Friday, June 20, 2008

The Future is Theirs

My daughter graduated 5th grade today and I was really blown away by what some of these kids have planned for the future. Brain surgeons, authors, athletes, aid workers and more. The ceremony was terrific and despite me having very bittersweet feelings about seeing my daughter graduate, it was a really good day.

Earlier this year, I taught a Junior Achievement class to my daughter's 5th grade class. It was my 4th time doing this sort of volunteerism, and I continue to really love the experience. As with most volunteer activities, I started out thinking this would be a great way to give something back. In the end though, it's me that gets the most out of the time I think.

This year's class wrote me notes after our sessions ended. While it's always nice to get a thank you, these notes really went over the top. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to show some of these kids more about business and to get them excited about their own futures.

Stephen wrote "It was cool to see how much of a difference unit production and mass production worked. Thank you so much for talking with us about business."

James wrote "I learned that you can find ads almost anywhere."

Anthony wrote "I never knew there were different typs of advertising. I just thought advertising was advertising!"

Jen wrote "When I grow up I want to be a sole proprietor and open a nail salon called Jen's Tens."

Alison wrote "I really enjoyed the toy store lesson because it showed me how a business really needs a lot of different people and equipment. I found the advertising lesson interesting because now when I see a commerical on TV I try and figure out what type of ad it is."


Not only do I think Junior Achievement has a great model, I think it's a super way to bring real world expertise and really rich extra content into the classroom. I can't wait until next year...

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Podcasting

I recorded my very first podcast for the Microsoft CIO Network yesterday, finally joining the ranks of bloggers who have tried their hand at podcasting.

I was initially nervous about the interviewing/conversation, but got over that quickly. On the way back to my office, I started to worry about how I sounded, and how I would edit the audio.

I think I sounded OK, but need lots of work on how I interview and how fast I talk (I need to slow down a bit). I used Audacity to quickly edit the podcast and used the Internet Archive to find a snippit of sound to use as an intro bumper for the podcast. I'll share the final podcast here if I can (not sure I can use it in public).

What I really love about this way of developing content for a community is it's potential to be really authentic and informal. I'd like to continue to develop and refine a format that will result in a 20 minute conversation that really gives listeners some insights into the topic(s) and the persion (CIO) I'm talking with. Ad a model, I love how PBS does it's CEO Exchange and of course, Sundance's Iconoclasts.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

I just finished reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (@clayshirky on Twitter). I took a bunch of notes and wanted to pull out some key things are really impact the development of social network and apply them to what I'm working on at Microsoft.

First up is the notion of "publish, then filter" - with the massive amounts of information being published today both online, broadcast and offline, filtering has become the real issue. As I think about my own ways of consuming information, it's the filters that are available to me that make big differences. For example, Tivo's search functionality, wish list/keywords and swivel search has revolutionized what I watch on TV. Similarly, I consume almost all of news and technology data via RSS feeds from a browser. I still read the NYTimes on Sunday, but I'm not convinced that I do it for any real reason other than I think I ought to.

Emerging platforms continue to accelerate the publish then filter trend - sites like Meetup.com allow users to "filter" by looking at participation. Interestingly, this means that publishers are going to fail a heck of a lot more than they are used to - there's just too much out there for groups, content, and information to succeed at the same rate they did in the past. This failure thing is going to be hard for lots of traditionally thinking companies - it's not in their DNA to embrace failure. I've seen this personally so much in my career in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

The open source movement provides a pretty good example of this in motion. Open source movements have no employees, no plan, no nothing really. It's not an organization, it's an ecosystem. The book points out in a blow my mind moment, that open source doesn't reduce the likelihood of failure, it reduces the cost of failure. This massive reduction in transaction costs (Coasan theory) is at the core of the book and is affecting companies across the board.

Shirky lays out a very compelling argument around how technology has enabled us to rapidly create new groups, and populate them with people who formerly would never be able to congregate (either offline or online). The top list of groups on meetup.com includes things like Pagans, Witches, Tori Amos and Slashdot. This, as Shirky puts it, is unlike any other group list, anywhere.

My favorite chapter of the book however is "Promise, Tool, Bargain." Shirky lays out a foundation for how to think about constructing communities. He's careful not to call this a recipe, because while every community needs a promise, tools and a bargain, the mix of interactions is simply too complex to prescribe anything other than a framework. That said, the order of promise, tool, bargain does matter.

The promise creates a basic desire to participate. In my case, the Microsoft CIO Network makes both an explicit and implicit promise to users that we'll connect our CIO's to each other, and give them new ways to access Microsoft insiders. Getting the promise right however is quite different than traditional marketers are used to. The distinction is that the marketing isn't done by us for them (our users), but is done with our users in collaboration. That's a trick you shouldn't try at home.

Tools are obviously what allow members to get involved. Here's where things get tricky (and interesting). CIO's aren't generation Y/millennials in how they use online technologies. While we do have a few members that blog and tweet, the majority just aren't contributors to online forums and spaces. We initially chose a message board/blog tool, but have recently started to add things like teleconference calls, interviews, audio podcasts and in-person events. I do believe we're breaking some new ground here in explicitly trying to build an online community of C-level execs - so we've got our work cut out for us.

Bargain is the implicit bargain among users - it's the culture and the expectation. In our case, I believe it's the humanization of Microsoft. That feels odd to say (and is a tricky subject), but I do believe that if we get this right, members will have an unprecedented doorway to us to help us craft products, deliver strategy and have a conversation with our customers. It's also why I took the job. The opportunity to help a company like Microsoft try something like this is a once-in-a-life opportunity.

There is so much more that I want to write about this book but for now, that's it. Get a copy and read it!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Kids Say (and Write) the Darndest Things

My 10 year old wrote this poem for a school project. As I was reading, I was getting more and more alarmed. Had I misread her? Am I a bad parent? Read the poem, and then find out what it's really about at the end.

Over the Wall

The world was spinning
Around and around and around
It left me behind.

The tragedy crashed down on me
Like rocks falling in an ocean.
It broke the surface and stayed below.

Waves lapped against the shore
As people tried to mend my heart

While sadness twisted it
Into crazy shapes.
As pretzel. I'm still confused.
A worm. I don't understand.
A bird. I try to fly above my depression.

It's like a wall, a great looming wall.
It crushes my heart.
It crushes my dreams.

Over the wall I climb.
High, high, high, until the wall is nothing but a memory.
If I fall, I go right back up.
High, high, high.
Into the sky.

So I'm reading this (it was printed and mounted on a purple piece of construction paper) and thinking oh my god, my baby girl has some real issues. When I asked her what the poem was about, she told me it was about her grandfather, who recently died.

I just about fell apart myself and hugged her, thankful that she is in fact, a superb human being.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Failure

J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard really struck a nerve with me. In particular, her bits about failure and not pretending to be anything other than what she was.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
It's all here for you to read and/or watch.

Read the entire thing if you get a moment, this is one heck of a speech.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I've Lost My Mind, Again



This is the 2nd in a long, painful series of videos designed to make my children laugh at me.

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