been the ability to communicate with people all over the world, regardless of time zone- the communication is based on mutual interest and concern. I’ve gotten emails from listeners in Vancouver, Canada and South Africa; I see people from Germany and Japan and Norway downloading my podcast- what an amazing thing.

My podcast is about learning and learning disabilities, a niche topic that probably wouldn’t draw enough listeners in any one city to get anyone to take it seriously. But if you take the people who are interested, and expand it across the internet, you get audiences that do start to make sense. And instead of trying to find each person who might be interested, they find me, when they need the information I offer. That works for everyone, much better than traditional broadcast media like magazines and television or even terrestrial radio.

So my community is now global in scope, but focused around a particular niche interest.

The Problem Faced by Podshow and More Traditional Media Models

Advertisement tends to be based on getting someone motivated to do something- usually buy a product. Since podcasting is global, those products either have to be available on the web, or available locally in a bricks and mortar shop. Since we can’t predict where or when people will hear or see the ads on the ‘net, you can’t reasonably ensure a supply of Oreo Cakesters, for example, at the local store in Bombay India, making any ads for this pointless on a podcast.

The other thing to know about New Media enthusiasts is they are the Mavens and Connectors Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the Tipping Point. They are obsessed by specialized knowledge, they are willing to help just about anyone, and they seem to know EVERYONE, at least online.

If you interact the New Media people, they will spread the word- not only to everyone they interact with every day, but to everyone online. They’ll tag pictures and blog posts to make them easier to find on search engines. And they’ll also do a good job of telling a story about a brand and product- like a walking, vocal, enthusiastic (or dreadfully dangerous) Consumer Reports.

Podcamp’s Growing Pains

Podcamp started out with about 250 attendees. Podcamp NYC has been the biggest to date, with about 800 people attending, although Podcamp Boston 2 may surpass this figure. The largest challenge has been figuring out how a relatively intimate conversation scales up with larger crowds? Can it do so and maintain the sense of community and user participation?

Podcamp NYC seemed to do this successfully. By making tracks and adding in some predictability features, we tried to make the big crowd seem more like a family, and I think we succeeded on many levels. The same will be true for Podcamp Boston.

The things I’ve learned most from my multiple podcamp experience have been:

* The Power of Coffee and Donuts: people like to gather and talk while sharing food- it is a low impact way to start to get strangers to interact and meet each other.

*The Law of Null Space- one of the reasons why colleges and universities make a great setting for podcamps, is that the buildings are designed to allow for lounges and places where conversations naturally occur. Hotels and other venues don’t have this same sense of community space, making the natural flow of conversation harder to sustain. People want to sit and schmooze- if left alone in a hallway, they will migrate elsewhere, often remarking- “Wanna go grab a coffee somewhere?”

*The number of registrants will exceed the number of attendees. Because Podcamps are free to attend, often many more people sign up to attend than ever actually show up. This makes planning very difficult, since every t-shirt, swag item, printed schedule, and certainly any provided food costs the organizers and sponsors money. We have to look at how to address this problem. Is a small fee enough to help cover expenses and deter the “unserious”? Should Podcamp become more like a traditional conference, even if the speakers list is open to the community and the emphasis or culture is still on peer to peer interactions?

There are tons of tiny problems in organizing podcamps, ranging from finances, to finding and approaching sponsors in a way that fosters and nurtures relationships. I hope that the Podcamp Foundation may ultimately be able to help make this happen in a bit more of a cohesive fashion, as well as provide assistance to those that may want to organize a podcamp, big or small, in their own local communities.

One thing I know for sure. It’s ultimately not about the money, venue or gear, it’s about the people. The trick is going to be to figure out a good way to measure who is listening to what shows and why, and to find natural and sensible ways to help sponsors/advertisers/angels to help new media mavens, while new media mavens help them connect to a world of engaged and passionate people.

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Work Life/Personal Life- Should There be a Difference?

I read a blog post by Eric Olson, talking about trying to figure out if there was or should be a line between “work” and “life”. Eric pointed out that in the past, our customers were also our friends and neighbors. We were our work, but we were also the person next door.

With the development of bigger cities and suburbs, we couldn’t keep track of everyone in our community the same way as before. Newspapers carried the news that used to be shared over back fences, as did phone lines.

New ways of communicating can make things more impersonal, at least for a time. A mom I spoke with yesterday was decrying the use of flame email in her neighborhood to discuss whether certain things like a flag pole or a picnic table in the cul de sac violated community norms and reduced property values. She viewed this as another piece of evidence that the computer degraded relationships, rather than built them.

As things have evolved from the very personal to the ability to communicate remotely, and less one on one, some of the civility and community responsibility has degraded as well.

People forget there is someone on the other side of the screen or keyboard- that there are people there, forming impressions of you without you even being there in corpus, so to speak. Perhaps finding out a bit more about you than you may have intended to reveal. Things you might type, but never say in person.

While some people find this sort of thing the reason to shun technology, I look at it as a natural growing pain in our ability to adapt to new forms of communication.

I am always aware that I am responsible for everything I say online or in person. I re-read and edited most of my posts, giving me the opportunity to clarify what might otherwise be very “shoot from the hip.” I expect to be held accountable for my positions, and that’s just fine by me.

But this means being careful when being critical. I learned to use the “critique sandwich” from Rick LaVoie- say something nice, say what you have to say- the critique- and end on a positive note at the end. People are more likely to hear the “constructive criticism” this way, and feel good about you and the interaction.

I don’t adopt any personas online- I am just me, the same person online as I am to my neighbors and collegues. I am not perfect, but I am also as consistent as a human can be. And this means there is no difference between the online me, the work me, and the personal me.

In the digital age, we can all take the opportunity to “live out loud”. We are searchable and findable and accessible to a much broader community than ever before. True privacy might apply in your bathroom or home, but that’s where it ends.

This means making sure you are managing yourself, your “brand story” as Chris Brogan has spoken about, all the time. Sounds tough, but if you are comfortable with who you are, there is no line necessary between work and life. You are a unity- like monotheism versus polytheism.

Now letting the amount of “stuff” you have to manage for financial gain to crowd out your enjoyment of leisure time, time with family and friends- that is a separate debate for another day.

The line between a 24 x 7 workplace and your leisure time is something we all need to do for sanity reasons. Being able to unplug is REALLY important and provides perspective we all need.
But the line between who you are at work and who you are the rest of the time is easy- there should be no distinctions. And we should treat our colleagues/customers/associates/staff like we treat our friends and neighbors. Why would you want to treat them any other way?

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The Twelve Steps of Volunteering

I’ve been volunteering on one form or another for many years now.  I’ve been treasurer of a Hospital Fund Raising Organization, managing its four businesses and $1.5 million dollars of investments; I’ve helped run charity golf tournaments and silent auctions, book fairs, and even conferences like Podcamp Philly.

I started joking with another friend, Mark Blevis, that I needed a twelve step program for volunteers, and he said it’d make a good blog post.  So here’s my riff on the first six steps:

1.  Admit you are powerless when it comes to volunteering.  Somehow, you are always the person saying “Oh Sure, That’s No Problem, I can do it” even when your brain is screaming “What are you, Nuts?”  Your rampant volunteerism has made your life unmanageable.

2. I’ve come to believe in a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.  (I thought this was Steve Jobs when I bought my Mac Book Pro, but apparently I need to find a power higher than just iWork ’08 and Twitter). 

3. I need to make a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of the Higher Power, however I understand him/her/it to be. (The interwebs?? Twitter?  Facebook???)

4. I need to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself and my ability to manage my own time effectively.  (I am stuck on this step at the moment.  I need to triage the truly important and valuable from the black holes of time and energy.)

5. I have to admit to my higher power and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.  (Confessions via twitter??)

6. I have to be ready to have my higher power remove all defects of character.  (Does this mean cutting the lifeline I call High Speed Internet and Gmail access on my cell phone?  Say it isn’t so….)

I’m hoping to eventually progress until I can have a true spiritual awakening and really understand what I can control, what I cannot, and become better at telling the difference between the two.

One of the things I love is eventually giving up control and letting things just happen organically.  It always ends up working out brilliantly in the end.  But being a parent for over 12 years now, I also know that it takes some level of practice, organization and preparedness to make things fly on their own.  The trick is knowing when you’re over-planning.  And when to say no. 

 Here’s hoping I get it together.

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Another reason to Switch to Verizon FiOS

This morning, I woke up and tried to log onto my email over at Comcast.net. I had great connectivity; I could get to my gmail no problem, but the Comcast.net portal was not accessible.  The site was down.  Fine, it happens.

When I called to see what was up, I was put into an endless loop of “please consult our website.”  Well, Duh, I couldn’t do that!  And then when I tried to talk to a live person just to get an estimate of when things might be up and ready, and/or report the problem, I kept getting a “call back later” message.

So much for customer service and sharing information.

I get that sites will go down.  But when you are a service provider and host email that people depend on for doing their daily business, you’ve got to be able to respond when they call, and have some way to have a problem answered by a real person, when it doesn’t fit your metrics.  Sure, there’s a lot of silly and “Oh, it needs to be plugged in? I didn’t know that!” questions you’ll get, but that’s called Customer Service and that’s why I pay so much for this service.

I need the service, I pay for the service, and this means you also agree to provide the service and pick up the phone when I call because it’s not working.  I don;t expect you to be psychic and know when it’s down, but I do expect you to be able to respond when your site and my email are unavailable for at least 4 hours.

FiOS, you can’t come soon enough!

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Zen Acorn

Zen Acorn

Originally uploaded by idg.

I was having a stressful moment at Podcamp Philly. CC Chapman was in the car with me. I was trying to find a center, and said something like – “I’m letting go of control. I’m an acorn, floating along- trying to let go of the temptation of control and micromanaging every little thing.” So we started joking about the Zen Acorn.

And as I see this picture, it captures the moment perfectly. Sitting on the edge, staring into the abyss, yet comfortable with the fact that all will be well and work out as nature has intended.

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My Home 2.0

I went to an event this afternoon sponsored by Verizon and its new FIOS service. Verizon took over a home in the Yardely, PA community, and did a complete tech makeover of the home. For the big reveal, Verizon had a huge block party, complete with carnival games, face painting, free snacks and sodas, Guitar Hero, the ability to experience FIOS for yourself, and a giveaway of a 42″ plasma TV. Sweet!

I have to say, I am excited to have learned more about FIOS, but a little frustrated that my neighborhood near Longwood Gardens is not yet on the schedule. I would happily switch to FIOS if it were available. Instead, I am stuck with Comcast, where I have had some problems with service variations that have not yet been fixed despite numerous complaints. (But they’re the only game in town, at the moment.)

The FIOS service is impressively quick, great for someone like me who is on the ‘net all the time, uploading pictures, podcasts, etc. I can’t wait!

The tech makeover of the house included a new home office computer with a 20 inch monitor (SWEET!) for the dad who is a real estate agent, and new wireless laptops for Mom and for the Kids. A 4 in 1 printer, and a bulk printer as well, and even a custom website for the dad’s real estate business were part of the package. (Only leaving me to speculate whether they would train him, so he can do his own custom updates.)

The tech make over also included at tricked out playroom/entertainment center for the family, with an Xbox, surround sound….but if everything else was wireless, why were the Guitars for Guitar Hero on the Xbox wired???

The presentation was marred by a few technical difficulties with wireless mics cutting out, video cutting out, and people (including myself) deciding after the playroom reveal, it was time to leave.

This was a great event. I am so sorry I missed meeting James Earl Jones, a personal hero of mine, and someone I’d love to interview for the LD Podcast. Every Verizon person was personable and helpful, except for some of the concession people, who seemed preoccupied with talking to each other, and were somewhat rude, especially compared to everyone else.

The big execs from Verizon seemed to keep to themselves, which I thought was kind of odd at a community event. I know being the lead organizer of Podcamp Philly, I think accessibility and getting to be part of the conversation is vital. I think they would have been better served by talking to people other than their co-workers- it didn’t seem like it was particularly event “coordination” talk, either- just hanging and observing- when I think they should have been participating.

I met the Mom of the Kaczor family, and her mother. The Mom was really sweet. Mrs. Kaczor’s Mom had lost her husband in a car accident about 14 mo. ago, (due to being hit by a drunk driver) and her son is getting married next weekend. She was holding up to all this stress remarkably well, and was just as sweet and friendly as she could have been.

I thought this family was simply a great choice- they were a prototypical suburban family, and the upgrade to faster service will be more than just a luxury, but a business advantage for them. (Now all they need is for some of us in the local podcasting community to teach them how to use imovie and/or podcasts to help promote his real estate listings.)

I’m impressed by everything Verizon did, the friendliness of the staff, and more importantly, how totally cool FIOS is, and how badly I wish it were available in my area.

You can see all the pictures I took on my flickr stream by clicking here.

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