Talking vs. Doing and My New Project

If there’s still anyone out there who follows this blog I’m sure you’re wondering why the post frequency has dropped off and why it consists mostly of quoting the New York Times. I’ve been busy slowly creating my latest passion, a school of continuing education called Smart Experience. I could write a lot about it, but hopefully the website explains what’s going on.

One fun part about building a business again is the opportunity to design a business as a deep dive, rather than on a project basis as a consultant. While I have a lot of new thoughts about how that happens (and doesn’t happen), mostly I’m trying to write less and do more, so I’ll skip that for now.

Seeing the Real Difference Between Art and Design

The Sartorialist blog has been a big hit, with each post getting dozens of comments. Why? On the surface it’s the usual blogger story: an individual with insight on a particular topic publishes quickly and honestly sans organizational overhead.

To me, the Sartorialist does something else important. He delineates the difference between art and design. Many publications aimed at the fashion consumer, whether it be men’s magazines or even the New York Times, present clothes as art. I imagine the editors are fashionistas, and publish for (the taste and budgets of) other fashionistas. The Sartorialist on the other hand covers what people actually wear and so has something of agile in it, quickly revealing what people are and do. It’s field research with a point of view.

Need Help Providing Internet Education to the Disadvantaged

The skinny here is that I’d like to work on correcting the uneven access to Internet jobs (great jobs, btw) by providing education to the disadvantaged. By disadvantaged I mean — here in New York City — mainly blacks and Hispanics, but generally those with lower income. I’m not sure how organizations who provide such services identify customers in this segment. I’ve already got some plans in the works for an educational service, and a small but important component of it is figuring out how to make the education available more widely.

Lately this has become a hotter topic in the blogosphere — with Kottke sparking a thread and Zeldman, Nick, Mike, and Anil supporting this point of view.

Someone asked, Where are the barriers then? Here’s a few:


A fun story of one couple embracing the secular side of Christmas…

So as I browsed past velvet monogrammed stockings and quilted tree skirts and pine wreaths and silver-plated picture frames that doubled as stocking holders (genius!), I said to myself, as much as to my husband: “This is why I sometimes wish I celebrated Christmas. Everything looks so cozy and inviting.” And much to my surprise, he said, “We can celebrate Christmas if you want.” And like a 12-year-old, I said, “We can?” And he said, “Sure.”

Do Customer Communities Pay Off?

In HBR this month is a rare, methodical (and free) look at the financial effect of online communities via a study of eBay Germany…

Over the course of a year, we compared the behavior of community enthusiasts and lurkers with that of the control group. The differences were astonishing. Lurkers and community enthusiasts bid twice as often as members of the control group, won up to 25% more auctions, paid final prices that were as much as 24% higher, and spent up to 54% more money (in total). Enthusiasts listed up to four times as many items on eBay and earned up to six times as much in monthly sales revenues as the control users. The findings on first-time sellers were even more impressive: Compared with the controls, almost ten times as many lurkers (56.1%) and enthusiasts (54.1%) started selling on eBay after they joined and participated in customer communities.

The challenge for companies now is remembering that creating community means getting like-minded groups of people together to do things they like doing and not just installing some community software.

Why Smart Guys Play Frisbee

Dr. Michael J. Norden, a University of Washington professor of psychiatry, found a correlation between playing ultimate frisbee and success in university. He explains:

  • Students not known for athletic prowess “can show up at college having never played” and be good at it by year’s end.
  • The game calls for “spatial aptitude” (“to ‘read’ the projected path of the disc”) and “quick, accurate decision-making” (“a new play must be improvised every 10 seconds”).
  • “It is readily compatible with a heavy academic load.”

City Planet

In City Planet, Stewart Brand describes the current massive migration to the world’s cities and the reality of squatter cities. The piece changed the way I understand cities and how the world population is evolving. Here’s some quotes…

The growth of cities has led to demographic trends exactly the opposite of what many experts have predicted… Demographically, the next 50 years may be the most wrenching in human history. Massive numbers of people are making massive changes. Having just experienced the first doubling of world population in a single lifetime (from 3.3 billion in 1962 to 6.5 billion now), we now are discovering it is the last doubling… Just as the population exploded upward exponentially when the birthrate was above 2.1, it accelerates downward exponentially when it’s below 2.1. Compound interest cuts both ways. Fewer children make fewer children.


Curing the pattern disease

Do you walk down the street and notice patterns all around you? If so, you might suffer from apophenia — a serious malady that goes undiagnosed for years in most people.

Talk to your doctor to see if Metavor is right for you.

Satire courtesy of Chris Baum.

Homogeneous Architecture

My business partner Jim just returned from doing a presentation in Turkey. Notable comment: “Istanbul looks more like San Jose than Constantinople.

Four Things

I usually don’t participate is such folly, but I’m feeling frivolous…

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. painting playgrounds
  2. building houses
  3. administering computer networks
  4. writing about music

Four movies albums I can watch listen to over and over:

  1. Steely Dan’s Aja
  2. Death Cab For Cutie’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes
  3. Mahler’s Tenth Symphony
  4. Led Zepplin II

Four places I’ve lived:

  1. West 23rd, between Ninth and Tenth
  2. West 25th and Seventh and Eighth
  3. West 87th between Central Park West and Columbus
  4. 28th St between Ditmars and Twenty-Third, Astoria

Four TV shows I love:

  1. M*A*S*H
  2. The West Wing
  3. The Newsroom
  4. Connections

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  1. Charleston
  2. Sienna
  3. Berlin
  4. Dublin

Four of my favorite dishes:

  1. koenigsberger klops
  2. fish tacos
  3. pasta fagioli
  4. anything from Ben & Jerry’s

Four sites I visit daily:

  1. New York Times
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ? …besides scanning RSS Feeds, it’s interesting that the sources I look to on a daily basis — books, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal — are still more satisfying offline, though I’d rather have them online.

Four places I would rather be right now:

  1. the bathtub
  2. a sidewalk cafe
  3. cycling through the countryside
  4. with friends

Employee-Customer mashups

For the sake of innovation, it’s tempting to mash up people internal and external to a company. We’ve seen how important it is that employees be customers, like JetBlue’s employee-centered priorities, and how customers can contribute to companies. This could be one of the most important changes in culture we can bring to companies, but not one of the easiest. Beside the discomfort it will arouse in traditional corporate cultures, we’re still figuring out how to do it.

For example, I’ve realized lately in working to co-create with clients that it needs to be gradual process, because the party you’re creating with doesn’t share the same content or process and needs time to learn. Rather than strive for immediate immersion in creation, I’ve taken a hint from surgeons who say, “watch one, do one, teach one.” Spreading these steps over whole projects may be necessary for both learning and change to happen.

Two more examples come from friends who have recently launched exciting projects that mash up “internal” and “external” resources. Christina Wodtke — a co-founder of MIG — has launched Public Square, software that recognizes the importance of reader-contributed content by allowing quality rankings of people and content to better balance editorial direction and reader input.

And Lou Rosenfeld just launched Rosenfeld Media, a publishing venture in which readers play a vital role in everything from deciding which topics get covered to influencing the actual authoring decisions.

Labor and love

“There’s a simple doctrine. Outside of a person’s love the most sacred thing they can give is their labor. Labor is a very precious thing you have and any time you can combine labor and love you’ve really made a match.” — James Carville