A Living Longo
I tend to classify people as art. Not exactly true. I think of women as art. Women fascinate me in many of the same ways as great art. Surface is always tip of the iceberg and not necessarily apropos of anything. Art is like terminal velocity. Reach a certain MPH and it escapes earth’s bounds. Great art moves so fast it punches its way out of the earth’s atmosphere. I’ve been lucky to know several women whose vibrations are way passed terminal velocity. They’ve far surpassed 17,000 miles an hour and orbit like great elegant satellites.
The first time I saw Rebecca she looked like a living Longo. Artist Robert Longo dressed his friends in black and white. He took them up on the roof of his New York studio and fired tennis balls at them. The images of his friends ducking those unseen tennis ball bullets became the Men In the Cities series. The title is misleading. The strongest paintings in the series are women. Hair flying as Longo's friend Gretchen is dancing away from the unseen stalking harm. Her body is always contorted, twisted and too violently bent to, on second inspection, be a dance. No, her grimace is either love or pain (or both).
The first time I saw Rebecca was across the dance floor at Vassar’s student run bar (The Mug). She was dressed in black and white except for bright red lipstick. Her lips looked painted Kabuki red and her paste white makeup completed the visual effect. She could hold a cigarette like a wand balanced between two fingers in her right hand and present it to those perfect painted lips like a prize. I smoked for one week in junior high. As an athlete and an asthmatic smoking was out of the question. There was a girl involved in that one week. Her name was Lori and she was uber-cool smoking every morning on the bus to Central Junior High.
Seeing that cigarette float up to Rebecca’s lips in The Mug almost thirty years ago made me want to smoke again. More accurately it made me wish I was rolled tobacco, lit and on fire between those snarling lips. I had to know this woman before she reached terminal velocity. I had to know the story behind the Kabuki mime she so elegantly performed.
I don’t remember how I met Rebecca or why. About four times a year we would have long conversations by chance at dinner, in The Mug or at events. As I write this I can see one of my favorite dinners at Vassar. Rebecca was unusually alone. I sat and we picked up our running conversation about art, life, people, high energy physics, sex, love and the meaning of life as far as we understood it. What I loved about every conversation I had with Rebecca was our ability to span long periods of not talking as if they didn’t exist. We always were in mid-conversation even if our last talk was months before.
That night in the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC) was no different. With few pleasantries quickly pushed aside we dived into the middle of the hardest work my brain did that week. Rebecca was like reading Hegel or Heidegger. It was easy to lose the real idea. I could swim long laps in the wrong country quickly, easily and feel good about it the entire time I moved away from the thing itself. Staying with Rebecca required constant due diligence. Her eyes could hold me with small flicks, tiny movements. She had a way of lifting her fork in exactly the same way as her cigarette. Her fork would float to her mouth; hold as she bent her head slightly at the neck. It was the same ballet and to a naïve hormonally challenged failed preppie it was hypnotic and distracting. Staying in the moment and with the thread of our conversations was impossible. At times I simply gave up allowing the moment to wash over like water. At other times I fought to stay present because meaning and value is hard to find in college. Class is not what I am talking about. Content where you accurately see yourself where you rapidly strip, voluntarily strip because stripping is the cost of the game you are playing is rare. Mostly you dance a highly stylized Kabuki with articulated known roles. You are master of your own very small universe and little threatens peace and prosperity.
When someone, in moments, moves past your mask and stares at your naked core you have two choices. Smart move is turn tail and run, run as fast as your young legs can. The stupid and courageous thing is to lean into the wind, to throw yourself into the rapidly evolving unknown. Hawking describes a black hole as a warping of space-time that, should you unluckily enter, will expand you to infinity. Before all of your atoms become fodder for the next big bang, you cross an “event horizon” or the “lip” of a black hole. While you are surfing the lip of something that will kill you in what has to be a unique and horrifying way you’re thinking, “So this is the lip of a black hole, cool.” Next thing you know your atoms are smashed into infinity.
Talking to Rebecca is surfing the lip of a Hawkian black hole. I would surf and think, “how can she have that thought, where did that idea come from, where is that connection, how can she hold a fork in a sexy way?” I wish I could truthfully say my mental energy at 20 was evenly distributed within those philosophical topics, but it would be a lie. That sexy fork thing (or its equivalent) dominated my Rebecca thoughts. I was so in love with this woman that it HURT to be around her by senior year.
I never told her a word of this. I’ve thought a lot about why I was such a coward then. What was there to lose? Faced with one of the most fascinating women I’ve ever known the best I could do was the chance conversation. Why was I such a coward? Cowardice was uncharacteristic, so its clear presence then fascinates now. I weighed and measured myself and decided I just didn’t have enough of whatever magical potion was needed to risk sharing my feelings or suggest a relationship deeper than an hour here and there.
We stole those hours. Our tribes didn’t have many members in common. Rebecca ran the theater tribe and, if I had a tribe, it was made up of athletes and artist. Visual artists rarely group together. Artist work on stuff in their heads even when having coffee together. I have an interview of my artist friend Michael Rees I hope to load to this site soon. It is so funny. We were such kids. I did do a good job of cutting past surface and getting Michael to share his process. Artist, good ones anyway, just "do" they rarely think about what they are doing. Michael explained how his mind worked as he created and it is fascinating once you get past how goofy and young we were.
Why could I extract something from Michael Rees I couldn’t share with Rebecca is one of my life’s mysteries. I think the reason I kept space between every interaction is it took me time to return to stasis after every conversation. Should I have convinced Rebecca to run away with me? Probably, but I would never have made that sale. It would have been braver to lay it out and fail (of course), but youth truly is wasted on the young. I heard a line in a movie preview the other day that seems to capture such brutal irony. The line, from Spielberg’s upcoming Benjamin Button movie, is, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”
Rebecca is my friend again now and some of our familiar dance remains. Yes thirty years have flown by in the blink of an idea. Chance meetings now in the midst of two over busy lives are impossible. Rebecca has an intelligent, sensitive son who may be the next Robert Longo. She teaches acting. The first moment I saw Rebecca after all of this time, trouble and life she jumped next to me on a couch as I was reading a book in a hotel lobby. There were those eyes again. Thirty years and those eyes lit the room. My heart stopped.
Our visit was a disaster on so many levels, but, well hidden, were moments of such complete joy I was capable of jumping back thirty years in a second. I asked Rebecca to marry me – words I never, NEVER, thought I would say again. Don’t misunderstand. I loved being married to Janet, but our divorce came closer to killing me than things that really will kill you. Actually, I asked Rebecca to marry me on the phone before I saw her (note to all reading this NEVER ask someone to marry you over the phone). It is clear for all the romance in my soul I make a poor romantic in real life. I spent the day at the Milwaukee Museum of Art (one of my Top 5 Summer Museums) alone staring at their outstanding Schnabel, looking out at the lake and wondering how I got on the wrong bus (metaphorically speaking).
We went to dinner and I discovered what it felt like to have someone you’ve asked to marry you say no. Hint: It doesn’t feel good. The problem is she sold me on how ridiculous a 30-year-old idea was. Normally using logic to structure an argument with me is a red flag to a mad hungry bull. Logic is my father’s engineer legacy, his first gift to me. Logic is my second language. On this night Rebecca’s pin rightfully popped a thirty-year-old balloon. Dinner reminded me of Warhol's Car Crash paintings. I was repulsed and fascinated at exactly the same moment. Art teaches you to simultaneously hold opposing ideas. I remember thinking, "I hate and love this woman." Once again, it took months to return to stasis. Once there, once back to an even mental place, I was bored and wondering if pain wasn't a better idea. As you contemplate some things other stuff often push their way into your life eclipsing everything. Right after seeing Rebecca and being able to place all of those moments in more neutral context an unseen Heidegger tide swept me away from Rebecca for over a year. Moments in this hiatus reminded me of senior year at Vassar. The difference now, at 50, is I was glad to have and hold every second we spent together. Do I want to ask someone to marry me again and hear, "No", not so much. The cost of poker is always the cost of poker and what is life without pain? Answer: Television.
P.S. Was it brave or goofy to follow such an old idea into the present? Am I better now for taking the risk I should have then? I can’t decide, but I am glad Rebecca is in my life again. Do you have a Rebecca in your life? Please share your story so I don't feel quite so goofy. What are your thoughts? Advice?
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
A Living Longo
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Ocracoke Island, Tuesday September 4th, 2001
It was the week before 9.11, 2001. We were “vacationing” on Ocracoke Island. It wasn’t much of a vacation. We arrived on Sunday taking the long Ferry across. We listened to a Kathy Reich murder mystery on the four hour car and boat ride.
We spoke little. I was going to need to leave the company I co-founded because I wasn’t going to be married to the President much longer. Monday night I heard those messages for the first time. They were a long way from sinking all the way in when we hit the beach on Tuesday.
I was trying to body surf all day to little effect. The ocean was calm and flat until late in the day. Waves big enough to catch a quick ride came up just as the day was ending. I went back out into the water wading in chest deep. I was beyond the break and could watch the waves rolling toward me. I caught a good ride almost to shore.
I saw Janet gather her bag and silently head back to the condo. She walked slow and with her head down. She didn't seem to care if I joined her for dinner or swam to Cuba. “One more ride,” I remember thinking. I turned wading back to the line.
Several shark attacks occurred during the summer of 2001. Media coverage made it seem like sharks where coming ashore and grabbing people from the local Wendy’s or something. There was a general hysteria that I didn’t pay much attention too. In fact, I belittled the hysteria decrying "media hype" more than once. One thing I do pay attention to is fish. I like to fish. That is why, with waves lapping under my chin, when I spied small silver baitfish jumping up out of the water I started to swim slowly back toward shore.
At first only a few small silver fish jumped frantically up out of the water. Fish this size do not jump to feed. They jump not to be some other larger fish's meal. My fresh water fishing experience taught me to cast when I see this kind of activity. If bait fish are active the fish I am after, usually small mouth bass, are feeding.
My saltwater experience said I was in trouble. Once I reached sand I stood still. I turned in a circle slowly. I didn’t see a fin. When I completed the circle coming back to the area on my right where the baitfish were jumping I noticed something that made me afraid. A few fish before became hundreds of tiny silver fish in full panic.
I was too far out to get back to shore without churning water in a, "Here sharky, sharky," way. I looked back to the beach. I wanted to see if there was anyone to call for help. The beach was deserted. The media’s warning about dawn and dusk apparently convinced everyone but someone who should know better, me, to get out of the water. I weighed my options. I could run as much as possible in chest high water with four foot waves pounding.
I rejected that option since churning that much water didn’t seem like the thing to do if there was a shark near. I decided to move in getting my feet on firm sand. I didn’t want to tread water. Once I found good footing I made another decision. The danger based on the bait fish was to my right. I fixed my point of reference where the fish were jumping.
I located the biggest pool of frantic fish about 30 yards away and at 2:00 to my position. I figured there was no good position to get hit by a shark. I couldn’t change my stance to help. The broiling fish were moving. “Please go out, please go out,” I remember thinking as I stared at their roil. The boiling silver water moved 5 yards closer to me just after I asked them to move away. Suddenly the silver dance stopped altogether. Several minutes went by.
I stared intently at the last spot. The roil started again and was now within ten yards. Its size doubled. If I stuck my hand out I could catch a bait fish or two it seemed. Fear took over. For a few seconds my decision making shut down. I willed myself to THINK. Thinking through options kept me calm and focused. Unfortunately my options weren’t any better. Running still made no sense. There was no way to change my stance. As I regained my composure baitfish stopped again. Two minutes went by before the jumping heard moved closer. The baitfish swirl was now five yards away and at my three o’clock.
Several thoughts flew around in my mind. I counted up the week. I was going to be fired from the company I co-founded. I would be divorced and now I was going to be eaten by a shark after talking trash about stupid “media shark frenzy”. I was mad at myself. I knew better than to be an irretrievable distance from shore at dusk. Stupid is as stupid does and catching a few measly waves at that time of day was feeling pretty idiotic.
I’m convinced our minds parallel process. Mine was processing every fish fact I knew while summing up the week and my then 43 years on the planet. Just then the baitfish quieted again and so did my mind. After about a minute I reached a “What the F**K” stage and was ready to be dinner. I focused on the last baitfish location. I stared at it daring the shark to bring it on. “Let’s go,” I remember saying loudly to an empty ocean.
The moment I finished my sentence, as if on cue, a matched pair of spotted dolphin jumped several feet out of the water five yards away at my three o’clock. The dolphin closest to me looked right at me and seemed to cock his head ever so slightly as our eyes locked. As quick as they were up and in the air they were gone. I started laughing and clapping. I was shouting, “Did you see that, did you see that” to an empty ocean and beach.
I kept looking back at the beach hoping someone was there to see such a miracle. I would flash quick looks back. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the water in case there was another jump. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing so hard the tide moved me out from my stance. My feet were dangling free again.
I relaxed. Dolphins and sharks don’t get along. Dolphins in the water meant I wasn’t going to be eaten, at least not off of Ocracoke Island that day. Soon land sharks would come and grab me from Wendy’s but that is another story for another time. This day was about how just when you think life can’t get worse magic and art happen. Magic, art and two spotted dolphin looking right into my heart.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Favor Barter Market
OnFavor works on a simple idea. Giving Helps 2 People. Sometimes everyone needs a favor. Favors are any beneficial idea, advice, expertise, money or time you grant someone else.
How onFavor Works
onFavor works just like a bank. There are two actions: contribute to the onFavor Bank or withdraw from the expertise and cash in the bank. The onFavor Bank will take anything you think could help someone.
Where did you get the name "onFavor"
I like to create new things, phrases and ideas. Type "viral marketing event horizon" and you will see a link to this blog on Google (#1 at the time of this writing). I created the phrase by meshing Hawking's Brief History of Time (event horizon is the lip of a blackhole) and Gladwell, Godin, et al.'s work on viral marketing. Thinking about the favor barter market I want to create and how desperate life can seem, like hanging from a rope on a sheer rock face, made me mash "On Belay" and "Favor" together for "on Favor.
Who created the logo and what does it mean?
I created the logo from art of a hand forming a tree's trunk supporting branches, leaves and communities. The idea is simple. One person with $500, good intentions and a blog can help others. The only requirement is anyone helped turns around and helps others, so, almost before you know it, we've helped over a million people. Do the math:
onFavor helps 6 people and those 6 help 6 then....
From 6 people to well more than a million in 7 generations. You reach over 60,000,000 people, about 20% of the US population, in 9 generations.
Who Manages onFavor Bank?
The onFavor community manages the bank. Right now the onFavor community is made up of one person (me). In the future, if the onFavor bank grows, we'll develop tools to poll the community.
Who Are You?
My name is Martin Smith. I am the son of Elizabeth Martin of Kentucky and Duncan Smith originally from Dallas. I come form long line of coal miners (dad's family) and story tellers (mom's family). I am the oldest of three children. My brother Drew lives here in North Carolina near me. He works for A Southern Season, a local high end grocery store. My sister Caroline is an exercise physiologist outside of Denver. She owns the company Metabolism Magic and Sports Sense. I grew up in Texas moving to Greenwich, Connecticut when Merrill Lynch bought my father's company. I was 12. I attended the Choate School (1976) and Vassar College (1980). I've worked for P&G, M&M/Mars, The NutraSweet Company, founded a gift company called Found Objects and for the last six years I've worked as a Director of E-Commerce for Townsend Enterprises in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Are You Wealthy?
Yes and no. I don't have much money but I am lucky and privileged. Wealth is a funny thing. I bet you know people with little money who are much "wealthier" than people who have much more. More is rarely the answer. "More thinking" is what got us where we are (stressed planet, bank failures and wars). I want to create "onFavor thinking" where we figure out ways to help each other for no other reason than it is the right thing to do and it feels good.
What Makes You Think You Can Do This?
I think a man (or woman) with a blog and a few friends is a powerful thing these days. I also have nothing to lose except some time and money (guess which one is irreplaceable). My goal is to help one person, learn something from the experience and help the next. One step and person at a time makes onFavor seem doable.
How will you get the word out about onFavor?
I am, as Blance Dubois was in A Streetcar Named Desire, dependent on the kindness of strangers. I will let friends know what I am up to (they will probably think I am crazy as usual), but the word will get out by what The Long Tail author Chris Anderson calls the most generous thing we do online - link to each other. What little free cash I have is in the onFavor bank (see below), so word-of-mouth will be the only way onFavor gets out there.
Who Can Contribute, Who Can Withdraw
Anyone from anywhere can do either.
What Should You Contribute?
Expertise, time, money, contacts, friendship, care, love, whatever.
Is My Contribution Tax Deductible
Not at this time.
Why are you creating onFavor?
I'm working on a not-for-profit web site called SurfCure.org and it is taking too long, so I am creating onFavor to help someone in someway tomorrow, the next day, next week or soon (I hope).
What do you get out of onFavor?
Helping anyone in any way feels great. It is not always easy to help. We've become fearful and untrusting. The Internet makes onFavor possible even as every spam note from a Prince in a far off land makes it harder for us to believe real people need our help in meaningful ways today. Life is short. Its meaning is in those you help; that is closest I've come to answering the "meaning of life" question. Selfishly I know I will may need help someday too. When that day comes I hope to able to withdraw from the onFavor Bank.
Is this a scam?
Nope, I am not a Prince in some far off land who just needs a little bit of money to make you rich. I don't believe in a "free lunch". I do believe in Robert Wright's book NonZero. Wright's point is we naturally want to help each other, selfless assistance is our evolutionary direction. Besides, I've never heard of a scam where they give you things and only ask you return the favor to someone else. I guess that could be a scam, but it couldn't last very long (lol).
Do I have to pay onFavor back?
No one ever owes onFavor anything ever. Anyone receiving an onFavor grant agrees to pay the favor forward to someone else (preferably someone you don't know).
How do you know if I am telling the truth?
I don't and you don't and, in the end, it doesn't matter. I believe in Eckhart Tolle's idea - what is supposed to be is. If you trust me and contribute expertise into the onFavor bank then that is what is supposed to happen. If someone tells me a yarn and I write them a check then that is what is supposed to be. The core of everything we do is honor. onFavor assumes everyone is honorable, fair and giving. That is the universe we want to live in, so that is the universe we will make. Tolle says act and be abundant and abundance flows to you. The Beatles said it this way, "And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."
What is in the onFavor Bank now?
onFavor Money: $500
Sometimes you need a "no interest, no repay" loan. A couple of months ago I was so broke I couldn't see straight. I am setting aside $500 to help someone or several someones who share why they need a little financial help right now. There is always only one string attached to any onFavor grant - pay onFavor's generosity forward to someone you didn't know until you helped them. No one ever owes the onFavor Bank. We only owe each other.
onFavor Expertise (in the bank)
Web Site Assistance
I am a director of e-commerce for a large web site, if you need help with your web site I can help or I know someone who can.
I've created products such as Poetryslam (a board game), DadaBox (a refrigerator game), Magnetic Line Art (refrigerator magnets), The Alien Questionnaire and Story Glasses (drinking glasses printed with short stories). P&G, M&M/Mars and The NutraSweet Company taught me a certain kind of marketing, founding Found Objects, a funky gift distributor taught me another and working on large e-come sites for the last six years another. Creating something new or revamping something old? I may be able to help or know someone who can.
Getting Into College
My first job was as an Assistant Director of Admissions. I've written articles including Getting Into College 2: Things You Don't Know and Getting Into College: The College Application Essay. I've helped sons and daughters of more than ten friends with college application essays, interview prep and ideas about the "right" college. If you, your son or daughter are applying to college I would be glad to help.
I studied art at Vassar, have had several shows and know how hard it is to create what you see in your head. I don't paint these days, but I can share reactions, ideas and thoughts.
I like to write, have edited friend's writing and assisted with resume creation and other writing services. I calculate I wrote 50,000 words during my college years. After you've done that, and I believe this is the intent, you can bang out 2,000 words in your sleep :).
Friend of Martin (FOM)
Sometimes you just need a friend. I don't have many friends. I try to make up in quality what I like in quantity. If you would like to be a FOM I would like to be your friend too.
How can I Receive an onFavor grant?
If you would like an onFavor grant please explain what you need in a comment on this post or send an email to martinsellingzoe @ aol . com.
How can I contribute to the onFavor Bank?
I am not set up to accept money right at the moment and I've seeded the bank with $500 of my own. You may contribute expertise and other types of support by emaling martinsellingzoe @ aol . com.
I am not a lawyer. I've been sued before, during the Found Objects days, and it wasn't fun. onFavor is a "no harm, no foul" idea. If you contribute or send a grant request you agree that your contributions will be posted, anonymously of course, and you may be called on to grant a favor. Sounds a little like The Godfather I realize. "There will come a day, and that day may never come..." How you grant the requested favor is between you and the person who asked for your assistance. onFavor is a market where people with favors find those who need them.
The reasons the only cash being put up is mine is I suspect money brings with it all kinds of legal hassles. I already know this to be true from my development work on SurfCure.org, so let's leave your money in your wallet and only risk mine. As far as I know, I am still allowed to write a check to anyone I want (any news to the contrary please alert me). Everyone's privacy will be protected. Your email will not be sent to spammers. Your offer of support will be posted without specifics about you. When onFavor receives a grant request for your expertise I will act as middleman as long as necessary to protect everyone's privacy. My privacy is already long gone, in for a penny, in for a pound. How do you know I am me? Good question. I will be glad to share my cell, street address, work number and TRW with anyone who requests (easy enough to get all of that stuff if you really want it anyway).
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Insider's Guide To Viral Marketing On Facebook
Suffer from Social Marketing Anxiety Disorder (SMAD)? SMAD's signs are shortness of breath, clammy palms and a feeling that no matter how fast you run you will always be behind. SMAD effects Directors of E-Commerce and is best relieved by learning something new. I will post helpful SMAD cures here. If you have a great SMAD cure, please share in a comment.
Readign Now: Groundsell by Li and Bernoff
Facebook Insider's Guide to Viral Marketing - Get more Business Plans
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
2009 Starts Now
It will be October 2008 in a week, but 2009 starts today for me. I have few childhood dreams left. At fifty it is safe to say I will not be a Fireman or play for the Dallas Cowboys. One high school summer 30 years ago I decided to ride my bicycle from my parent's house in Greenwich to Choate and back. I wasn't riding much then but youth covers many errors. I rode the 50 miles to Wallingford Connecticut, ate my bag lunch at Rosemary Hall and headed home. This was my first 100 mile ride. I loved it.
My mind went to a different place. I rode nasty roads with bumper car-like traffic and it didn't matter. I was and wasn't there. My body was grinding out miles, but my mind was quiet, focused and at peace. We all have voices in our heads. Riding 100 miles that day quieted my inner-voice, slowed my internal pace and balanced my energy across the task at hand. A friend called my description of riding long distances "active meditation". I plan to actively mediate 4,000 miles in 2009, so next year starts now for me.
Actual Miles: 4,300 (give or take)
Estimated days on bike: 71
Training miles this week: 0
Training miles needed per week: 500 miles by March
Training miles needed per month: 2,000 by March
Monthly Mileage Goals:
October: 620 mile month, 20 miles per day
November: 1000 mile month, 35 miles per day
December: 1500 mile month, 48 miles per day
January: 1500 mile month, 48 miles per day
February: 1500 mile month, 53 miles per day
March: 2000 mile month, 64 miles per day
April: 1000 mile month, 33 miles per day
Total miles: 13,420 = across the country 3 times.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In my first Getting Into College article I discussed how to write a college application essay and offered help to any student who applied. As a former Assistant Director of Admissions at Vassar College I have an insider's knowledge of the college admission's process. My first "Internet" essay found its way to me a few weeks ago. I've helped many sons and daughters of friends. Here is how my new friend B from Texas described my assistance:
Thank you very much for your corrections and advice! No one has ever done such a spectacular job analyzing my work before. I have learned many valuable lessons that I hope to use in my future writings.B is smart and will do well wherever he matriculates. Today's notes are about the secret stuff that effects your college application.
How To Get Into College: The Sum Of Every Applicant
Few students realize and few admissions Directors will admit an important truth. Your application doesn't exist in a vacuum. Applicants think of themselves as unique. You are the only you on the planet, but Admissions Directors deal in numbers looking to fit applicants into buckets. Those buckets resemble common lunch room segments. Jocks, brains, artists, geeks, cheerleaders and social directors are common segments in the applicant pool just as they are in your lunch room.
Numbers will be assigned to every piece of your unique application. These numbers allow comparison of one student with another. The problem is numbers vary from school to school. What is a 4.0 "A" in some is a 3.0 "B" in others. Two factors help admissions staff weigh academic numbers - AP classes and your school's reputation. AP classes are somewhat similar to SAT's because they are standardized or they are as close to standardized as you can get. Take an AP Calculus examine and score well and any college will know you can do the math they require. Take a non-AP class and your SAT's play more of a role. Get an A in your non-AP calculus class and flunk your SAT's and you could hurt more than just your application. If three students have the same disparity then your school will have a problem. No admissions officer will believe in your school's grades.
This is why your application is not just your application. Your application rides on the strength or weakness of all other applicants. When I was an Assistant Director of Admissions at Vassar an elite all girls school in New York State sent twelve unqualified applicants to Vassar. Not only did we reject all twelve, but Vassar's Director of Admissions called the school's guidance counselor to explain why we were rejecting every applicant sent. My boss also had a heart-to-heart with this girl school's counselor reading her the riot act. Every application takes time and no one has time to waste while reading thousands of applications. The point that was made in a very direct way was, "keep sending us unqualified students and your reputation will deteriorate." Every applicant is considered on their merits, but every school has a batting average too. The role of guidance staff in shaping an applicant pool is important. When this school passed the buck to Vassar it made us do their work - not a good thing.
In my senior year at Choate 24 students were offered admission to Vassar. About five of us accepted, and we all graduated (some with honors). Our performance helps the next set of applicants from Choate. Vassar was probably not happy only five accepted, but that is all part of the numbers game too. Vassar wanted quality male applicants. Vassar, like many great colleges now, was rich in women and less rich in men. When I applied to Vassar coeducation was not new, but not as established as Vassar wanted either. Vassar wanted men and, at that time, men didn't have to be as strong academically as women.
The Vassar question, how to attract quality male applicants, is becoming a common problem. Women are enrolling in college in larger numbers than men. Read USA Today article on the new Gender Gap in college applicants. Colleges prize diversity above almost any virtue. Diversity is one of the key educational components because colleges understand the wisdom of crowds. The more diverse the community the more lessons it can teach its students. The ideal gender ratio at any college is 50% men and 50% women.
Beyond Gender: States and Countries
Once the macro gender goal is set many micro goals are created in the name of diversity. All of any one thing, no matter how good that one thing is, is unacceptable. Vassar's location, up the Hudson line from New York City, meant the college had an abundance of applicants from New York City. Vassar could have filled the entire class with qualified applicants from NYC but that would defeat the diversity mission. Translation: it is harder to gain acceptance to Vassar if you live in New York than the same application from Texas or California. If you applied to Vassar from Alaska you might be one of a handful of applicants and so your chances are vastly improved.
I helped a student in North Carolina apply to UNC. She was from Russia, so, despite her living in the US for almost two years, her application was treated as a foreign student. She got the worst of both worlds. She was from Chapel Hill attending a "B" level high school with few AP classes, moderate boards and a clear language barrier. She lost twice - as a foreign application where she was against all other Russian applicants and as a local student. UNC is a state school. Her application would have had more chance if she was from a rural county. Being in UNC's backdoor did nothing but hurt because UNC will be swamped with better applicants from "A" schools. She further confirmed her rejection when she took it badly. If you get rejected find a new plan and spend no time being angry, writing the college or complaining. If daddy or mommy can't write a big check move on and figure out something new.
Grading Your School
If you go to a rural school with few AP classes and little history sending applicants to college X then the deck is stacked against you. Admissions people swim in school history, but they don't and can't know every school. The prejudice is if you (as an admissions pro) haven't heard of a school the best it can be is a "B" and it is more likely to be a "C" school. Students from "C" schools do get offered admissions to the best colleges, but their boards better be AMAZING. Average board scores at a "C" school is death. How do you know if your school is an "A", "B" or "C"? These are secret ratings that vary by admissions office. Harvard may love Choaties and hate applicants from Deerfield. Yale may be the opposite, but both colleges would define Choate and Deerfield as "A" schools. "A" schools are highly competitive, low student to teacher ratios and have sent hundreds or thousands of well known applicants. JFK attended Choate and if you don't think that didn't help every subsequent class of Choaties who applied to Harvard you are nuts.
How can you fix your "C" School?
Another way to tell if you are attending a "C" school is look at where last year's students went to college. If a low number of graduates went to college or few went to the most elite schools you have your work cut out. First suggestion is ace the boards. Nothing makes a "C" school look like it should be a "B" or "A" school than strong board scores from the applicants. Even better than you acing your boards is every applicant applying to Harvard (or wherever) from your tiny rural school acing the boards. When we received 5 well qualified applicants from a rural school we would put the school on our "visit" list and move it up. If it was a "C" before the applicants it became a "B" after and may become an "A" if the visit uncovered a magic fountain of qualified students and great teachers.
Guidance counselors should take note. When an Assistant Director of Admission is visiting you from any college YOU are the one being judged not the students. I visited hundreds of high schools and most were on our regular travel plan. The purpose of those visits was two fold: introduce Vassar to the students and evaluate the school. "Evaluation" takes many forms. How well organized is the guidance staff? Were the students prepared and asking the right questions? Did the guidance staff ask good questions? Was there easy to understand impressive information about the school? Schools can improve or hurt their rank by how they present themselves. When I went to a school the goal was not student evaluation. It was about student recruitment and school evaluation. The good smart schools (public and private) understood the game and sold themselves accordingly. These days your school should have an easy to find and navigate web site that spells out important numbers such as student to teacher ratio, number of graduates attending four year insittutions, number of AP classes and how class rannk is ceated.
"C" School + Poor Guidance
If you are attending a "C" school and your guidance staff doesn't have a clue then ace your boards. In fact, I wouldn't stop there. I would want to ace my boards and sell how I was able to create an exceptional academic environment on my own dime. You do the guidance counselor's job in other words. Explain how you were able to accelerate and take classes at the local college. Share how you did extra work in the summers following your own academic interest. Any short coming can be overcome EXCEPT the one you don't address. Leave an unanswered question in your application and you lose.
"A" School + Poor Guidance
The example above of a highly competitive girls school in New York state sending twelve unqualified applicants is an example of guidance failure at an "A" school. If the guidance department kept doing such a poor job the school's rating could be dropped to a "B" as my boss pointed out. I like to think that if you were the 13th applicant my year and you were well qualified we would have been able to find you in the sea of unqualified, but never assume.
Consistency and No Stone Rule
The key for you and the 13th applicant is consistency across your application. Nothing jumps out faster in an admissions process than inconsistency. Your application essay is well written when your SAT essay was not - inconsistency. Your board scores are lousy yet you have an A average and are 2nd in your class = inconsistency. Your board scores are through the roof and your classwork is sloppy and you have low class rank and a C average = inconsistency. Inconsistencies always exist and are RARELY explained in the application. It is as if students expect the admissions staff to figure it out. The less you leave to chance in any admission process the better off you are. If you scored well on the SAT's and poor in your coursework explain how you've seen the light and are looking forward to buckling down in a tough academic environment. Poor boards and great grades means you may want to discuss the specific steps you are taking to improve your test taking skills - a key college skill.
Never run yourself down in your application. Always explain a deficiency by being specific about steps you are taking to get better. This proactive attitude sends a key signal. It says you know your weakness and are working on them. If you've done additional work with a teacher be sure to have that teacher write one of your recommendations. This means you can say, "I saw a weakness and worked with teacher X to improve." Teacher X can spell out the specific steps you've taken and progress you've made. As an applicant you can recognize your faults and create a plan to strengthen weaknesses, but YOU can not say the weakness is now a strength only someone else and preferable a teacher with solid credentials can make that sale.
If I had low verbal scores I would work with my favorite English teacher to read the great books and write 1,000 word essays on each. I would outline the work in my application and ask my teacher to mention it in their recommendation in a specific way (such as including some of your new essays). You don't gain points by doing this kind of work, but you can get to even. Think of an admission staff's review of your application as a series of tick marks. The review process is similar to judging diving or gymnastics in the Olympics. Everyone starts with a 10. Every inconsistency or sub par note receives a deduction. The hard thing for applicants to understand is creating a class is not a static thing. Creating a class at any competitive college is mathematical and algorithmic. Even in highly subjective colleges such as Vassar admissions is a living breathing creation. What happened last year sets norms, but every year is different. Every application is considered on two matrix. First how does the applicant (you) compare to the college's means (numbers set by previous classes). If your application gets past this first test it will be considered in the pool of this year's developing class. Make it through that second test and you get a fat envelope and the privelage of writing a big check (lol).
Writing The College Admissions Essay
The college interview.
Send questions or stuff you want help with to: Martinsellingzoe @ aol . com.
That ugly URL will take you to a DirectTV page where you can play one of the best promotion clips I've ever seen. DirectTV picked up Friday Night Lights when NBC almost canceled. It makes me tempted to put a satellite on my roof. Select Friday Night Lights from the clips area. The clip will continue into banality after about a minute of some of the best writing I've ever heard.
Living in a world where quality writing, acting, editing and filming come within a hair's breath of cancelation while shows like Ugly Betty continue unabated and unchallenged is confusing. I can't decide if NBC deserves Kudos for selling the show to DirectTV, this season's episodes will air on DirectTV first, or if this is yet another sign that television will never be able to get beyond its own stupidity. It seemed like television was turning a corner with David Mamet (The Unit), Ridley Scott (Numbers) and Kathy Reich (Bones) all contributing quality shows. Television is such a tease. The minute we think TV is moving to a better place we return to Ugly Betty, talking cars and hollow humor.
The Real Winner = The Internet
The Internet is television's real enemy. It requires involvement, intelligence and ongoing commitment and its winning. The best NBC ET. AL. can do with so much power at their fingertips is serve up episodes with commercials you can't fast forward through. Shame on any advertiser that buys that bridge. Note to NBC, we are here and we want to help all you need do is ask. Stay sealed in your Ugly Betty room and soon you will be the only one in the Hell you've created.
It was a cold spring Poughkeepsie day almost thirty years ago. I was hung over. It was early Sunday morning the day after Vassar's spring formal. Vassar doesn't have fraternities or sororities so my friend George Mandes and several of his "Moose Club"friends recreated a Vassar tradition Spring and Winter Formals, their version of a frat. Not surprisingly the Vassar Encyclopedia doesn’t mention The Moose Club's revival of a Vassar tradition.
I remember sticking my head in a sink filled with ice cubes trying to clear the haze that Sunday morning. There was work to be done. We were heading into finals. In a matter of months I would be a senior. The rest of my life was just around the corner. The head bath helped. The pounding stopped. I didn't know then but that would be my last hangover.
I stopped drinking not long after. Both my grandfather's were alcoholics. I never met my father's father. He beat my father when he drank. My grandmother divorced him and packed my father off to McCallie. My father saw his father one time before he died. He went to see him alone and didn't speak to my mother, my brother, sister or me for several days. My mother's father was a "southern gentleman" meaning he was charmingly drunk most of the time.
Mr. Martin, my mother's father, told amazing stories and was fun to be around and Hell to be married to. He was married to my Grandmother for close to fifty years. Once he died, my grandmother never discussed him. People in the small town in Kentucky where he lived continued to tell stories years after he passed, but my grandmother would end any discussion by not participating. I stopped drinking after Vassar. I didn't want to tempt fate.
Lori, a hall mate, came into the bathroom as I was drying my head. "Hung over," she asked spying the ice in the sink. "Ugh," I grunted in confirmation. Talking was too loud. "You have to see the animals," she said laughing. This sentence made no sense to me. Every word she said made my head hurt.
I said, "sure" and walked back to my room. In my junior year my room in Main Building (pictured above) was directly above Dean of Students Colton Johnson's office. Colton was a good guy and he cut me major slack. Every now and again a student would knock on my door and request I turn down my stereo. Colton wasn't around on Sundays. I was about to crank some music; it felt like a Stanley Clark Sunday. Someone knocked on my door (remember this is before cell phones). "What," I yelled as my artist friend Michael Rees walked in (I am looking at 2 Rees woodcuts as I write this).
Michael was tall, over six feet, with a boyish face and floppy hair. Michael could have been mistaken for French or European. I am short and square and have AMERICAN written all over me. I shared an art studio with Michael and Ken Wahl (not the actor).
We had keys to New England building and to the door of our studios because we worked late. Our teacher, Alton Pickens, gave us studios and didn't require us to show up for class. He would come over to New England and tell us what he did and didn't like about our work and why. Conforming to his way of seeing wasn't required and that is why Alton may have been my best teacher.
Our studios were on the first floor. On the third floor were the remains of the Vassar natural history museum. Sometimes Michael, Ken and I would go up to the third floor late at night. It was spooky and dark being in a room with stuffed animals, dinosaur bones and specimens in jars. We couldn't turn on lights up there because that might get our studio privileges suspended.
Michael liked it on the third floor the most. If his studio was open but he wasn't around the first place to look for him was the third floor. I didn't like it up there. It was crowded, musty and stale. No one ever went up to the third floor of New England except Michael, Ken and me. Everything up there was rotting and smelled bad. There was thousands of bones, a complete Mastodon and hundreds of stuffed animals and it was all rotting and smelled bad.
I noticed Michael had a large sheepish grin on his face. It hurt me to look at it. "Where were you last night," I remember asking him. If he was at the spring formal I hadn't see him. I was occupied with R and C (whose names have been withheld because I don't want to get sued). The story of R and C and why I was so hung over is for another post. "No I was busy," was all Michael said as he laughed and left my room. "With what," I remember yelling after him. "You'll see, be sure to go out the front" is all I barely heard as he rounded my corner and went into the hall.
I looked out my window to see dense fog. I threw on a sweater and headed out the back through the student union. I had to get my mail and it was shorter to head to All Campus Dinning Center (ACDC) from the back of Main. There was no one in the cafeteria or the mail center or in the union. Everyone who had any sense was still in bed.
I headed out of the center toward ACDC when I saw another person I hadn't seen the night before. "Where were you last night," I asked Ken as he passed by. "We were realizing André Breton's dream," Ken said. Ken usually said stuff I didn't understand. I just nodded and headed toward eggs and a bagel at ACDC. It was a good thing I knew the way to food by heart. Between my hangover and the fog I could have ended up in downtown Poughkeepsi.
I felt better after eating so I took the long way home. I walked passed Strong, the single all women dorm left on what was once a revolutionary college for women. I rounded the first part of Main building's jutting extension. I happened to look up to the cap of Main where the flag usually flew.
There was no flag this Sunday morning. Instead, a stuffed monkey with his right arm raised in a defiant gesture stared down at the empty parking lot below. I stood there for a long time drinking in André Breton's dream, laughing and understanding. It was a surreal Sunday and there were Monkeys on Main.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
There is something powerful about defining a wish, putting it on paper. At P&G they taught us junior wet-behind-the-ears sales reps to "plan your work and work you plan". There is something beautifully simple about this idea. Stating something makes it real, the first step in creation. Writing it down creates a potential self fulfilling prophecy. Life is not an infinite journey, so here ie is my "bucket list":
* Ride My bicycle across the United States a year from now (September 2009) with my brother Drew and my sister Caroline.
* Ride at least a couple of miles with Lance Armstrong.
* Create a not-for-profit whose mission it is to help people find "cures" (http://www.surfcure.org).
* Fall in love again.
* Write The Feminine Future (http://www.femininefuture.com).
* Meet and interview Tom Peters.
* Meet and interview the Heath Brothers (authors of Made To Stick).
* Meet and interview Jim Collins (author of Good to Great).
* Meet and interview Rob Reiner (director of The Bucket List).
* Meet and interview artist Jeff Koons.
* Work in Jeff Koons New York Studio for a day (Jeff I work for free).
* Meet and interview artist Damien Hirst.
* Meet and interview Xeni Jardin (who I am secretly in love with but not in a creepy stalker way).
* Meet and interview amazing painter Lari Pittman
* Meet Google founders Sergey Brin and/or Larry Page (couldn't interview these guys since I am liable to not be able to speak much less ask a question:).
* Meet artist James Rosenquist.
* Meet sculptor Richard Serra.
* Meet artist Anselm Kiefer.
* Meet Joni Mitchell to tell her how much her art meant to me.
* Meet Carrie Fischer because I think she would be a hoot and I am secretly in love with her and not for why you think...I could care less about that outfit she wore on Jabba The Hut's lap. If I am bing honest I am in love with Carrie in a creepy stalker way :).
* See my old Vassar roommate and now Alaskan Bush Pilot George Mandes.
* See my old Vassar friends Stuart Taft, Michael Reese and Eric Marcus.
* See my old Vassar girlfriends including Eddie Holden, Martha Griffin and Lori Stahl.
* Meet artist Shepard Fairey.
* Meet Gilmore and Pine authors of The Experience Economy.
* Meet The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell.
* Meet author Thomas Friedman.
* Meet Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
* Meet authors Tim Sanders (Love is the Killer App) and Christopher Locke (Cluetrain Manifesto, Gonzo Marketing).
* Meet Starbucks founder Howard Shultz.
* Meet and interview SAS founder Jim Goodnight.
* Meet and interview NonZero author Robert Wright.
* Meet Sean Penn to thank him.
* Meet and interview Nordstrom's CEO Blake Nordstrom because of their passion for customers.
* Meet A.G. Lafley CEO Procter and Gamble to thank him.
* See old friend J. Langdon from M&M days to catch up and thank him.
* Meet Bill and Melinda Gates to thank them and pitch SurfCure.org.
* Meet and interview Long Tail author Chis Anderson.
* Meet New Earth and Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle.
* Meet and interview Charlie Rose.
* Meet artist Francesco Clemente and Julian Schnabel.
* Meet artist Eric Fischl to thank him.
* Meet artist David Salle to thank him.
* See old friend artist Edmund Besch and old M&M buddy Patrice (his wife).
* Create a BHAG contest.
* Create "give a favor, take a favor".
* Meet photographer Annie Leibovitz again.
* Meet photographer William Wegman to thank him.
* Meet writer David Mamet to thank him.
* Meet author and fellow wrestler John Irving to thank him.
Creating this list taught me I want to meet heroes and thank them, I want to create ways to help others while I help myself and creating a really long list means I am way too busy to die (lol). That is my story and I am sticking to it.
What did I forget? Share your Bucket List so I can make this impossibly long list even longer.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
My staff was giving me grief the other day about my bad hand writing. We brainstorm frequently. Sometimes when I read my old scribbles it they are hard for me to read. I had to give my team some context. I told them about what happened in second grade.
I was in Mrs. Hill’s class at Harry C. Withers Elementary in Dallas. It was a time of big hair, large cars and practicing for nuclear holocaust by curling up into a ball in front of our lockers. I think even as a second grader "duck and cover" seemed goofy. I dutifully did as I was told. Second grade in Texas in the sixties was all about order and conformity. The world around us was falling apart but we would deter nuclear holocaust by curling up in a ball in front of our lockers.
Mrs. Hill wanted to be Jackie Kennedy. She was in her fifties, wore glasses with black frames with those little points on either side. Her gray hair was always up in some kind of a nest with a strand or two falling across her face. When she was exasperated, and she was with me frequently, more strands shook free. I exhausted Mrs. Hill because I couldn’t spell.
Saying I couldn’t spell is an understatement. I drew stick figures above words I was trying to communicate. These Hieroglyphs could communicate subject, object. Second grade sentence structure is simple. Most sentences where "See tip run." See Jack and Jill go up the hill. Stick figures could handle the load. Mrs. She knew what I was saying, but Mrs. Hill wanted me to conform. I just couldn’t. I wasn't a rebel (then), but I couldn't write her way. My brain couldn't send the message to my hand.
I was oblivious to controversy I caused. I wasn’t trying to be disruptive. As an adult I can imagine the problem. Mrs. Hill had about 30 baby boomer 6 and 7 year olds running madly hither and yon. She was not a young woman. I'm not sure there still was a “Mr. Hill” and here I was drawing pictures above indecipherable text. I remember a conversation between my mother and Mrs. Hill. I heard the word “retarded” from Mrs. Hill's side of the desk. Dyslexia wasn’t a well-known condition in Texas in 1965. I remember my mother raising her voice and standing up pointing a finger at Mrs. Hill’s face. An extra strand of Mrs. Hill’s hair came loose and swung across her face.
“I will handle this,” is what my mother told Mrs. Hill. Mrs. Hill looked shocked, concerned and then relieved. She was out of her depth trying to teach me and she knew it. From that day until the 7th grade (we moved to Greenwich, Connecticut just before I entered the 7th grade) I attended "mom school." During the day I went to Harry C. Withers. In the afternoon, at night and during the summer I went to Mom School.
I am the oldest of three, so my mother acted as the Principal organizing tutors, setting curriculum, arranging field trips, evaluating summer school programs (always at the hardest private schools she could find) and spending money my parents really didn’t have to “get Martin educated”. Ibby Martin, my mother's maiden name is Elizabeth Martin, on a mission is a powerful thing. Ever see a Texas tornado come sweeping across the plain?
Mrs. Hill soured my parents on public school, but they didn’t have money to send me to private school then. My father, at that time, was a junior engineer at Texas Instruments (TI) and my mother managed my brother (3), sister (5) and me (7). The burn rate of “mom school”, cost of three children and the projected cost of three almost simultaneous college tuition bills may have played a roll in my father’s decision to leave TI and join a new company specializing in something new called “pension plan management”. My dad was headed for Wall Street.
Everyday after school I worked with a tutor. She used cue cards. We spelled words phonetically always with my hand under my chin to count the vowels. My friends used to like to run under my bedroom window making as much noise as possible. There is nothing more cruel than a six or seven year old. I was bigger than most of my fellow second graders. They couldn’t taught me directly. Running by my window playing hide and go seek while I was spelling with my hand under my chin became a favorite torture.
I was in love with my tutor. She was a college student at Southern Methodist University (SMU). She was beautiful, tall and brunette. She always wore a dress, stockings and lots of makeup. My mother had regular meetings with the love of my 7-year-old life discussing my progress, approve what we would donext and learn how she could support my tutor’s work. I remember this tall drink of water saying, “We need to get him reading consistently.” If my tutor said, “we need to have Martin jump off the roof everyday,” I would have set the ladder against the house. Reading was easy but slow. I started reading anything and everything. Hardy Boy mysteries led to Sherlock Homes. I would read in sequence and had to finish the series before starting a new obsession. I had different periods. During one period I wanted to read about every old football star. I read about Red Grange, Jim Thorpe and Sammy Baugh. Next obsession was history. I read about Charlemagne, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon and King Arthur.
Reading was never easy. It was always, and still is, slow. When I hit a word I didn’t understand, and that happened frequently, I looked it up and made a note. Writing was still impossible, but by the end of the second grade Mrs. Hill could read my writing. She would paint bright red circles around words I misspelled, but there were no more stick figures. Dyslexics come in wide variety. My dyslexia took a recognizable pattern. I flipped vowels (e before i, a’s where e’s should be) and doubled consonants when single would do. You would see these same patterns now except for years of route memorization and the 8th wonder of the world - spell checker.
I graduated from the second grade had a week off and went to summer school. My mom ran “mom school” until we moved to Connecticut and I enrolled at Central Junior High School. No one at Central knew I was dyslexic. I was as tall in 7th grade as I was ever going to be and a serious athlete by then. The Greenwich preppies couldn’t resist poking fun at me, but not for my strange spelling. They couldn't get enough of my strange Texas drawl and weird clothes. Greg Phillips, a fellow 7th grader and soon to be a good friend, used to act as carnival barker. “Hey man,” Greg would shout to a friend across the hall, “you have to hear this.” Then I would dutifully say, “Now come own (on) Greg, you now (know) you tallk (talk) just as funnee (funny) to me as I due (do) to you,”. My drawl kept everyone in stitches for six months. After six months you would have thought I was born in Greenwich. Forty-five years later and you can still hear my father’s Texas roots in his voice. He never had to go to school in Greenwich. I suspect my dad's big cigar, cowboy boots, hat and slow Texas drawl helped him sell stocks to rich old ladies.
I never hooked up with my tutor. 1965 was long before the current "Cougar" craze. My desire was abstract anyway. If my tutor said, "Yes, Martin I love you despite the fact that I am twenty and you are seven," I would have been frozen in horror. My tutor was the unreachable carrot.
In 1980 I graduated from Vassar College with a perfect 3.0 grade point average (B). I calculated once I wrote, and this is before spell checker so you can imagine how hard this was, 300,000 words during my 4 years at Vassar. I count that B average at one of the hardest colleges as a personal triumph. Mom school worked. Thanks mom.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
How To Save Ford
The Ford Motor Company is sick. Its stock price is struggling to reach $5.00. Google’s stock closed today at $445. Ford’s market capitalization is 11 Billion. Google’s market cap is more than 100 times Ford’s. The Ford Motor Company is in trouble because it is not in the business it thinks it’s in. The Ford Motor Company is not in the car business.
Like Google, Ford is in the information business. The downstream product we can, if we are gluttons for punishment, buy is a car. The car as a physical object, what philosopher Martin Heidegger called “the thing itself”, is the final and least important thing in the Ford conversion funnel. Upstream of a bunch of metal and tires is all the important stuff, the information and interaction that culminates in a customer buying a Ford. Ford is in love with metal, the thing itself. This is an easy mistake to make. Stock price for metal is currently set at $5.00 and falling. Stock price for Ford as an information company is 10x, 20x, 50x or 100x $5.00 a share.
Wrong People, Wrong Seats on Wrong Bus Headed To Wrong Place
How do we make a better car is a classic example of asking the wrong question. Answer the "better car" question and you chase your tail forever. Questions you ask usually determine strategies you create. Ford wants to make a better car. To accomplish this objective they hire “car” people. They meet with car suppliers. They talk to car customers. They inspect car competitors. They call in the usual suspects and Toyota waxes them to $5.00 a share. They go on CNBC to explain how they missed the market's signal to change to small cars from massively profitable SUV’s and trucks. There is a bigger signal Ford missed. FORD IS NOT IN THE CAR BUSINESS ANYMORE.
September 7, 1998
The last day the Ford Motor Company made cars was 9.7.1998. On September 7th Ford became an information company. Ford continued to think they sold metal and rubber. They think that today. Their stock price in 1997 was over $25, five times what it is today. Imagine a large balloon with a tiny hole. Watch such a mortally wounded balloon and, at first, nothing changes. The balloon is as it has always been. Life is good. Slowly and imperceptibly the balloon shrinks. You hear the balloon's tipping point when air rushes out making that distinctive high pitched sound as the hole triples in size and "balloon" becomes a rubber carcass.
Two Stanford graduate students decided to change their search engines name from “Back Rub” to “Google” on September 7th 1998. On the next day Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run breaking an "unbreakable" record. On September 9th the UN elected Didier Opertiri of Uruguay as President. Which of these accomplishments changed the world and put Ford out of the car business?
Right People, Right Seats on the Bus Headed To The Right Place
Cars are so seductive. Ford and other car companies banked billions connecting cars to our most secret primal fantasies. We were taught to see cars as a source of power and freedom. Ozone burning money pits is a tough slogan to sell. Power fantasies easily form to any shape. The Mustang could appeal to rebels while a Taurus appealed to mom and dad. Both cars but one as distinct from another as monkeys from tigers.
Car marketing tapped unconscious desires long suppressed by Organization Man. Somewhere along the journey, car makers began drinking their Kool-Aid. They believed their ads. They became the cars they made and dreams they sold. In Built To Last author Jim Collins tells the story of a young Hewlett and Packard. One of the first commercial products HP made was a lane alarm for bowling alleys. Throw the ball past the lane line and the HP alarm would sound. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard knew they wouldn’t make it selling bowling alley alarms, but that didn’t matter. HP wasn’t in the bowling alley alarm business. They were in the innovation business and that vision drove decision-making, hiring and strategy development. Asking the “what business are we in” question and correctly answering “innovation” is how you get featured in a Jim Collins book.
Ford needs the right people in the right seats on the bus quickly. The right people in the right seats on the bus is a point made in Collin's best know business book Good to Great. If Ford is, as of September 7, 1998, an information company then they need different people. Hiring current CEO Alan Mulally was smart. As a Boeing executive he comes from outside the Detroit car bubble, but, from interviews I’ve seen, he still thinks he has a car problem. He has a business model problem. He will never find solutions to the business model problem until he blows up all assumptions and starts again (good luck with that).
I am not a car guy. I am a natural presumptive meddler. Writing an email to our CFO today about how our company isn’t in the business we think we are in it occurred to me this is a common sin. If I could work on the Ford problem it might help me hone in on our problem. Here is what I mean by Ford is really in the information business:
- Google Search “Cars” nets 912,000,000 pages in .09 of a second
- Ford Site not listed on first page
- Google Search “Ford Mustang” nets 21,000,000 pages in .09 of a second
- Ford is buying PPC and is organic #1
- Google Search “Fords Suck” nets 4,140,000 pages in .21 seconds
- Ford’s corporate sites or forums are not on the page nor is Ford buying PPC
You will never see a better example of a site talking to itself about itself than the Ford Motor Company web site. Ford’s web efforts remind me of Gertrude Stein's quote about Oakland, her birthplace. She famously said, “there is no there there.” Ford’s web site is hollow, one sided and a failure. Toyota’s site, while still bad, is worlds better than Ford. Judge Ford's site against great information sites such as Google, Amazon, CNET and Wikipedia and it falls woefully short. Ford is a slow student in a dumb row and they should get out of the car rat race as soon as possible.
Getting Out Of The Car Business
I recommend junking the dealer network yesterday. You can’t own “cars” in people’s minds when there is so much padding between Ford and their customers. The dealer network is dead under its own weight. No one likes to buy a car because no one wants to visit a dealer. Let’s compare notes. As a normal American you buy a car about once every four or five years. The dealer sitting across from you in that cramped office sold ten today. Who wins that negotiation? Even when you win you lose. Walking out of the office you are sure you got taken. Ford should kill the dealer network as soon as contractually possible.
Free Car Parks
If there are four dealers in a town Ford should reduce down to a single store, pick the smallest showroom and largest service bay. Create a promotion called “Fords for Free”. Use the single remaining Ford Store in a town as where you give qualified customers keys, service their cars and gladly allow customers to take cars on test drives (alone if requested). Move all qualification online. Look to qualify two types of customers for "Free Fords". Move every other piece of the relationship with Ford's customers online. Even further, turn over the keys to the Ford web site to motivated customers and potential buyers.
One customer, let’s call him Frank, has spent hours and hours providing feedback, comments and links on the new Ford web site. Frank gets a Mustang (or whatever) for a month as THANKS for the $100,000 worth of content he helped create. Frank can buy his Mustang at the end of the month or turn it in to be handed over to the next Frank.
Our second Free Ford customer is Helen. She wants a Mustang because she loved them in high school and, at fifty; she wants to be cool again. You give Helen a Mustang free for a month too. She signs up, profiles herself on the new Ford site, submits her credit application and agrees to roll into a payment plan if she keep the car after 30 days (all online). The car is free until the 31st day. Create up sale during qualification for service packs, road side assistance and other products. The idea is to change the transaction from car only to ongoing revenue. Move from transaction to relationship. Lock and load Helen when she "buys" the "free" car online. As she buys more give her more.
You don't always have to give customers money. For many, time is worth more than my money. If I want to pay for special time saving services then price them out and offer them. If I want to finance through you let me. You may make more from loaning me money than selling the car. If I want a special "club" websites for a nominal fee to join build them. If I hit some hidden unpublished trigger send me a free something (new mats, a gas card, an email about how you acted on recent feedback).
Surprise is great creator of customer loyalty. I owned 10 shares of Pixar at one time. One October Pixar sent me Buzz Light Year posters as an unannounced thank for owning the shares. I will always love Pixar for the price of a poster. Ford should learn the Pixar lesson. In fact, Pixar wold be a GREAT strategic partner to help save Ford. Give everyone who works at Pixar new Mustangs for a year just because you can. Bet you get some cool feedback and drawings from such a gift.
Examine what we did with these suggestions. We gave a $5,000 car (Ford’s estiamted hard cost) to Frank for $100,000 worth of User Generated Content. Ford should define this “crowd sourcing” and limit their downside, but it could work and quickly. The Ford’s site needs about 1,000 Franks working hard for a free car. Put a call out on PRWeb and Ford would get 20,000 volunteers banging away on their site in no time. Set the bar correctly and Ford may end up giving away 1,000 cars. Ford spends $5,000,000 in steel and rubber(1,000 cars X $5,000 estimated cost), much less than a single Super Bowl ad. Return is an estimated $50,000,000 in content created by 1,000 Franks.
The bonus free PR Ford would receive for the "Free Fords" campaign. If Mullaly doesn't get long sessions on Letterman and Leno for the "Free Fords" campaign I would be very surprised. Conservative estimate for the value of that kind of free PR would be another $50,000,000. Spend $5,000,000 (give or take) to make $100,000,000. A $20 to $1 return works pretty good. Ford is a huge company, about six billion in annual sales, so it is easy to get bunged up in the zeroes. The logic works no matter what numbers you plug in.
Once the Ford site has been crowd sourced by 1,000 Frank’s Ford will start looking more like an information company. Ford would become relevant to the “car” conversation instead of looking like an out-of-touch oil burner. The really cool part about the Free Ford promotion is Ford paid $5,000,000 for content that they couldn’t create in this lifetime with all the money in the world. 1,000 Franks employs the power of large numbers brings wisdom of crowds to what is currently a dead site. The speed and instant relevancy of this level of crowd sourcing means time shrinks. You get ten years work done in one. You also create a viral node. One thing those 1,000 Franks will do is tell everyone about their efforts on Ford's behalf. Franks of the world tend to work for connection not money. Ford goes from out-of-touch phony to relevant and authentic in an instant by seeding control of a key marketing assest, their web site, to the intelligence of crowds.
Myth of Advertising
Why does Ford spend millions in advertising? Sure they have a brand to support, but the bulk of ad money is to assuage a greedy dealer network. Dealers are Ford's customers not you and me. Ever read the Ancient Mariner? The Ford Dealer Network is the ultimate Albatross choking the life right out of the brand. Remove the biggest strain on Ford's brand - the manipulative, stupid good-ole-boy dealer network - and Ford reduces ad cost. Ford can now afford to use ads the way they should be used today – in support of their web marketing efforts.
Thanks to the 1,000 Franks Ford, in a short time, creates years of riffable material. Ford should only produce every 4th ad they think they should. This will put a forced filter on this kind of one-way spend. It is hard to stop being an ad junkie. The other benefit to reducing one way conversations in favor of two way involvement is Ford clearly signals there is a new Ford in town. Ford should produce great spots but run them on their retooled site, YouTube and Google until they have a clear winner. Clear winners are those ads that get the most feedback, involvement and then $$. Valuing feedback and involvement over money places the car where it belongs – downstream in the relationship building life cycle. First build a relationship, THEN sell your customers one of the largest purchases they will make. Any other approach to marketing in this day and age just seems rude.
Price & Transparency
Free is always good.
Ford and the other car companies built their cars perceived value so high that free would be a real shocker (at least at first). If Ford gave away 1,000 cars to the Franks who helped build their site Ford should look to do 10 times as many in their "Helen" subscription plan. The conerstone of both plans is the car is free for 30 days. Guess what, in most states any car is free for 30 days because the law mandates a 30 day return. Buyers in most states can return a car for a full refund, by law, within the first thirty days. Most dealers don’t tell you about that law.
What are they afraid of? The new Ford fully qualifies Fran's and Helen's finances online. Once their application (not loan) is approved then they get to test drive whatever they want at the Free Car Park (the old Ford showroom). Customers enter the new “free car park” store after money is handled online. Like the Apple store, customers now go to Ford's Free Car Parts because they want to talk to a Ford Car Geek (sort of like the Apple Geniuses) about features, benefits and take a drive. If customers want to transact at the Free Car Park and haven't filled out their application there should be web kiosks where they could easily log into or create an account and submit their applicaiton. BTW, they should also be able to use Google to check whatever they want.
When I accept the car in 30 days what price do I pay? No one bemoans any business a fair return. If a corporate profit insures a cherished company all the better. Does anyone think the iPhone is too expensive? Maybe, but they don’t begrudge Apple a profit. They are glad to play a role in Apple’s success. People are smart. They know that Apple must make profits to keep making cool stuff. Once Ford revamps their site, company and philosophy no one will be upset about a reasonable profit. They are likely to participate, become a brand evangelists, tell their friends and help Ford in many many ways thus also increasing profits. The days when a company could manipulate it way to higher profits is over. Everyone knows everything now (another good reason why the dealer manipulation just seems really stupid now), so Ford shouldn't fight information relevations. Ford should lead and open their books, explain their plans and be honest.
Note how much the Ford experience has changed. From pain and drudgery we’ve moved to fun, word-of-mouth and participation. We’ve removed one-sided dialog replacing it with active conversation. Customer conversations will help Ford plan better thus reducing costs. If Ford were in an active dialog with customers they never would have missed the SUV to compact car shift. If Ford was in the information business their site would gather relevant trend data from forums, comments and blogs. Analysis of this kind of customer information predicts changes before market demands them. I only ever created one site, my first, after that I did what customers told me (for the most part). I still fire new creative ideas into the dark, but, these days, I am much more likely to test and then roll a modified version based on what works best with PEOPLE. Junking the dealer network means Ford is plugged in and listening. Listening has to be worth a 20% cost reduction almost immediately.
I could go on and on. I could explain how Ford should include its 250,000 employees in any change process. I could describe the Apple-like showroom I see in my head or the iPod like ads touting “Free Cars”. I could explain how Ford could be honest about burning fossil fuels and what they are doing to change to a better future. Every one of those conversations is impossible until Ford realizes one undeniable fact. FORD IS NOT IN THE CAR BUSINESS ANYMORE.
Ideas Stolen From...
I lifted many of these ideas from an excellent Wired Magazine article by Chris Andersen entitled Free. Here is
Anderson is also author of The Long Tail - one of the most influential web marketing books ever written.
Also stole a bunch of stuff from Jim Collins for this post.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The Return of The Museum Rat
If you missed reading my Top 5 Summer Museums article I hope you used it to see some great art this summer. In that riff I confessed to being a “Museum Rat” who liked spending a beautiful bright summer day inside the right museum. Top Summer Museums created a unique theory. It stipulates there is something called a “summer museum”. A “summer museum” is a museum whose building, collection or location shouts “visit me in the summer”.
Fall is museum season. Strange to think of art as having a “season”, but it does. Summer is for vacations, blockbuster superhero movies and trashy beach books. Fall turns serious. Oscar films move us from popcorn to crying towels, everyone gets back from the Hamptons, trees burst into fire and flame before stripping naked, the air chills and great art is everywhere.
Every top 5 Fall Museum this year is located in New York. New York is magical in the fall. The city is alive with color, people, shopping and art. 2003 was the last time I was in New York in the fall. The standout for me that year was seeing the Picasso to Pollack show at the Guggenheim.
I debated how to order this fall’s Top 5 Fall Museums list. Should I use taxi order or the quality and power of the show? One museum, The Frick, has such an overpowering reason to be #1, the reunification of 3 Vermeers, ordering by show quality with a footnote for “taxi order” won the debate. Here are The Museum Rat’s picks for the Top 5 Fall Museums of 2008.
1. The Frick
The Frick is my favorite “robber baron” museum. This “house” points to a different time, a very different time. The collection is “old master” heavy and so would not normally show up on The Museum Rat's top list. The Museum Rat is biased to contemporary American art. Like any good rat, the museum rat looks for treasure. Also like any good rat he is agnostic to location. Treasure is treasure. The Frick’s grounds are immaculate, beautiful and perfect for fall. Something about being surrounded by so much concrete makes green worth its weight in robber baron gold.
Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675) could paint. There is something about Dutch painters that can’t be beat and is rarely successfully copied or even appropriated. Girl With A Pearl Earring is my desktop wallpaper on my 17" Mac PowerBook. She looks back at me everyday with those eyes, those amazing eyes. Vermeer only painted a handful of paintings. He often worked on a painting for a year or more. The exact number of completed Vermeer's is in dispute, but it is not more than 40. Seeing three Vermeers on the same wall is a rare treat winning The Frick this Museum Rat’s vote for the #1 Fall Museum.
Show: Frick’s Vermeers Reunited
June 3 through November 2, 2008
1 East 70th Street
New York, NY 10021
Taxi Order: 4
2. The Whitney Museum of American Art
I debated long and hard about making The Whitney #2. If you don’t care about Vermeer make the Whitney your #1 choice (and shame on you for not caring about Vermeer). Given the Museum Rat’s preference for post war American art, the Whitney wins 9 out of 10 times. One of the rat's favorite things about the Whitney is Calder’s circus. Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976) is one of the rat's favorite sculptors and artists. His sense of play and clear joy is unmatched in steel. Miro comes closest in paint. Back in the day (at Vassar), I wrote my first art article about a Calder. This "Witch’s Hat" black sculpture was, at that time, in front of the Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer's co-op dorm named Ferry. I wrote of my love for Calder's work and that strange masterpiece I passed almost everyday. I wrote for the upstart paper founded by my friend Alex Agnew. Alex titled my piece "Calder Laughs At Ferry". I almost never forgave him for such a flippant title. Now, of course, I realize Alex's title was genius that Sandy Calder would have loved.
The Whitney’s upcoming show about Calder's early years in Paris promises to be a rare gem. Hope they have his circus running or they show him playing with all the pieces on film. Watching a sixty-year-old Calder “play” with his circus helps find my inner-child every time I see it. I bet it will help you find a smile and your inner-child too.
Show: Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933
October 16, 2008 - February 15, 2009
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue At 75th Street,
New York NY 10021
Taxi Order: 1
3. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Collect hours I’ve spent at MoMA and it equals a year or more of my life. I don’t want a time refund. Every hour spent in Alfred H. Barr, Jr's creation brings meaning and purpose to life. I have to share a funny MoMA story from the Found Objects days before discussing this fall's shows. Found Objects, the funky gift company I co-founded in 1993, sold funky gifts such Magnetic Poetry Kit to museum stores around the world before closing in 2003.
In the late 1990’s I visited the Museum of Contemporary art in LA and met with a potential manufacturer for new Found Objects products. I’ve forgotten the name of the ceramics company where I met “Dieter”. Dieter was the Biz Dev manager at this $10MM company about an hour from downtown LA. Next door to their offices was a large warehouse with racks and racks of drying ceramics. Susan, the company’s owner was proud to give us a tour. She was most proud of a large industrial kiln, the kind you roll in racks of ceramics to fire. We returned to the office where Janet, Found Objects’ President, and I met with Susan and Dieter. We explained who we were. Susan had a Zen Board she purchased at the Folk Art Museum in NYC so she knew Found Objects. She also already worked with many of Found Objects' best customers including the Museum of Modern Art. Dieter used to work at MoMA. There was only one problem. Dieter, who I suspected was really named “Dan”, kept calling MoMA “THE MoMA”. “Yes,” Dieter (Dan), would say, “We’ve done extensive work with "The MoMA”. By the fifth “the MoMA” I couldn’t stand it anymore and started laughing. I covered my laugh with a cough. I caught Susan smiling out of the corner of my eye and almost needed emergency care to stop.
Inside “The MoMA” is a great museum that doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as Dieter. You will see more black than at your average fashion show, but the museum’s collection has room to breath now in their new $425MM improved building. As you might expect, curatorial at MoMA is the best in the world. Working for MoMA must be like working for the New England Patriots or something equally transcendent in the art world. The Pollacks, Bacons and Johns are magical, but I spend more time lately with MoMA's Hopper’s. Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967) captures space, time, place and emotion in small silent prayers.
MoMA is really four or five great museums. The paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, design and film museums within the museum are all world class. Home Delivery: Fabricating The Modern Dwelling looks like a fascinating show. Throw in recent acquisitions exhibit and a little show called Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Rum: The Art of Appropriation and you have the makings of a successful fall day. Don’t forget to visit MoMA’s store and the Folk Art Museum across the street.
Show: Permanent Collection + Home Delivery: Fabricating The Modern Building through October 20th.
11 West 53 Street,
between Fifth and Sixth avenues
New York, NY 10019-5497
Taxi Order: 4
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Jeff Koons was on CBS Sunday Morning this morning. They owed him a nice twenty minutes after Morley Safer savaged him on 60 Minutes in the 1980’s. All of us want Morley Safer and 60 Minutes to determine what is great art (give me a BREAK). CBS were supportive and curious this morning. Koons’ work is not for art beginners. If you’ve never heard of Duchamp and think Andy is hair gel you aren’t going to understand huge balloon dog sculptures, or maybe you will. They are fun and not pretentious. Koons' Balloon Dogs are up on the Met’s roof, too cool, and a “must see” this fall. The Met is located on the park. You may see trees changing color reflected in those giant balloon dogs.
Show: Jeff Koons On The Roof through October 25th
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Taxi Order: 3
5. The New Museum of Contemporary Art
I am wearing a black cap with a single word “New” stitched on the front. “Museum of Contemporary Art” is stitched on the back. The cap is from my last visit to this special museum in the Bowery. Like all contemporary art museums the New Museum’s shows can go too far, their permanent collection is thin and exhibit themes are often so hermetically sealed inside of art issues you and I need not apply, but their new translucent white "wedding cake" building is a must see. My cap came from the old space where the store was the museum's best feature. Walk out of the Frick and tell a cabby you want to head down to the Bowery just to see his expression (it is way too far to walk). Spend some time looking at Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s pile of elegant translucent boxes before you head inside.
Show: New building + Altoids Award Winners until October 25th
New York, NY 10002