Separating Fashion From Change
Yochai Benkler, the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, gave a great speech at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design conference that you can't attend unless they ask you). Benkler wrote The Wealth of Networks (about to read this) and, as you will see if you use the link below, he is not a dummy. If you are interested in understanding why you should sell your Microsoft stock (or the stock of any large centralized entity) listen to Yochai's lecture on open source economics.
Open Source Economics vs Empire Economics
Coffee with Yochai has to be on Martin's Bucket List. If it is possible to be too smart, and it may be, Yochai is close to that line.
Yochai's site: http://www.benkler.org
BTW, TED, pronounced Ted by the selected few not T-E-D a friend who has been invited reminded me. I applied and was rejected. Ted, my friend told me, is another way of saying "These Guys Are Smarter Than You". My retort was, "yes but are they Wizards?" He looked over his shoulder and he walked away and said, "My point exactly". I sent him a link to Martin's Wizard Training. "I thought you said LIZARDS," he wrote me back. Don't you hate smarter friends who KNOW IT. Have to have a long conversation with my parents about genetics (lol). That ship has sailed and my smith family branch ends here (neither my brother Drew, my sister Caroline or me have children). Ted is safe and I am cool with being a wizard :).
Friday, February 27, 2009
Separating Fashion From Change
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
News From Twitter To Google
Public relations has changed. Back in the day you could write an editor, tell a compelling story and they just might build on your riff. Way back in the day, I remember throwing up a VNR (video news release) and watching as local news teams grabbed our b-roll almost unedited. Today PR life is different as Sandra Fathi made clear in an excellent community presentation today sponsored by WebPR company Vocus. I use Vocus for distribution of our press releases and like it.
Link to Maximizing The Value of Your News: From Twitter To Google this link will take you to the PPT deck from today's presentation.
That link will bring you to another useful tool called SlideShare. Never heard of this tool prior to this meeting and it is VERY COOL.
Sandra's presentation was real, informative and smart. She's been in the trenches and she knows her stuff. Her site is also helpful find it at:
PR is different and Sandra's PPT deck, twitter feed (http://twitter.com/sandrafathi) and web site will help you parse it out. Highly recommend looking at least one of Sandra's notes about PR today if you hope to accomplish anything.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Central Junior High (Greenwich, Connecticut 1973)
A friend sent a picture I didn't recognize. "Who is that," I asked her. "That," she said simply, "is you." Surely that is not true. Then I looked hard at the picture. I couldn't recognize me, but the blond cheerleader on the right I recognize. Then I recognized the look of pain. My pained look is a primitive mating dance, a display meant for the blond cheerleader on my right. I seem to recall she wasn't buying no matter how much pain I was in (lol). Like most of my friends, I am sure she is worried about her sons and daughters now. The friend who sent me this picture has a son in the army. I have two thoughts for her son. First, thank you. Second, keep your head down and get home safe.
Martin Marty Smith
Friends laugh at my funny name. There is a good reason I have a name that sounds like it should be in Catch-22. Half of my life I was Marty Smith. For some unknown reason when I left corporate America to chase entrepreneurial dreams my name became Martin. Not sure why. When you have no real income only the pitch you are making, Martin sounded more reliable. Martin is someone you loan copious amounts of cash too in the hopes he will attach it to an idea returning it many times over. Marty seems like someone you went to high school with. Most of my friends from M&M/Mars and NutraSweet know me as Marty Smith. The friend who sent me this picture knows me as Marty.
When I was at Choate I was called Marty Tank Smith. I may use that name again (lol), but, for now Martin Marty Smith is moi.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The Meaning Question
We all ask the “meaning” question. When you reach a certain age you ask this question with intent. Age, the passage of time, creates a false positive. You THINK you should know how to answer this basic question. Even more damning is your inability to answer the meaning question means there may be no meaning, or that is common twisted logic.
This is pretzel logic. Look in wrong places and you never find your keys. They sit where you left them patiently waiting until you track back. Think of the last time you lost your keys how did you find them? First you probably looked in the usual places. You acted. Coming up empty you started to play back the last time you saw them in your mind. You ran the film of your life into the present moment. You find your keys.
Find things by living them. You live the last place you put your keys down. You find meaning when you are not looking. If that sounds like Zen parable it is on purpose. Meaning is not an extractable thing. You don’t create meaning just like you don’t create a great painting. In fact, set out to create a great painting and failure is guaranteed. Paintings are built one stroke, idea and element at a time. Greatness is always summary of an artist’s decisions, skill and time.
Time’s importance can’t be overestimated. Have you ever seen child protégée painters sixty minutes likes to feature? They are twelve and paint as well as Pollack or de Kooning. No they don’t. They are twelve and may paint with amazing technical fluidity for a twelve year old, but they don’t create great paintings. Great paintings have more life in them than a twelve year old, no matter how gifted, can muster. What about Mozart who created his first symphony at eight? Mozart is exception proving rule.
Time is a funny thing. In Einstein’s universe time can stop (at the speed of light). Standing in line at McDonald's time slows. Elliptical work out machines slow time to a crawl. Biologists know as brains age the human attached to it perceives time moving faster. Like Einstein, we humans, Einstein had to be an alien, change time too. In our physical world, lived a long way from 186,000 miles a second (speed of light), time seems unidirectional. We get older.
Time is often overlooked in the meaning question. We get older and we look harder. There MUST be meaning in here somewhere we demand. What would a Zen Master tell you about doubling your efforts to find meaning? If you guessed, “you get further away” you win a watch. There is a section in Tolle’s book A New Earth that goes something like this:
Sitting by a bubbling stream in a wooded forest a student asks his master, “How do I enter Zen?” Silent for a long time the Master finally asks, “do you hear the bubbling brook?” After the student answers yes the Master says, “Enter Zen from there.” The student experiences his first satori, or sudden enlightenment. The flush of the moment overwhelms the student. For several hours no one speaks. On the way home, the student asked, “Master what if I did not hear the stream.” The Master stopped their walk to look at his student. “Then enter Zen from there,” he said moving back down the path.This story lives on many levels (for me). I was a striver and counter. Achievements filled me with Ego’s Helium. It is only luck and life that prevented floating into space. Luck brought humbling hardship. A once certain future became thankfully uncertain. There are no certain futures. There is this moment. A favorite word artist, Jenny Holzer, said THE FUTURE IS STUPID. Future as concept wasn't as important to Jenny as our inability to live the future in this moment. The Zen Master would say enter Zen from there.
It is possible to live an entire life and NOT KNOW WHO YOU ARE. I was on that track. Everything worked almost like magic, until it didn’t. The problem with a too easy life is when stuff happens, when life gets HARD you don't know what to do. My depression era grandparents had no such problem. My grandmother, raised in a lighthouse on the North Carolina coast, knew hardship. They experienced what Seth Godin called a Dip and lived to tell the story. My grandparents knew who they were. They spent no time fretting over meaning. They were thankful, aware and always just a little worried the past would rise again taking everything away in an instant.
I see the awful stunning blow, the Great Depression, as proving ground. My grandfather, my mother’s father, became the artful dodger selling coal rights to my father's family. My father’s family mined coal. Many of my father’s family died in mines. One of my father’s ancestors dictated no Duncan (my father’s family name) below ground anymore. He would not lose another brother, cousin, or nephew to the mines. When we buried my father’s mother we visited the small museum dedicated the Duncan Hamilton Coal Company. I saw pictures of generations of my father’s family soot covered, carrying steel helmets. They looked tired. The differences between miners and owners were unintelligible.
There is no blacker black than turning off your light source in a coal mine. Spelunking n Tennessee’s my summer at McCallie I turned off my lamp. Everyone around me did the same. The invading black was so dominant I couldn’t sense anyone. There were ten boys and a teacher within ten feet. Sound was the only way to know anyone was still there. Isolation was immediate and total. You were asleep but not. You were dead or the closest thing to it. Two things struck me. Isolation happened when every light went out and it is possible to be alone surrounded by people. If miners know something about meaning then so do we. Everyone reading this post will be tested. No life is only magic. We all look for and find meaning differently, but we all search. What is the answer? Where does meaning exist? Enter Zen from there.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Mary Kay O'Connor's Starting Point
Mary Kay was my best boss. What makes a boss great? I’m not sure, but I know what made Mary Kay O’Connor great. She is smart, fair and patient. We worked together at The NutraSweet Company during interesting times (1988 – 1993). NutraSweet, after years of sales with a unique patent, wanted to play nice with Coke, Kraft, Nabisco and every other major food brand you can think of. Patents, if a company is not diligent, creates arrogance. Patents expire and there’s the rub.
I remember being in a conference room with fellow Sales Directors. NutraSweet’s uncertain future was the topic. Every poorly treated customer sought revenge. The companies we sold our magic powder to were not small players. Nestle, Dannon, Weight Watchers (owned by H. J. Heinz then) and Pepsi demanded deference, care and coddling. For years, NutrtaSweet treated its powerful partners like tardy schoolboys. “Straight to detention,” is not an effective marketing strategy. Competitors, poised for years on the boarder of patent expiration, saw NutraSweet's mistakes and an opening. Rumors of “massive” layoffs flooded the office. Productivity, when we had to double down to just stay even, went south.
It may be impossible to describe the antipathy every major food company felt for The NutraSweet Company. I saw examples of anger created from mistreatment many times. My favorite example is a Top-To-Top meeting at H. J. Heinz. I visited Weight Watchers brand managers and Heinz purchasing people weekly. Ask me about Pittsburgh and I can tell you good places to stay downtown, where the hockey arena is located and how to get to the airport. Top-To-Top meetings were a difficult goal. The goal was accomplished when senior management from NutraSweet sat down in a meeting with senior management of the companies we served. Ever try to get a meeting with the head of a company? Not an easy thing to do.
Thanks to my AMAZING assistant Michelle, we got the meeting. We would meet with David Scully, #2 to CEO Anthony O’Reilly, and William Springer, President of Weight Watchers. These are LARGE and IN CHARGE people running billion dollars businesses. There were three of us in this meeting. Twenty minutes into our twenty-slide deck, Scully stands up, slams his fist on the table and says, “You guys don’t know shit”. I was shocked knowing Scully was a Harvard Cum Laude. Scully was red faced and not looking at us. “What David wants to convey,” William Springer said folding his hands together elbows on the table, “Is we’ve been frustrated working with your company for some time and are looking forward to other sweetener options.” Immediately the large secret Elephant was in the room and not happy. Getting back in our rental car the President of NutraSweet turned to me and said simply, “THAT was an interesting meeting.” We didn’t lose Heinz or Weight Watchers after patent expiration.
Few customers followed their threats to leave. Mary Kay’s “all hands on deck” philosophy, clear consensus created strategy and obstruction removing management style saved the day. Heinz and almost every other “food” customer stayed. Mary Kay’s many innovations such as cross-functional teams, alteration of business models and strategies and innovative ways to recover relationships made us heroes at Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters.
Calm, centered and focused Mary Kay always knew where to go. She didn’t prejudge how we would get there. She knew we would be successful. Quiet confidence is contagious. If Mary Kay O’Connor asked us to bungee off the roof we would have. We lost ourselves into team rhythm and needs. This was not a naturally “let’s sacrifice” crew. Sales people may be the most mercenary on the planet. Something for them and you have their attention. BIG SOMETHING for them and you may have undivided attention. Mary Kay earned respect by leading, supporting and knitting. Some people have this talent. They can arrange a team by skill, personality and disposition to achieve greatness. Six Sales Directors put our natural selfishness aside rowing as one. We helped each other. No one had to ask. We finished each other’s sentences. We pounced on opportunities to sacrifice for the team. We worked long hours on impossible tasks and wanted more.
We followed Mary Kay’s lead. Mary Kay O’Connor works the problem. She dogs it out, relentless, creative and inspirational. Her quiet strength gave six Sales Directors, her direct reports, an ability to coalesce and work the problem. Mary Kay’s touch on the reins is light. Once she created a focused team she slowly moved back. I always had EXACTLY the right amount of rope, not enough to hang myself but enough to be independent. Mary Kay was my fifth boss. I knew how special our relationship and her talent was (and is).
I left NutraSweet to start Found Objects. I wanted to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. Mary Kay stayed in touch. When she created Starting Point, a management-consulting firm for Fortune 1,000 companies, we reconnected. Mary Kay helped companies find solutions to problems they didn’t even know they had. She doesn’t judge. She listens, creates unique data gathering systems, finds hidden meanings and value in the data, presents cost saving and profit enhancing solutions. That line sounds too pat, like a million other management-consulting companies.
A friend during my M&/Mars days told me, “Martin, consultants borrow you watch to tell you what time it is and then they take the watch.” When I would discuss Mary Kay’s latest project across a cell phone with my old boss I was ALWAYS impressed with the unique ideas. These weren’t far out un-implementable ideas. I would slap my head and think, “Why didn’t I think of that.” Mary Kay’s consulting is grounded in this world’s growing demands. Margin pressure, speed, technological disintegration, corporate silos, tangled teams and mutually destructive goals are just a few business problems I’ve seen Mary Kay wrestle to the ground. This wrestling is always the same and much like our NutraSweet battles. Steps include clam assessment, listening to key stakeholders, investigating markets and competitors, panning out real gold. Mary Kay understands a business’s hidden ebb and flow using unique tools to discover solutions.
What are unique solutions worth in our time compressed, flat, crowded and hot world? Who has time to have wrong conversations with wrong people about wrong problems? Mary Kay sees a business’s spirit, path and destiny. Sometimes destiny looks dismal as it did at NutraSweet. There is never any panic. As I write this I can see Mary Kay at the head of a long table. Powerful people are looking to her. They shake their heads yes. These lucky few hired the right person. Finally they are having the right conversation about the right problems. Sometimes you can’t find solutions right in front of you. Then a special moment comes and you know you’ve just seen your future. Everything is going to be fine. You prosper; your company adjusts and wins. All because you, by serendipity of force of need, found the best boss I ever had.
Reach Mary Kay at mko(at)startingpnt.com, tell her Martin says hi
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
How I Learned Janet's Rule
I was a young foolish boy. Few things not about me received attention in those days, but one person had me at hello. When I met Janet McKean she was working in a management-training program on a plane with no wings. The family owned downtown department store was about to go the way of the dinosaur. Sibley’s, head quartered in downtown Rochester, would become one of the last of an extinct breed of retailer.
It is no mistake Janet, after some initial job finding struggle, ended up at a store where serving customers was a passion. Janet lived for retailing. It was in her blood. This attitude fascinated me. As a Sales Rep for P&G (when we met) I already made much more money. Janet seemed so much more excited about what she was doing. Janet saw herself as part of an unbroken line. She adopted the Sibley family’s ideas of service and noblesse oblige (nobility obligates). Prep school friends who knew noblesse oblige lived off family trusts. Easier to afford sacrifice of self for others when dad or granddad made serious money. Janet had little money, no trust and a better idea of noblesse oblige than anyone I’ve ever met.
Janet understood. Opportunities for service happen daily. Each one is a test. Respond consistently with care, support and self-sacrifice and you create a self-sustaining idea (even without cash). People find you, ask for help and seek your advice.
I met Janet in a laundrymat, the “pick-up” laundrymat I would later learn, in Rochester’s College Avenue neighborhood. Wearing my college colors (pink and grey) with large pink VASSAR written across my chest. “Did you go to Vassar?” Janet asked. “Yes,” I said turning to notice a tiny, cute smiling girl (we were 25 then). A young girl next to us heard Janet say she worked at Sibley’s. The girl wanted to get into retail. She asked Janet question after question. I saw her as an obstruction. She was messing up my masterful pick up efforts (kidding since “picking up” is not something I am good at). My frustrations grew. Janet was patient and kind. Her ever-present smile never dimmed. Janet alternated her smile and attention between us evenly without any impatience or frustration.
I was seeing something different, someone different. Here was someone my age with an assured measured presence, giving and kind. Janet’s life was a whirl of work and an out-of-town boyfriend. I worked for a week to secure a dinner date. I used my typewriter, remember those, to write a note asking Janet to have dinner with me. She did and the rest is history. It took Janet’s "always help" lesson 20 years before I understood it. Share everything you have, know or anyone you know with everyone you know without a thought about Quid Pro Quo or what is in it for you. These are hard, impossible things. You will be tired, strung out and sure this philosophy makes you a fool. Ironically, those feelings mean you are getting there. Break eggs to make an omelet and break your brain and ego against this simple and impossible rule. You will get angry, throw things and not understand. Yep, when those inevitable moments happen you are close. Ego's don't die easy. They die hard. Stick with it. You will turn a corner.
All good stories are ironic because life is irony wrapped in mystery. My life’s irony is I learned this important lesson just in time to lose my teacher. How does a marriage get lost? My marriage died the death of a thousand paper cuts and I only saw the last hundred (or so). Trying to channel Janet’s lesson meant everything I knew and understood to be true was wrong. Egocentric “me” life connected to “success” had to be dismantled, blown apart. Ever read about a sad billionaire? Serve a single master – yourself - and you will never be happy. Happiness requires serving others. As Dylan says, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” Janet taught life, as I constructed it, had no value.
Follow Janet’s “always help” rule. The mechanics of following this simple rule insure EGO must move to the backseat (if not out of the moving car altogether). You will be engaged, passionate, valued, meaningful, happy, exhausted and the real you (maybe for the first time). We are all more the person who selflessly serves than anyone else. There is an old snarky comment. At the core of every great fortune is a lie or a crime. Service to others is at the core of every great fortune. Funny how we are more comfortable heralding the solitary man (or woman) as conquering hero. Such depictions are always false. Truth is Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Rockefeller and Mellon served before they conquered. Even if your bank account looks more like mine than Gates or Rockefeller you will love your life more by following Janet’s Always Help rule.
If there is ever anyway you think I can help put me to the test. Reach me at martinsellingzoe(at)aol(dot)com.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I’m fascinated with creativity. Where does it come from? How is it engaged? What kinds of things bring it closer or push it away? I started painting at Vassar. I tried to channel Pollack, de Kooning and Kline. I stretched canvas and started creating. This post is about five hard won creativity lessons, Martin's Creativity Rules are:
Martin’s Creativity Rule One: Fake It Until You Make It
It is possible to think about creativity. Let’s do a simple mind experiment. Think about the last time you made love. Hold that thought, roll it around and really examine it. Now stop thinking and make love. And the winner is? Doing something is always more engaging, informative and FUN than thinking about doing something. It is impossible to change who you are and what you do without a feedback loop. Feedback requires an external source (in some capacity). My first paintings didn’t win many fans. I kept painting and, eventually, received invitations to include paintings in shows, sold several early canvases and was asked to paint the 3rd floor rec room in Vassar’s Main Building (this mural was gone the last time I visited). The call from the Whitney Biennial never came, but it didn’t matter. I faked it until I made it. I worked through failure, incorporated ideas from others, practiced with intent (focused practice) and created what I wanted – Martin as painter.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Two: Nothing Sucks
The hyper-judgment we are taught is a natural enemy to creativity. We snap judge everything all the time. Suspending such reflex action is HARD but necessary. Creativity is not one thing. Creativity is a process. This means you really never know what will be valuable and when. Judgment affects thinking and process. Evaluate if something is moving you closer or further away from your vision, but don't attach pejorative associations. Anything is acceptable and it is all-good. If something doesn’t move you closer then store it and remember it. You will find a place for it somewhere sometime. My art, at its core, is collage. I study and admire Robert Rauschenberg, Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. Look at their work. What is clear, in even casual inspection, is these guys had boxes and boxes of stuff just waiting for a home. Nothing is bad. Everything has a home. You may not have its home today, tomorrow or next year, but you'll find it and you will know it instantly.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Three: Taking Credit Destroys Creativity
Creativity comes when ego is submerged. Elkhart Tolle mentions how you lose yourself when you are completely emerged in a problem . When there is no distinction between you, your work process and the problem you ego is submerged. Often, when you are in this deep, solutions find you. Suddenly, it seems easy to create. Ego is limitation. Ego ties you to a shallow, narcissistic place with limited optioins. Ego can’t live as anything other than the MAIN thing. Focus all energy on a problem and ego is, at best, number two. Ego’s only job is reproductive dominance. Once you learn how to force your ego into the back seat creative control is around the corner.
Credit is ego. Look at your creations like a meaningful gift. This will help you escape ego’s credit game. When you look for your boss’s approval, your father’s recognition or society’s rewards (fame) you are looking for credit. When you claim credit you move away from creativity. Remember the ego doesn’t want to ride shotgun to anything. Taking credit means your ego is driving and creativity got kicked out at the last stop. Creativity requires focus, being in touch with the moment and being open to suggestion. Ego is incapable of any of these, so ego is creativity’s natural enemy.
This is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” deals. Pushing my ego out of the car is hard, requires constant vigilance and practice. I practiced today. Our site is having a great year. At my boss’s request, I summarized our accomplishment as a “village” accomplishment (as in “it takes a village”) and pointed out a handful of people whose contributions were key. Some things were serendipitous. Oprah discussed one of our products (don’t get much more Oprah Effect Serendipitous than that). Some things were planned (Valentine’s Day). Some things were dogs that didn’t hunt (didn’t dwell on those). None of us can accomplish ANYTHING alone anymore. This means claiming credit is goofystupid. When someone tries to give you credit move it over to others so you can keep creating. The best drug is creating. The minute you have that rush you have to have it again and as many times as possible.
This advice goes against the “blow your own horn” thing. I’ve done that. It always made me feel like I needed a shower. Don’t blow your own horn. Use "blow your own horn" energy to get lost in passionate engagement. You won’t have to worry about horn blowing. People will seek you out. They will hear about your creative powers and ask for your help. Always help. Helping others expecting nothing is one place where creativity lives (and a lot of other good things too). When they seek you out try not let it go to your head. Remember it was your abilities NOT to let things go to your head that brought them to you. Borrowed ides here from Love Is The Killer App by Tim Sanders.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Four: Least Expected, Most Common
Ever notice how you get your best ideas when your mind is otherwise occupied? I have a pad next to the bed because ideas come like quicksilver messages just before sleep. I watched a show about Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger recently. Mick works ALL THE TIME. He is constantly grabbing a thought and putting it in a notebook. He doesn’t judge he just captures and stores. Mick could be on a beach sipping cool drinks with little umbrellas, but he isn’t. Instead he is working his tiny butt off. The most creative people have the smallest egos, practice like they play and are addicted to losing themselves in creativity.
Martin’s Creativity Rule Five: Negative Comments and Failure Are GOOD
You are going to fail. There is a powerful person in my company who goes out of their way to say mean, nasty things (to me and others). Defend against those negative comments and YOU LOSE. You lose because you are not responding. Your ego is responding. Remember, the ego’s only real job is its own continued dominance. When someone belittles you in front of others who is hurt? Defend and it is you. Ignore, be kind, grateful and welcoming and you keep EGO in the back seat. People always gravitate to creative people. Some find creative people threatening. If they can pull you into an ego war their life is justified and correct. Don’t do it. Stay true to your creativity by knowing that some will be mean, negative and look to destroy what you’ve created.
You never fail when your creative process is ego-free, focused and questioning. You, your life and who you are moves and learns. Moving and learning is NEVER a failure. It may feel like failure when you don’t get what you want. Wait, who cares about getting what YOU want? Yes, Mr. ego is who. You care about creativity, so Mr. Ego is in check. It is all-good. Keep creating.
** Picture at top was taken a few decades ago. I am standing in the converted elevator shaft I used as my studio. None of those paintings are still with us, so do as I say not as I do (LOL).
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
It’s early. The lake is quiet. I’m up before anyone dressing on the back porch. Waders, vest off the drying rack and then grab polls, close the door carefully and quietly and take the short walk down to the dock. I walk out to the point of the dock and look across the lake. No one up on the other side either. Birds sing in the tree behind and I hear more than see a loud splash off the point directly across the lake, Paterson’s point.
Paterson’s point is Carl V.S. Patterson, the inventor of the fluorescent X-ray screen and the father of Dupont’s and GTE’s factory and most of the jobs in this small Pennsylvania town. I met Carl’s daughter once. She told me her father had Alzheimer’s and was in a facility near her home in Washington. In twenty years, the Paterson house was only occupied once.
Now I stare at Paterson’s point from the eastern side of the lake standing in shadow. Sun warms Paterson a ten-minute paddle from where I stand. I place polls, tackle box and towel in the green steel canoe. A rolling white mist comes off the water moving with the canoe following as warm water gives way to cool air.
I alternate slow stokes dipping a quickly wet paddle at my hip. Moving the paddle to the other side after two strokes keeps the canoe straight. I am not in a hurry. I’ve made this journey hundreds of times. Paterson’s big over hanging tree, two-story dock with two Spanish style boat bays where there is never a boat and small rotting dock are old friends. I’ve walked and fished the flat point in front of their house. Patterson’s point is a shallow ridge pointing to the middle of the lake. Some days I wade and cast the hundred yards to the point’s dramatic drop off, but not today. Fish will hug bank structure letting early morning warmth radiate from rocks and bank.
Fish love the point. It warms fast is full of undisturbed nesting areas since the Paterson’s rarely run off their dock anymore. Paterson’s point is the most undeveloped ten acres on the lake. Shallow runs on either side for nests with deep drop offs in easy distance for protection from predators make the point bass heaven. Large mouth bass fear little in this natural sanctuary. Certainly there is the occasional hungry turtle or early morning Hawk, but a bass greater than five pounds is at the top of Lake Wesauking’s food chain, the master of her domain.
I select a two inch black and white Rapalla lure. Big bass eat little bass. I tie an extra loop to increase wounded wobble and spritz lure with scent. Bass are more nose and movement sensors than anything else. I use the scent to mask any human smells from my oily hands. It also makes the lure sweat a “fear mist” bait fish radiate when a large predator is near. Such an involuntary fear response means the unlucky bait fish are seen and eaten quickly. A two-inch bass is an h'ordeurves to a five pound twenty-four inch monster. The equivalent analogy is turning a corner and seeing a 100-foot tall mugger. You would emit “free mist” too.
I toss and bounce the Rapalla off a rock to the left of Paterson’s dock. I calmly do nothing. It is important, after landing a lure, to hold and count to five. Anything falling suddenly into water would be momentarily stunned. Bait fish often dart, hold and move, move, hold and dart. They can be eaten at any time. Movement often brings unwanted attention. Bass may strike out of irritation. They eat anything that annoys. I jerk the now quiet lure down hard and fast. Nothing. I wait, count five and repeat the movement. A loud startling explosion of water and peel of line against loosely set drag wakes me to the moment. Fish monster is just met her most dangerous predator and she will not move silently into that good night or this early morning.
This bass moves fast and violently burying my three hook Repalla well past their trebles. As the hooks move past “spit out” stage she comes up out of the water. Seeing this six pound fat fish full for the first time my heart almost stops. In a summer of fishing twenty or thirty days hooking such a fish may happen five times. It is a special thing that can’t be appreciated until after fight gives way to calm resolution and release. Release is at least ten minutes away. I’ve spooled up four-pound test line with flexibility and loose drag. The poetry of fishing is in these few minutes. There is no great desire in the abstract to hurry such a moment. When the moment is upon you all you can think of is moving it to conclusion. So much of life carries this irony. You dream of moments and are wholly unable to be fully in those moments; we are easily overwhelmed.
Each powerful jump shocks and surprises. Did I forgot there was a monster Bass on the other end line? The fish rushes for protection in the depths turning the canoe. I hold the rod high and let her run. Worried about the light line breaking I stand and swipe the water lightly with the paddle. The fish senses my inattention and runs. I drop the paddle. “Pay attention,” I remind myself, “if the line breaks because this fish is so powerful she can move the canoe then so be it.” I work line back on my reel feeling slow resolution. Each run is shorter now. Resignation is staved off by one last feint, dive and jump. I loosen tension finally able to slow down and enjoy such a rare special moment. I am not in hurry, but the fish, having been bested in her own backyard, wishes only to give up, give in, surrender.
I slip my forefinger under her large lip lifting the fish out of the water. Carefully I bring this Queen to eye level. I see her exhaustion and resignation. A quick tail flip almost plants hooks in my hand. I sit back down and remove hooks from her mouth. Again I use the natural handle of the fish’s strong lower jaw carefully placing her back into the lake. She sits head above water for a moment as if she forgot how to swim. I pat her tail and she is gone with a single swipe of a powerful tail. For a long time I just sit. My heart slows. I look into the lake smiling. It feels like a perfect moment. I notice the canoe is now well off the point. Then I realize my mighty bass warrior knocked the paddle out of my hand. I see it floating forty yards away against the side of the Patterson’s dock. I laugh and start to slowly hand-swim the canoe back to Paterson’s point. “Okay,” I say aloud to my vanished friend, “you win". I imagine she’s gathered her big Bass friends around to watch as the goofy human tries to use his hands to paddle a long steel canoe back to the point.
Martin's E-Commerce Video Lessons
I've been working on adding online video for over a year. I've failed, failed and then FAILED. Most of my work over the last year is how to successfully add video to our product pages. I named these short clips our "helping hands" videos because we use a voice over script with a pair of attractive hands. Why we use hands and not people is explained below. I just wrote an email with the ten lessons learned about how to successfully add video to an e-commerce web site to a colleague. Here is the body of that note :). Hope these ideas help you add video to your e-commerce site with at least one less FAILURE than moi:
- Two Minutes is a long time on a product page and 3 minutes is an eternity - keep helping hand videos to 2 minutes or less.
- Don't Sell - keep voice flat and factual because the camera will do the selling
- Everything Sells - every aspect of a video helps or hurts the conversion funnel - slow pacing hurts, cheap set hurts, un-manicured hand model hurts, over the top language hurts. Things like blocking camera to script, music that matches the product and the pace and the right background (black) helps.
- Customers Can Sell (even if we can't) - We include reviews from our Buzz Team in every video where we have reviews killing two birds: first we sell the concept of the uber-reviewer (Buzz Team) thus pitching the next generation of Buzz Team members and creating a higher level of legitimacy for reviews from the Buzz Team. Brand something and you can own it forever AND it is more powerful. I stole this idea from Buzz Agents and our competitors stole it from us almost the day after we created it. Bringing in the hive's reaction to the product is POWERFUL and acceptable. Staff reviews are acceptable too just not in this venue as it feels too much like we are talking to ourselves about ourselves.
- Be Specific - the secret power of these clips is in demystifying the product. The video makes it look easy even when it is not. Since manual writing is not a strength in our space (LOL), these videos act as a substitute "How To" manual. It is impossible to be too specific.
- The Product Is The Star - This is why I decided to use a hand model and not go the CNet route of an editor talking about the product. I didn't and don't want the focus anywhere but the product itself. What I look like could negatively impact product sales, so no people only hands. Disembodied hands also adds volume to the "this is easy" idea because it is impossible to make a "that person is smarter than me" judgment.
- Don't compare to other products - Each video is a universe in and of itself. Comparing product A to B is not appropriate in this format as it creates confusion. In two minutes it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell two stories, so we stick to telling one - the story of the featured product.
- Video Can Benefit Every Product - BUT, what every product needs may be different. In the case of a limited feature set product there may be a real need to SEE how the product creates its benefit. Applying the feature set explanation template to all products will not work. Some products may need more active demonstration than feature explanation.
- Subtext is always the same - THIS IS EASY YOU CAN DO IT TOO - Any rough edges MUST be smoothed out on film, but be honest. I used some special lubricant to make one of our product's cap appear to go on easier than it does. When I do this video over we will mention and show how confusing the cap can be. This does two things. It increases our overall legitimacy and the "truth" rating of the videos themselves and it anticipates and deflates objections sure to surface in reviews. Better to address potentially difficult issues head on (is my thinking now). Video provides a perfect place to expose, acknowledge and solve a product's rough edges. There are no secrets anymore, so head on honesty is best. Warts and all works better than photoshoping out messy reality (LOL).
- Video Is Different - I tanked page conversion with early attempts because they were too long, poorly shot or not on the mark. Our competitors shot a pair of giggling girls approaching their product line as CNet does cameras. This is a mistake as it looks to slip-shod for my generation (i.e. OLD PEOPLE). It may work for the twenty-somethings and there may be a place for that approach (well walled off), but my first inclination was to use video to ELEVATE our product conversations not plumb the lowest common denominator. That said, web video does benefit from rougher production values than our DVD's. Too slick is not good, but our video team knows how to use what is, at its core, an EMOTIONAL MEDIUM (video) in an engaging, exciting way. They are just on this side of too slick. The other thing I learned from working with our current team is video is a dance and unless you've had lessons and practice, practice and practice some more you will look awkward and goofy. Best to allow pros from Dover to do what they do best as there are many hidden secrets you don't miss until you see them and then you can't live without them. You know greatness when you see it (lol).
You can understand every rule in the book, but if you don't have a good video team you are crazy. I have a GREAT video team and am willing to share their information (when asked). I will also gladly share links to videos we've created (if asked). I am way behind on personal email right now as my company sells more stuff at Valentine than at Christmas, but email martinsellingzoe(at)aol if you want my video contact and links to examples of product videos we created over the past year. I also have sales data showing how video increases conversion I will also be glad to share (if asked LOL).
Peace and Happy Valentine's Day,
Monday, February 9, 2009
A second definition by Philip Anderson, the Nobel laureate physicist who may perhaps be regarded as the father of the field, is that complexity is the science of “emergence.” That is, it is about how large interacting ensembles – where the units may be water molecules, neurons, magnetic dipoles, or consumers – exhibit collective behavior that is very different from anything you might have expected from simply scaling up the behavior of the individual units.
…When Adam Smith wrote of the way that markets lead their participants, “as if by an invisible hand,” to outcomes that nobody intended, what was he describing but an emergent property? And examples of emergence abound in economic theory – we need only note the way that competitive markets, in which each individual is striving only for his or her own profit, act as if the participants were collectively trying to maximize the sum of consumer and producer surplus, concepts of which they are generally unaware.
Paul Klugman, The Self Organizing Economy
Emergent system is where my head is spinning lately. I’ve been fascinated with what I call “flocking” behavior for years. Flocking behavior, the collective whirl and turn of Geese, Ducks or Doves is a complex emergent system. Individual tendency and behavior is sacrificed for the collective. Goose is subsumed into Geese. What does a rebellious Goose do? Is there any such animal or is the power of the flock so persistent and powerful any aberrant behavior is subsumed into “flock”.
I’ve been a rebel so long there must be genetic origins. Yet passing control and individuality over to a larger collective identity produced some of my favorite moments. Playing football at Choate, Lacrosse at Vassar, developing smart sales systems at M&M/Mars and working so closely with my ex creating Found Objects that the line between her mind and mine seemed a ridiculous and meaningless separation (right up until the divorce that is LOL). In these moments rebel is consumed into collective. Individual identity gives way to the automatic wheel and turn of a flock. This sensation is so pleasurable it is a drug, an addictive drug.
So this strange, desperate dichotomy is where my mind dwells lately. I've added study of bees and ants to try to identify the autonomic collective, the physiological pull of “flocking behavior”. Everything seems just a bit too far away now. I want to understand the pull, the pure joy, the cause and effect, the wheel and turn. Once current questions lead to debatable assumptions I will tie words to random string theory and share those results here. Until then, I will continue to wander, read and think.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I've started writing Infinite Inventory. My goal is 500 words a day. At that pace, I will finish around May. I will be giving away about 100 copies. If you would like a free copy of Infinite Inventory send your email and address to martinsellingzoe(at)aol. I want to make it easier to stay up to date with ScentTrail. Working on adding an email form, in the meantime please email me the long way.
3 Editors Needed
Anyone interested in reading early drafts, providing feedback and edits let me know. I am looking for 3 helpful friends, former classmates, out-of-work editors or anyone willing to help shape my first book. The first 600 words of Infinite Inventory...the book:
Infinite Inventory: Introduction
Winter in the desert is unlike winter anywhere else. After a long transcontinental flight sleep was impossible. Finally, I ended all slumber attempts after a few restless hours. I threw on biking shorts, a wicking Under Armour, grabbed my inhaler and went searching for the resort’s workout room. I trotted out the hotel’s front door seeing my breath and wishing I threw on a coat. It was dark. I could make out a thin, rocky black line in the distance, the top of the mountains. Below the line was blackest black. Soon mountains would emerge with dawn’s light dominating a long flat desert plane, a geographical runner, a Turkish rug of burnt umber, sage grass and cacti.
It was so dark I sensed my way through the parking lot and over to the workout room. Nothing moved, birds were silent and cars didn’t drive down the street in front of the hotel. Something seemed different this morning. An early thought glimpsed when I flicked on my room’s lights disappeared quickly. I knew something was missing but couldn’t get the lost thought back, it was hopelessly gone but still irritatingly close. I started running finding a smooth, easy rhythm never getting closer to my escaped thought.
For the rest of the morning I had a vague sense of losing something important. What I know now, but couldn’t have then, is I had just taken the first steps toward Infinite Inventory.
What is Infinite Inventory?
Infinite Inventory is a kind of retail Nirvana. In the late 1880’s America’s was thirty-eight states, sixty million people, expanding railroads and a reliable post office making it possible to stay in contact with far-flung family. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, but it would be years before most saw let alone owned a phone.
Around this time, a railroad man named Richard Warren Sears happened to buy and resell an unwanted order of men’s watches for a tidy profit. In 1893 Sears met Alvah C. Roebuck and the expensive dominant retail force of a town’s General Store’s was all but over. The Sears and Roebuck Catalog became a lifeline, institution and retail revolution. Variable pricing was replaced by printed prices easy for all to see and understand. Guarantees, good customer service, clarity and simplification allowed Sears and Roebuck to sell anything and everything from homes to clothes for men, women, children and babies.
Sears’ eclectic retail expression, something Richard Sears called “ The Cheapest Supply House on Earth," claiming "Our trade reaches around the World,” was the first expression of Infinite Inventory. Barriers were low. Rural catalog delivery was free, printing was cheap, and postal rates of a penny a delivered catalog meant the company’s obsessive hunting and gathering could grow without limit. The Sears and Roebuck Catalog, also known as The Big Book, was the first expression of the category killing nature of Infinite Inventory. There is a magic moment in the history of any successful business when its model grows so powerful it blots out the sun, moon and every competitor. The Big Book and Sears’ growing retail empire reined supreme post turn-of-the-century America.
If Richard Sears is Infinite Inventory’s Great Grandfather, Roland Macy is Infinite Inventory’s creative Great Uncle. Macy opens his “fancy dry goods store” downtown in 1858. At the turn of the century Macy’s moved to its now famous “World’s Largest Store” location at 34th and Herald Square. Sears and Roebuck innovated the printed page, Macy changed what a “dry goods” store could be and do. Macy’s flagship store was the first store to include Santa, wooden escalators and a holiday parade. Macy’s at Herald Square is Infinite Inventory as experience on ten floors with 500,000 items. Spend thirty seconds with each Macy item and it would take a full week to “shop” The World’s Largest Store’s Infinite Inventory.