Monthly Archives: February 2008

Solutions Playground



Solutions Playground

Originally uploaded by miss_rogue.

A friend of mine on the Podcamp NYC team sent me the link to this great photo of a sign at TransitCamp. TransitCamp was an unconference held in the Bay Area to help brainstorm solutions to the day to day solutions to the ongoing public transit issues there. I thought the sign was brilliant, and one we should adopt for every podcamp.

Podcamp is a great unconference about new media. But at the heart of it, we want to help people find solutions to their questions about social media, whether it’s answering the “How do I….?” question or introducing people to new solutions for problems they never knew existed, or helping veterans up their game, in search of better ways to find audience, or help people find their media more efficiently on the web.

CC Chapman uses the term New Media Playground alot, and I like to look at all podcamps as New Media Playdates, where we can get together with our friends and talk shop. Podcamps shold be about meeting new and old friends, getting our hands dirty with new tools and improve our expertise with older ones we know well, by seeing what other people do and how it works for them. It’s about realizing that there is wisdom in crowds, but you have to get them to relax and open up to really share what they know.

I think Tommy Vallier had a good idea with the Mentor Lab concept at Podcamp Toronto. We should spend more time putting experienced people into a room, and asking anyone to come up with any new media question or problem, and brainstorm solutions. Breaking the ice could be a problem, but I know we could always choose a few starter questions to get everyone started.

It’s funny- many of the people I know in new media figured things out by a lot of experimentation and trial and error. Because of this, we often wear the badge of “expert” uneasily, since no one has really graduated from “Podcasting School” and there’s no formal place to learn all this ‘stuff’.

Yet we all know we know a lot, we just have a hard time articulating it without devolving to the “give it a try and see what you think” response. It’s hard to tell someone there’s one perfect way to do something, when we do things the way we stumbled into them, not by reading a manual. Even the podcasting books I have read have acted more as suggestions rather than a bible showing the one true path.

I am hoping podcamps take this sign to heart, and we become solutions playgrounds- places where people can toss around ideas, bounce ideas off of friends in an incubator type of environment, and then go explore on or own, coming back the next time with more to share and discuss.

I love this community of people- they are bright, generous, intuitive and passionate about life and their work. I can’t think of a better set of friends to have, and I look forward to our next playdate at the solutions playground.

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Mobile post sent by WhitneyHoffman using Utterz Replies.  mp3

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Mobile post sent by WhitneyHoffman using Utterz Replies.  mp3

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Empowerment

Too often, we put ourselves into a box of limitations.  When we look for solutions to problems, we immediately start up with the “I can’t do that” list, rather than the list of things we can do, or should consider.  Whenever I hear “I can’t do that”, I try to ask- “Why not?” Surprisingly frequently, the Why’s are not compelling excuses for not acting, but merely expressions of our fear, or self-imposed limitations.

For example, let’s say your child is having problems at school.  You could look for another school for next year, you could look for another school and move them as soon as possible, you could approach the administration and talk to them about your child’s difficulty, you could talk to the teachers involved, you could have your child tested to see if they have any learning disabilities, or any combination of the above.  Or you could do nothing.   What’s the right choice?

Well, the “right choice” is going to be highly fact-dependent.  If your child is getting picked on by a classmate, most of the above solutions are overkill, and talking to the teacher or other parent will probably solve the problem.  However, if your child is really struggling academically, getting to the bottom of that problem may involve many of the suggestions, including testing, looking at other schools that might be a better fit (if your child is currently in private school, for example),  getting help, tutoring, services- whatever your child needs.  Simply hopping from school to school won’t solve the underlying problem, in and of itself.  You need to get at the root of the problem in order to solve it, and that may not be one easy solutin, but a series of things you need to do.

The point here is this: too many times we form our own cages, we trap ourselves mentally by saying “I can’t”.  I think we’re all obligated to try to change things in our lives that we’re unhappy with- you can always change the status quo.

Say you are in a job you hate.  There is nothing that binds you into indentured servitude in that position for life.  You CAN look for another job.  You CAN quit.  Each of these choices may make other things, like paying the rent, more difficult, but if you truly hate your job, rather than staying in it, hoping it will somehow get better, why not look for something else that will make you happier?  Why not try to change things at work so you’ll be a bit more engaged, or focus on something you want to accomplish rather on what you cannot?  Just saying “I can’t” and giving up isn’t a solution- that’s just deciding to accept a bad situation and being too lazy to make it different.

The hardest part about growing up is realizing that you are empowered to take charge of your life.  You are not a victim of your circumstances.  Sure, you may have a lousy hand this round, and not be born with every advantage, but why accept this as your lot in life?  Why not plot a path to a better future? Seeing yourself as a powerless person makes you powerless.  Looking for ways to change things for your advantage, seeing what you can do rather than focusing on what you can’t-that’s what will move you forward.

Otherwise, all you are doing is treading water in your lif- keeping yourself from drowning, but never making any real progress forward.

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Social Media Valentine’s Day

I met my husband, Matt, as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. When people ask how we met, I say I hit him over the head with a newspaper, but that’s only part of the story- the punch line of a romance that continues now for 24 years, although we’ve only been married for 15 of those.

Recently, I noticed someone on twitter, Keith Burtis, who does some terrific woodworking projects through Magic Woodworks. Matt loves working in his wood shop, and so the idea of finding someone in social media with similar interests to my husband seemed interesting. I started talking to Keith about maybe getting something he’s made for Matt for his upcoming birthday. Something special and different. Matt’s an obstetrician by day, but wood is his hobby and creative outlet, so finding something that speaks to that isn’t easy.

Keith made a really amazing footed bowl for Matt, signed and everything. It arrived in the mail, along with pictures of how it was made and the whole story behind it, and two beautiful wine corks, also in beautifully turned wood. I was so excited, I gave these to Matt yesterday as an early Valentine’s/Birthday present, happy to get something custom made for the love of my life, something beautiful, personal, and special. As a bonus, it turns out Keith is a custom cabinet maker himself during the day, the kind of guy Matt might really enjoy getting to know. Maybe they’ll get to play in their shops together sometime, like Norm and his crew on Old Yankee Workshop.

It also turns out timing is everything. Keith is looking to save a little money for something special for the love of his life as well. (Don’t want to spoil any secrets!) This project helps him finance his secret project, keeping the love and caring flowing.

Social Media can bring you surprising opportunities and possibilities. It may seem like it’s all fluff and coffee talk, but here’s one more small example of how a chance bit of chatter on twitter led to something a bit bigger and special for everyone involved, including those parts of the equation who are “offline” and not part of the grid we all cling to. It’s about creativity, mutual support and caring. It’s about community. And even if that’s all that it’s about, I feel like I win the game every day.

Sure, this is a story about finding a perfect gift for someone- a bespoke, custom made piece. It’s about finding a way to tell someone you love them. And it’s about creativity, possibilities, and dreams. But the most important part is that serendipity is a terrific muse, and all you have to do is listen for her song.

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Why I Think Hillary May Not Win, and How She Could

Let me preface this post by saying I think of myself as an average suburban mom. I am a democrat, which is unusual in the republican stronghold where I live. I have an ivy-league education, and my own podcast about education issues. I am sure some of my “demographics” put me outside of the main stream, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume I am average.

I had my doubts about Bill Clinton when he first ran. But he was a great president. Yes, he had a charisma problem- too much and it got him into trouble. He believed his own hype and appeal, and regardless of how you spin in, he took advantage of a young girl and he should have known better. I still don’t think it was any of our business, though.

Bill Clinton always seemed to be speaking from the heart, and found his authentic voice.  Even if the words were written by a speech writer, Bill had a way of making them his own.  He never sounded forced or insincere.  Barack Obama shares this same oratorical gift- the ability to deliver a speech that touches or emotions, not just because of the artful way the words and alliteration are constructed, but because it is pretty clear he believes everything he says.

Hillary Clinton is an amazing woman, who has worked for years for organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund.  She is a public-spirited politician, and I believe she works hard for her constituency.  Her policy positions and those of Barack Obama are almost identical- so why is she having problems on the campaign trail?  For all her strengths, she has one big problem- she uses her “stage” voice and not her own voice when speaking to the crowd.

Hillary has been trying to be one of the guys for so long, to avoid playing the politics of gender, she’s forgotten the advantage she has over all the other candidates- she’s a mom.

The Mom Card 

Hillary is a mom.  She knows what it’s like to hold the hand of a small child, and the joy this brings to your heart.  She’s gotten up in the middle of the night when Chelsea was sick, worried to death, and yet bone tired herself.  She’s changed diapers and been thrown-up on.  It’s not glamourous, but it’s real.  And no Mom who has spent time wondering whether the germs from the sick side of the pediatrician’s office were going to infect her kid, there only for a checkup, (ultimately causing her to lose even more time at work) takes health care for granted.

Granted the Clintons have only one child.  I have said from time to time that Bill Cosby is right- you’re only really a parent when you have two kids, because with one, you always know who did “it” in the house, and the joys of mediating sibling disputes is not something you fully understand.  Yet negotiating bed times with even one child better prepares mothers for negotiating Mid-east peace than most Dads on the planet.  As a friend of mine said in law school- “I knew I could ace my mediation and negotiation final, because I live this every day with my five year old.”

The men in the campaign have succeeded in making Hillary play their game, rather than playing her own, where she makes up and negotiates the rules.  Boys respect their moms, but resent them at times as well.  We hold the ultimate guilt card- we gave them life.  They can’t one-up that one, ever.

So by making Hillary one of the guys, they never let her deal with her most powerful asset- her gender.

Men don’t want to be seen beating up on a woman, even metaphorically. So what the “guys” have managed to do is get Hillary to play their game.  If Hillary wants to win, (and it may be too late) she needs to find her authentic voice, her own voice, and that is a woman’s voice.  She can’t hide the fact that she’s a girl, and she shouldn’t try to.  She needs to be herself.  The lack of speakng from her heart is what has hurt her, nothing else.

Women in Charge, from Morning until Night 

Women do the bulk of the raising of children in this Country- not just in the roles of moms, but in education as well.  For example:

  • At both of my children’s schools, the clear majority of the faculty and staff are women.
  •  The Parent-teacher organizations are full of women, with very few men involved.
  • My sons live in a world where women have been telling them what to do from the moment they get up in the morning, until they go to bed since they were born.  From being woken up by me in the morning, to my pleas of personal hygiene and wishes for sweet dreams at night, I am their clock and drill sargeant.
  • My husband is actively involved with our kids, but the bulk of the “maintenance” work is mine.  From buying them clothes, to getting them dressed and to school on time, to feeding them something that resembles nutrition day to day, to going to bat for them with teachers at school- that’s largely my job.
  • Once at school, another batch of surrogate Moms ensure they learn to read, write and perform academically.  These women help shape my son’s ideas of what women are as much as I do at home.

We try to ignore the fact that women are different and have a different perspective on life, but we do.  We feel vulnerable walking alone at night the way most guys never will.  We tend to be more in touch with our emotions, but that doesn’t make us weak and all “emotional”- it makes us strong, because we understand why people feel and act as they do.  Women are the emotional caretakers in this world, and I worry more about some super-analytical, “get-even”, “mine is bigger than yours” kind of guy in charge of this Country that I worry about an overly emotional woman in charge.

Margaret Thatcher certainly was never a weepy mess- we need to consider that a woman in office in this Country wouldn’t be a push-over, either.  While women may be more in touch with their emotions, we are not stupid because of it.
I honestly think mothers would think more carefully before sending someone else’s child into war.   I think women have an opportunity to bring compassion and reality into politics.  Moms don’t try to make everyone happy- we try to get everyone what they need, not what they want.  We don’t crumble when someone says “That’s not fair”- instead, we say “There is a difference between fair and equal- let me show you what that means.”

Hillary could be amazing if she could stop being afraid of being a woman and a Mom.  Tell the pundits to go stuff it-  She should be proud of who she is, and her experiences as a mom will help make her a great president, if she can only talk about it, rather than hide it.

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Bad Service is Intolerable

I have the Comcast triple play at home.  Cable, TV, Internet.  The service can be spotty from time to time.  The  service went out sporadically for several days at a time recently, without any prior notice or acknowledgement of the problem, except for dealing with my irate phone calls.   No- I am sorry we had a problem email afterwards, nothing.  I just had another run in with “customer dis-service” about an email problem I was having, (when I hit the inbox, I don’t get taken to the front page of my inbox, but a page back- page 2 of 19, for whatever reason…)  and they just said- well, hit page one and lump it.  This is a software problem on their end which is recently an issue, never before.  And I get the impression they could care less.

As a result of the poor follow up to problems, or getting any sense of caring, despite being a customer for many years now, I am going to switch to verizon FiOS the very first day it becomes available in my area.  And I will canvas everyone I know to do the same.  Why?  not so much that comcast has bad service- but they just don’t care.  As a result, I have no patience with their technical problems any more- they aren’t interested in maintaining our relationship, and therefore, I don’t either.

Thanks, Comcast, for treating me like just another dollar in your account and for forgetting that even a little nice attention goes a long way towards customer loyalty.  Bad way to do business.  bad way to maintain business.  Your loss in the end.

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