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Blog Posts for January 2007

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The other day, I left a comment on Susan Willett Bird's blog, Bird's Eye View, which is an exceptional blog for its content. I first noticed the blog through Tom Peters' blogroll. Susan's company, Wf360, helps companies converse better, both within and without.

The comment was in response to a great definition of conversation that she gave, which was that

the great conversations are those that we start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person. Conversations are true exchanges in which both parties are, in at least some small way, transformed.
That's beautiful, and worthy of a lot of thought. In fact, Susan had two more posts about conversation, here and here. Throughout the thread of posts in her blog, emails with me and others, and her own thinking, Susan showed that she emerged a changed person on the other side. In the blogosphere, she's a rare bird... (pun intended).

I mentioned it to my friend, Mike Sansone, who then continued the discussion.

By listening with intent on finding discovery, lend a selfless ear. Sometimes the speaker grows more than the listener.

Sometimes, we don't know what we know - until we articulate it.

Which is the importance of writing. It hones and clarifies our thinking. We're more succinct.

Conversation can take place everywhere - not just in person, but in blogs, comments, text messages, and email - if we only listen to what the other person will share with us. It goes beyond just the superficial. We sometimes use email and text messages to communicate, but not necessarily to converse.

"Don't forget to pick up the kids tonight at 5:30."
"My day's been crazy. How about u?"
"I'll bring the project documents to the meeting. Do you folks have a copier nearby?"

Not much depth there. In fact, the more busyness in our business, the less likely we are to have conversation that changes us. We're process at that point, and not outcome.

And yet the goal of all business is a win-win situation. The only way that we get there is by listening, which comes by asking questions.

And all of this dovetails with something I read about the silliness of conventional surveys, which ask the wrong questions by querying for demographics.

Does it matter which gender I am? Which age? The zip code in which I live? My income? By asking me these questions, you only want to know how to sell to me. Jeffrey Gitomer would be outraged at such a pathetic attempt, and yet that is the common practice of marketing today.

What if instead we asked questions in surveys to better know our customer and learn to meet their needs, instead of meeting our sales goals? What if survey questions actually asked questions that helped the surveyed to better know themselves?

Let's blow that out... what if we made the attempt to have every communication become conversation where we could explore the other person?

The limitation there? Time. And yet isn't time an investment into the lives of others that shows that we care about them?

From a blog post, a larger dialogue has emerged. It certainly has my wheels a-turnin'. Thanks to Susan and Mike for a great conversation.

by Brett Rogers, 1/1/2007 5:21:19 PM


This morning, as I'm browsing around on the various sites that I visit, I decide that I want to discover the blogs of some of my favorite authors. One of whom is Po Bronson, who wrote a very interesting book, What Should I Do With My Life? The book was not a self-help book, but instead a collection of stories about people in the midst of change and how they dealt with the changes they faced.

He's written a new book, Why Do I Love These People? It's a book about families.

Bronson's is an unromantic view of family life; its foundations, he believes, are not soul-mate bonding or dramatic emotional catharses, but steady habits of hard work and compromise, realistic expectations and the occasional willingness to sever a relationship that's beyond repair. But he also has an optimistic view of today's crazy-quilt of blended and unconventional families, reassuring commitment-shy young adults that "the golden era of family is not in our past, it's in our future."
The thing I enjoyed most in Po's first book was how he would ask questions of the people he met. You could feel him learning along with the other person. He wasn't just chronicling a moment in their life, but exploring the possibilities with them.

It's not often that people have a chance to immerse themselves into the life of a stranger and explore them with a quick trust. I had an opportunity to do something like that when I washed windows for folks in the suburbs back in the 80's. I talk more about the experience in a previous post...

In the course of my travels with these people, I encountered many different types of families and styles of family. One family was two teachers in Philomath, Oregon, and their two kids. Right away, they apologized for the mess. That was common, no matter how clean it actually was. But they had the most 70's shag carpet I had ever seen in their home at the top of a large hill that overlooked the Willamette Valley toward the Cascades. As I went from window to window, each sill was decorated with some momento from previous students and from their kids. What I recall most is the mood of great ease, in how they lived and they spoke to each other. Anyone could be comfy there.

Contrast that with the very dolled-up woman who greeted me in Modesto, California, in her white stucco home surrounded by black iron fence. Elaborate Spanish tile, tight light-gray carpet that covered the spiral staircase to the upstairs, immaculate kids' rooms... and she was on the phone the whole time. The cleaners, the decorators, her mother, a friend. She would pop in and out of the room I was in to check on me, just looking, give a slight nod of approval, and then disappear into another part of the house.

People are all so different and fascinating to get to know. That's why I liked Po's first book and why I'll buy the second.

by Brett Rogers, 1/3/2007 8:29:31 AM

Ivory Tower vs. Cowboy Entrepreneurialism

Bob Nardelli was the CEO of Home Depot, but left the company because there was too much clamor for him to leave. He wasn't beloved by anyone. So yeah, his severance package is worth sour discussion, but here's why he failed in his job:

Mr. Nardelli set out to stamp out the decentralized "cowboy culture" of the company. Home Depot's founders had allowed store managers to run their stores as autonomous fiefdoms with little regard for uniformity or efficiency. This entrepreneurial spirit had made Home Depot one of the hottest growth stocks ever, and its store count doubled nearly every four years. Its surging stock price made hundreds of early employees millionaires.

Mr. Nardelli's management style was a stark contrast to that of Home Depot's paternalistic founders, Bernard Marcus and Mr. Blank, who were treated like heroes during store tours and personally tutored employees on customer service. Mr. Nardelli often appeared uncomfortable donning the retailer's trademark orange apron and dealing with front-line employees one-on-one.

He didn't know the customers, he didn't trust the store managers, and he sqaushed the "can-do" entrepreneurial attitude of the employees. Where was the "up" in hiring the man?

Aside from those who took the risk in starting a successful company in the first place, no one is worth a severance package of $220 million. A founder might have grown their company to earn that much, but then that's just the reward on their investment, and not a severance package.

So what are the founders of Home Depot doing these days? One of them is into philanthropy. Bernie Marcus gave a $15 million grant to Georgia Tech for nanotechnology research. But buried in the article is a great discussion of why Wal-Mart is great and why we shouldn't fear progress:

What about creative destruction and workforce displacement?

Progress does not displace people. Progress creates jobs. Every time. I remember when I first went to a supermarket and everyone cried out, "You are going to put the small grocer out of business." But then you had to look at the other side. The product got cheaper. As more people could afford it, the farmers produced more. Truckers had to ship more. Consumers had more options due to those efficiencies. The Home Depot hired hundreds of thousands of people and more products had to be sold and manufactured and shipped. As a result, a lot more people were employed because of big, efficient businesses than several fragmented, small businesses. And consumers are better off.

Everyone is always up in arms when a Wal-Mart opens, but when you offer them $4 prescriptions, they love it. Do you have any clue how much money that frees up and how much more money can go back into the economy? Think of the horse and carriage. Everyone took one, and the buggy whip business was a great business. Then along came the car and people stop using the horse and carriage and the buggy whip manufacturer eventually went out of business. Was that a bad thing? No. Consumers benefited because they could now go from New York to California in a few days as opposed to a month. Likewise, the airplane. It's constantly getting faster. It used to take three flights to get cross country. Now it takes five hours. In a few years it will probably take only an hour.

No wonder this guy was a success - he understands the marketplace and the workforce.

Nardelli's mistake was micromanagement. Politicians often do this with taxes and regulations. Bernie Marcus, wise man that he is, knows that people do best when allowed to find their own way and are rewarded for doing so, be it a store manager of Home Depot trying to solve problems for customers or Joe Lunchbox trying to find a job in this big marketplace.

Displacement is the way of progress, and progress these days happens mighty fast.

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less". - General Eric Shinseki

You have to trust the wisdom of the crowd to find its own way and not seek to manage it. Because you can't. No one can. Trust and reward - it's a better way.

by Brett Rogers, 1/4/2007 1:27:25 PM

Your Custom Drive-Time Audio Show

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the convenience of being able to listen to my favorites blogs via audio. My own custom radio station, if you will. What if Instapundit could be read to me while I drive around town? Or BuzzMachine? Or while I'm at work? Reading is a singular activity - and while some reading requires a singular focus, most can casually play in the background. Just like talk radio today. I can listen to Public Radio or Rush Limbaugh while multi-tasking. I like that, but in those media I can't control the content. I must tune in at 10 AM here in Des Moines to listen to Glenn Beck. I must be listening on Saturday to hear "Whad'Ya Know."

I want control. I want my content and I want it portable.

Conversation is more than just words. In fact, communication is only 10% verbal. In a remote world of email and text messages and IM, we've created smileys and emoticons to convey the remaining non-verbal communication. But it's still not enough. As a whole, people generally don't like reading. Talk radio and books on tape and podcasts are quite popular. People like the communication in their ear. Voice conveys the nuances we miss in reading the words of others.

I also mentioned in recent post that video isn't searchable. Nor is a podcast. You see occasional references to fast-forwarding to 7:12 in the audio or video to see a relevant portion. Neither of these formats offers a way to hyperlink to a specific section to hear or watch it. But text is searchable...

So what if the transcript of audio and video were made available and each word was hyperlinked to that section of the audio/video where that word was spoken? We could use the transcript, the searchable words, to jump to the portion of the broadcast that we wanted.

Let's go further...

Mike Sansone tells me that blogtalkradio allows me to call a phone number and have my podcast recorded via phone. It can be just me, or a conference call with others. The whole thing is then transformed into an mp3 file and made available for me to offer as a podcast. Very slick and it's a free service.

Many businesses offer their employees an 800 number for teleconferences. Everyone dials the number and the passcode and 10 or 20 or 1,000 people can join the call. And this service can record the entire call. Some services can also record the video or PowerPoint presentation. That's great. But what if it also made the conversation available via transcript-hyperlinked mp3 or mpeg files?

Imagine the busy executive, who hears that the two-hour conversation in a project meeting today went bad. Normally, they would just call the project manager or other trusted source and ask what happened. But what if they could listen in to exactly that section of the meeting while on the drive home? They could scour the transcript, listen to the audio, or even watch the video at a time convenient to them.

Would businesses pay for such a service? You betcha.

Would people love to easily have control to compose the content of their own drive-time audio if they could? You betcha.

I think all of the technology to make this doable exists. Who will cobble it together to make it happen?

ETC: Jeff K gives me a link that leads me to Podscope, a site that does much of what I describe here. Very cool.

by Brett Rogers, 1/5/2007 12:51:47 PM

Meaningful, Purposeful, Worthwhile Work

Jennifer Rice is a brand marketing pro who became disillusioned with her job. I found her web site through Tom Peters two months ago, and found her thoughtful, but her last post was in August. Bummer.

This morning, however, that I find that she's writing again. The end of her hiatus was brought on by a reconnection with her passion:

I've been struggling with the age-old dilemma of doing something that satisfies the soul OR doing something that pays the rent. I've thought about teaching, writing, coaching, counseling… even moving to some godforsaken place in the world in order to "make a difference." One thing I haven't thought about until recently is whether I could make a difference in my own profession.
She resolves it by choosing "to work with companies who are either doing something they believe in, or else they recognize the need to create a purposeful brand." And thus, she is reinvigorated.

The comments section for this post had some good things to say. (The drag about RSS feeds is that they don't convey the conversation between the blog author and the audience. Sure, some blogs show comments via RSS, but they typically span every post and don't show up as conversation within a post. Why not tell the whole story?)

In the comments, a fella named Scott quotes Howard Thurman saying, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs - ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

I'm reading 12 Elements, which is a book that describes the great relationship between the employee and good management. The eight element is "a connection with the mission of the company." When people believe in what they're doing and find it worthwhile, they're more satisfied.

If a job were just a job, it really wouldn't matter where someone worked. A good paycheck, decent benefits, reasonable hours, and comfortable working conditions would be enough. The job would serve its function of putting food on the table and money in the kids' college accounts. But a uniquely human twist occurs after the basic needs are fulfilled. The employee searches for meaning in her vocation. For reasons that transcend the physical needs fulfilled by earning a living, she looks for her contribution to a higher purpose. Something within her looks for something in which to believe.
The folks who published 12 Elements are the same ones who published Now, Discover Your Strengths.

If we spend our time trying to fix our weaknesses, we waste time. These are our weaknesses and we try to be something that we're not.

If we spend our time building on our strengths, we magnify who we are and we expand what we can achieve. That's time well spent.

Jennifer was obviously in the right field, but lost connection with why she was doing it. She wanted not just the job that emphasized her strengths, she sought the motivation of meaning.

Customers seek the same thing from their purchases today. It's one thing to buy a cake. It's another to have it served to you. It's yet another to have it wrapped around a memorable event. At that level, customers are most deeply satisfied.

A manager of mine once told me that every employee has the same job description: "To build in the customer not just the desire but the burning desire to return again and again." The best way to achieve that is to find or create employees who have not just the desire but the burning desire to return to their work again and again.

A book written about wisdom gleaned from Starbucks, Tribal Knowledge, has this to say (#32):

The best internal culture a company could hope for is one where the employees are so loyal they spread word of the company and its product with fierce passion, a culture where employees go way beyond being minions to being missionaries.

Turning minions into missionaries can only happen if the employees truly believe in the company. The company with missionary employees is one where the workforce is there because it wants to be, not because it needs to be. These employees talk about the quality of the company itself, the values the company endorses, the way in which their lives are enhanced because of it.

This is where employees see their employment not as a job, but as a lifestyle. The company speaks of them. It's part of their identity. They're quick to tell anyone why they do what they and they're quick to explain how they try to enrich the lives of others. Their job work is meaningful, purposeful, and worthwhile. That's the difference between a thrilling day-by-day experience and just phoning it in Monday through Friday.

Meaning and purpose matter.

by Brett Rogers, 1/6/2007 12:30:38 PM

Kelly Blogs!

A good friend of mine and commenter here on BeatCanvas has turned himself over to the dark side. He's now a blogger. World, meet Kelly Steele.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/7/2007 1:46:35 PM

SecondLife Goes Open Source

I read in several blogs today that SecondLife is going open source.

Meaning all of us (yes, I’m looking at you) can now not just build things in the online virtual world but can actually change how the online world operates.
So if I own a company, and I want to know how my complicated product might be received in the real world, this announcement is huge. I can prototype and get reaction first and with far less cost in the virtual world. I wonder how many programming jobs this will spawn?

by Brett Rogers, 1/9/2007 7:28:42 AM

Chad Blogs!

Must be a New Year's resolution... another friend of mine just opened his blog. World, meet Chad Holtz.

Goodness... with two friends in a week, who's next? I have several friends who should be blogging but aren't. Yet. They will though. They're too opinionated to remain quiet.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/9/2007 9:26:35 AM

Project Management Tweaked

Project management needs to be tweaked, particularly for large and lengthy projects. In project after project that I see, the same problems repeat themselves:

  • Sponsors, especially money-managing sponsors, get too much weight in the evaluation of what's ultimately implemented
  • Actual users of the system, whatever it might be, aren't consulted nearly enough or early enough and aren't given the voice they need to make it successful when they are engaged
  • The lengthier the project, the less likely it is to meet the needs of the business because there's no agility - gotta stick to the requirements document, don't you know (which was older then and couldn't know what we know now)
  • The project team, cobbled together from available resources, doesn't know each other typically and so many skills are squandered for the definitive roles in which they are cast
All of this leads to projects that over-promise, under-deliver, and ultimately waste money. Project management becomes a game of horseshoes, where close enough is good enough. Instead of maximizing the benefit of every dollar spent on the effort, we're satisfied with some measure of return on the company's investment. Pish posh. Customers and co-workers and stockholders deserve better.

Sponsors, the money-managing ones, are necessary. I don't mean to belittle their importance, but they should never dictate what's implemented. They generally don't know the business at the level of implementation. Or if they do, they knew it when they worked at that level, and in most cases, business has changed since then. Their expertise, whatever it might be, should take a back seat to those in the trenches now.

What typically happens, though, is that the project plan is presented to the sponsor and then features are questioned and the project team is told, "You don't need that. What's that for?" And because it's the sponsor, it's thrown out. Users grouse. Off to a good start already.

Users - those in the trenches - generally aren't pulled in until later. "Gee, I wish I would have spoken with you / known about you earlier," someone on the project team will eventually say. It's not uncommon to have intermediaries between the users and those implementing, and those folks tend to inflate their own expertise. The point is: there is no substitute for direct meetings between the user and the implementer. Less is lost in translation, assumptions are driven out more quickly, and buy-in by the user base generates good will. All we need to do is listen. Where's the harm in that?

Budgets and schedules are generally based on the BRD, or the business requirements document. This document is built during the planning phase of the project. But instead of being the scaffolding it needs to be, it becomes the foundation. If changes are made, then they have to go back through the change request process which invites design by committee and sponsor-domination. I completely understand why there's a need for this process. Budgets and schedules matter, but here's where things go awry.

Rather than kick it back to the project team and the users to figure out how to rework things to meet budget and schedule, executive decisions are made and the project changes from the top-down, and not the other way around. There's no flexibility to design a solution with the elegance of better knowledge. Good design is, unfortunately, lost.

Part of the problem is that the project team is assembled from available parts. While I'm a big fan of the wisdom of crowds and I think that diversity is good for a team, research shows that surgeons who work at multiple hospitals are most effective in those hospitals where they have the most time with a surgical team. There is no truth to surgeon portability. Think about it: when you work with the same team over and over again, your efficiency goes up. Likewise for project teams. You know each other, and you know strengths and weaknesses for everyone. (I don't have a link to source the study, but I'll find that and post it later.)

Not all projects require a finely-honed team, but if it's a long-term or complicated project, adding newness of personalities and talents to the project only furthers the complication of the project. Not a great way to do business. (Which I think invites the question: is there really any efficiency gained by assigning people to multiple projects with people they've never met or barely know? Or is it better to have the same team work together, even if this leaves some space for additional allocation?)

My prescription: create core teams. Know the strengths of the team and let those in the team know each other well. Let them move together to resolve the problems that projects aim to solve. Involve users from the beginning and have the core team work with the users during the planning phase to arrive at the right design. All budget and scheduling should be okay'ed by financial sponsors, but feature / design / implementation decisions must be made by the core team after dialogue with the users to determine the ramifications of these decisions.

Yeah, a kick-off meeting can help alleviate the problem of newness, but c'mon... if I've worked with you closely for the last year, no single kick-off meeting can create that synergy. Spread that across a team and you only multiply the problem.

In part, this was prompted by a meeting that I had yesterday with a person who needed to see some web development that I had done. They'd never seen my development or this particular corprorate web site I'd built before. After seeing the work I'd done, they looked at me and said, "I had no idea you could do this." This is relevant because I worked on a project with this person for 4 months last year. Had they and the others on the team known this side of me, some of what I said on the project might have had more weight and might have allowed us to create a solution more quickly. But as it was, I wasn't as useful to the team as I could have been. Some of that is my fault - perhaps I should have pressed harder and demonstrated my chops, if you will. But the team had been together on this project for a while already and I was the new guy, so my opinions had less weight.

Each of us has passions and talents that aren't known to those with whom we work. In my opinion, HR should bank every talent and passion we have and make it available in a database. A resume and skills inventory is not enough. I've written about that before. But it's better if we work side-by-side with a core team. Then we know how what we offer meshes with those on the team to produce the greatest results. That will help bring projects to a robust solution and completion.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/10/2007 11:22:41 AM

Ga-Ga for the iPhone - or Not

When I first read about the iPhone, my gadget genes got excited. What an amazing device! But then I read that the iPhone is only available through Cingular. What kind of stupidity is that? That kind of thinking forgets that I'm locked into my contract with Sprint for two years.

I'm not totally surprised that Jobs would proprietize the carrier - Apple doesn't really play with others well in the first place. But c'mon... what a boneheaded move.

ETC: Thinking about it... maybe Apple's deep desire is to not have broad accessibility to their products. People want what they don't have? Maybe that drives up the mystique. Playing hard to get with the market... hmm...

In the comments, Pale Rider is right - Apple reaped big, I'm sure, from Cingular, which got the exclusive deal. And it has him thinking of staying now with Cingular.

by Brett Rogers, 1/11/2007 10:15:20 AM


A broken bone, set well, will repair stronger than before it broke.

A broken bone, set incorrectly, will be weaker and more likely to break again.

Sometimes, in relationships, no matter how long ago an event has happened, there's hurt, and in the aftermath of it, people repair. The repair happens to each person and to the relationship itself. But it's often the case that we don't know how to reset what was broken. We do what we think is best, and we mend. It heals, but it's off. It looks right, but with the right movement, we're aware again of the pain. It never repaired as it should.

A doctor will look at it and, without hesitating, will break it again, set the bone right, and then let it heal.

How do you do that in a relationship? Harder question: how do you do that in a years-old relationship?

Everyone copes with hurt in their own way. We set about doing what we think is the right thing to do. Sometimes we think of the other person. Sometimes we think of ourselves. But we proceed as seems best after a hurtful incident. It's hard to tell when what was broken has been reset correctly. X-rays of the body tell the tale explicitly. Relationships have no x-rays available to them. Only the wince of familiar pain later can show the evidence of what has been poorly set, and it's sometimes hard to recognize this for what it is.

It hurts to reset a bone. You start over, really. It starts with the admission that it wasn't done right. That requires honesty. It is what it is, and if it's broken, it's broken.

And then the re-alignment. More honesty. There's nothing mamby pamby about taking the broken ends and lining them straight and then setting them against each other. The effort is strenuous and painful. It's raw. But it's the only way to do it.

I don't know that when it comes to old hurts healed improperly that it takes both people to address it, but it does at least take one. The other person might notice that things don't line up like they once did, and that will feel weird, but at least someone is being honest and working for the right connection.

Straight vision with straight talk produces straight bones. Set well, they'll repair stronger than they were.

And that? That's called "health."

by Brett Rogers, 1/11/2007 10:08:34 PM


Lots of things are changing. Social networks run amok and revamp the way we market. "Experts" aren't so much experts any more because the Internet is the research tool that makes any Joe Bag o'Donuts smarter. Less consultation, more collaboration. Less selling, more invitation.

The workplace is also changing. Wave of the future? Check this out:

When our passions become our job, the workplace is not the office, but a lifestyle. That's the moment at which we might tattoo the company logo on our body. It's part of us and we identify with it.

If you were to ask what area of the company will be the most changed 10 years from now, some might suggest the marketing department. Some might suggest production or product services. Me? I'd say HR. A company is the sum of its people. The more deeply a company can tap into the rich resource of its people, the more energy and customer orientation each employee will bring to their work.

by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2007 8:25:07 AM


Our friend, Kelly, took this with the light diffuser on his Canon 20D.

He also took this of Dochas, our dog. She didn't really care much for the camera.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2007 8:53:26 AM


A recent study gave the news that over half of 3,000 women surveyed would not choose again their husband. Remarry the guy? No way.

Other interesting facts from the survey...

  • 76% of married women keep secrets from their husbands
  • 84% of all American wives would want to be told if their husbands were cheating
  • 49% of them have suspected or even caught their husband having an affair
  • 39% flirt with other men constantly
  • 32% sleep on the opposite end of the bed from their husband
It makes me want to run out and buy these folks a really good book or something...

ETC: Tamara reads this and says to me, "And the men?" So I searched, and found a survey with a difference of opinion:

  • When the 1,001 married people surveyed were asked if they would marry their spouse all over again, 71% agreed they would.
  • 62% of respondents said "I love my spouse even more than when we were first married."
  • 61% of respondents married for 21 years or more find their marriage is better than the typical American marriage.
The first is from Womans Day magazine. The seond is from Reader's Digest. Is it the difference in audience? We are what we read?

And from the guys in the second survey:

In the survey, participants were asked to write verbatim answers to questions regarding their marriage. In reviewing the hundreds of responses from men, researchers were struck at the preponderance of highly emotional, positive and sensitive responses. The comments were in strong contrast to common stereotypes of men as emotionally detached. When asked to describe their most cherished marriage moments, men said:

- "Kissing in the Snow."
- "The look of joy and happiness on her face as she came toward me at the altar."
- "The first and every time we make love."
- "I can't believe how lucky I am to have the woman of my dreams. I cherish every moment of every day that I'm with her."

Yep. Us guys are romantic too. Speaking for myself, I love reading with Tamara and talking with her. And kissing her... mercy. That alone might be responsible for signs of global warming lately.

by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2007 8:58:43 AM

Sonic Sketch, Driving on Ashworth Road

I recorded this on my way across town the other day. I made it up as I drove along, but I might want to circle back to it some day...

by Brett Rogers, 1/14/2007 2:54:31 PM


I don't know Charles H. Green. Never read his books. Never attended his speeches or visited his company. But I do read his blog.

Today, he has a brilliant post about how we all deal with each other. I don't want to steal his thunder by redoing what he has written, but in essence, he remakes pop psychology's "I'm OK; You're OK" into the far more valid:

"I'm an idiot, you're an idiot. So let's get over it, let's work together and let's do something great."
Then he gives this, which is what he sees as the true positives of this mindset:
  • We don't wast time posturing
  • There are no dumb questions
  • We are free to help each other
  • The Not-Invented-Here syndrome Disappears
  • We can seek each other's advice - and offer it freely
  • We can produce some really, truly, scary good work.
What really happens if we lower our expectations of each other and forgive each other now and in advance and often and set about accomplishing the remarkable? It's the goal, not the process, that counts, and it will be wonderfully messy along the way - and we'll have a great time and maybe achieve the fantastic.

There's freedom in being able to be an idiot. There's freedom in others who allow us to be idiots - and love us anyway. There's freedom in accepting the idiocy of others.

Conformists never change the world. Those "stupid" enough to try something different do change the world. Yes, it might look like idiocy in the process, but the results can be breathtaking.

I like to think we can keep the edge. A Netscape programmer in the heady early days of Web 1.0 wrote, "We come into this world naked, bloody and screaming; but if you play your cards right, it doesn't have to stop."

by Brett Rogers, 1/15/2007 7:41:40 AM

So Last Week

The iPhone has been hailed as revolutionary. But to me, it feels very last week. Yes, as a phone it melds together many different devices - cool. But since it is tied to Cingular, I'm not in its reach. As is true with millions of others.

For some reason, I'd completely forgotten Skype in all this, but Tom Evslin reminded me of it. He also shows the economics behind this: "the network operators subsidize the cost of the phones to us endusers in order to get us to sign long term contracts with them."

Let’s do a thought experiment: There are lots of users of Verizon Wireless in the US. Many of them are not going to be willing to switch to Cingular because Verizon really does have better coverage in many places. But they can’t get a Verizon iPhone according to this announcement. If they want music and video integrated on their phone, they WON’T be able to get it on Apple device. So now there’s a huge opportunity for a competitor in the entertainment space that Apple currently owns.
At first I thought that maybe Apple was somehow genius by limiting the availability of the phone, and acting like the gorgeous woman at the bar shooing away guys and making them want her all the more. But I gave Apple too much credit.

Did you see Seth Godin's list of how to make a revolutionary cell phone?

As my cell phone starts acting weird lately, from too many drops, I suppose, I'm thinking of what phone I might get. But even if I were a Cingular customer, I don't think I'd get the iPhone. I have a feeling a truly revolutionary phone isn't far away. There's too much opportunity to get it right when no one else has.

by Brett Rogers, 1/15/2007 8:44:23 AM


How do you define credibility? How do you know that someone is credible? How do you know that their word is golden?

My answer: they do what they say they will do.

That sounds easy, but it's not. In fact, most of us willingly agree to the tasks that people ask us to do, whether at work or at home, until we find ourselves overburdened and stressed out.

Is your to-do list packed? Is it so packed that it affects your credibility?

Remember: it's okay to let some items that come your way to end up on your to-don't list.

Credibility is hard to earn and harder to earn back. Don't squander it away in an eagerness to please others.

by Brett Rogers, 1/16/2007 5:32:53 PM

The Death of the Blogroll

I come not to praise the blogroll, but to bury it. The problem with the blogroll is that it is too static. I have no idea if half those links are alive or dead. I have no clue when the last post was for a given blog, although some blogrolls give a kind of visual cue to suggest that it was recently updated.

Seen Netvibes? Pageflakes? These allow you to create a page full of RSS feeds. So what if the blogroll was replaced by a page entitled, "What I'm Reading," and it showed the blogs that would have been listed on a blogroll, but instead showed the most recent post from all the blogs that I do read?

Andy Brudtkuhl did something like this when he created Central Iowa Bloggers' News River page. This page takes the most recent posts of a bunch of us Iowa bloggers and streams them together.

Now combine the two concepts and I think that's a much better presentation of the soon-to-be-dead blogroll.

This replacement should appear almost like contacts in a contact list. Picture, name, blog link, description of the blog, perhaps a statement on why I read it regularly, and then the blog's most recent post. Then when people see my blogroll, they get a much better understanding of why I browse the blogs that I do.

And of course, at the end of it all, a link to the OPML feed so that they can import it into their news reader. But better if I can checkmark those that interest me and then create a dynamic OPML file for myself based on the blogs in the list that I fancied.

I wish I had time to work on this, but I don't. I'm very busy with wedding plans and moving into a new house. But if you like the idea, how would you tweak it to make this concept better?

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/18/2007 8:47:10 AM

I Don't Get It

Your son has been missing for four years. He turns up, alive, thank God. So what do you do? You humiliate him on national TV?

The parents of a Missouri teen told Oprah Winfrey in a show airing Thursday that their son hasn't told them directly but they believe he was sexually abused during the more than four years he was missing.

"OK, I'm going to go there and ask you, what do you think happened? Do you think he was sexually abused?" Winfrey asked Craig and Pam Akers, parents of 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck.

Both nodded and said, "Yes."

Wasn't this, like, a week ago that he was found? Exactly how emotionally scarred do these parents want this kid to be? How is a public confession of this nature a step toward a normal life for their 15-year-old son? Why was that necessary? How will his peers at school treat him for this?

Good gravy... send away the cameras, conduct no interviews, get into counselling, and just -be- the family you haven't been for a while. Celebrate his return. Play Scrabble, cards, Jenga... go for a picnic, take a vacation together, see a movie... barbecue on the deck, go for a walk, go shopping... anything that smacks of time together to reacquaint and settle into the regular and the familiar. But don't go on Oprah.

Discretion, fer cryin' out loud...

by Brett Rogers, 1/19/2007 8:09:33 AM


Tamara and I have started combining households and though my joints are achy from all that lifting and carrying, I'm happy. This is the fireplace room. It has a great view of the deck and the trees in the backyard.

The living room and dining room are taking shape.

We went up yesterday and had a belated Christmas with my folks and all the kids. Schedules are hectic, but it was a good day of cards and laughter and giving.

Just a few days ago, Tamara showed me my ring. It's beautiful and perfect.

I asked her recently what goals she has for our marriage. What does she want out of it? She gave me a great list.

I think I'll ask her this every once in a while. Goals change. Needs change. It's good to sometimes reassess and change with what's changing.

What we do, we do together. I'm ready. And I'm happy. I've had butterflies in the stomach before and all that, but there's something quite different in her presence. It's a very physical sense of rightness. It's as though every cell in my body mouths a silent "Yes..." when I am with her.

It's very cool.

by Brett Rogers, 1/22/2007 2:35:48 PM


Ceding ownership is a hard thing to do. People are territorial. They like what is theirs and they don't willingly give it up, in most cases. Whether it's income given up for taxes, or an ex-spouse married anew, or words written that get pilfered by someone else - those things that belong to us matter to us and we want control over them.

For quite some time, media companies have "owned" the channels by which we observe the world. Of course, blogging and YouTube and podcasting have reclaimed for the average citizen that ground most holy: attention. Media companies can't control what gets our attention these days. And it's driving them nuts.

Other channels will soon open up. Think of those places where distribution is tightly maintained. Like the financial industry. Deeply regulated, a corporate entity can't give a penny to someone without the government wanting to perform an anal exam. Sure, some companies get by with some shenanigans, but it's rare. Regulations actually do protect the consumer. But they can't for much longer...

In this global society connected by the Internet, where 10 years ago I bought music in a store, there are no music stores any longer. 10 years... think about that. That is nothing, really.

And so now that people buy their music online, and the media companies want to retain control of the content. More regulation. Lawsuits. Sites like Napster and Kazaa get entangled in legal trouble. But then comes an outfit who wants to dismiss the legalities and they want to buy their own island to forego international laws. They want to be their own country.

Yeah, I know. It sounds far-fetched. It probably won't work. But you know, it's simply a metaphor: control is pointless. Jeff Jarvis says it well:

And we should look at this from a distributed perspective: The lesson of Yahoo and Google is that owning something is less desirable than enabling a network you donít own.
What an interesting thought: relax the control and enable the network...

It was once the case that space travel was the stuff of NASA, the agency that epitomized government with a can-do attitude. Then comes Burt Rattan and NASA looks like a bloated pig inefficiently producing unwieldy and dangerous solutions. The nerve of us common folk...

What happens when a highly regulated industry is subjugated by a little startup that skirts law and distributes the network to everyone? What's not attractive about enabling people?

The resort, which is only temporary, for the big companies and the government is then to up the regulation. But it won't work. Even if such legislation is passed here in the US, it's only a matter of time before some country elsewhere, existing or new, safehouses such enterprise.

Any industry that has digitized products or services that can be run digitally is at risk. How long is 10 years? Is it long before you bank online in another country, free from US regulation?

How long before our graduates here consider jobs in Taiwan with just as much consideration as they do a job in Topeka?

The smart business will get ahead of the regulation now, by steering the law necessary to compete in the future and by tryintg to reduce it as much as possible. Will Congress and the president listen? They hardly understand the web today...

The financial sector hasn't been hit by this yet. But when it does hit, no one will be prepared. I expect that it will change everything. 10 years isn't a very long time...

Which will be the financial company to enable the network?

by Brett Rogers, 1/24/2007 8:39:08 AM

Busy Busy

I'll be posting again later today with pictures and such, but Tamara and I continue to try and make some sense of the mess of our newly combined homes. Hoo boy... it's quite a chore!

Friday, our satellite TV got hooked up and yesterday I watched the University of California at San Diego's presentation of Grey Matters, and a speaker presented on the topic of memory. He said, "Memory is just an extension of perception," and I've been thinking a great about that since then.

More later... off to go unpack S T U F F !

ETC: Last night, we went to the Coach's Corner in West Des Moines at the invitation of Tamara's team. She manages a help desk at work, and her team is probably the most cohesive of any I know where we work.

Tamara let me take her picture before we went out... lovely woman :)

Here's Tamara and John, her right-hand guy:

Tamara and Vicki (front) and Karen (back) and their husbands:

With Valerie and her husband, Terry:

Val coordinated the whole thing and the team got us a beautiful gift: champagne glasses, champagne, the buckets for both, and a blanket. They are all incredibly thoughtful.

From left to right: Travis, Harvey, Jill, Tamara, and Ernest:

Ernest has a new venture and he and I talked a some good length about it. I'll be connecting with him soon. It turns out that Jill and I both know Mike Sansone - but then everyone knows Mike...

(Off-topic sidebar: I'm doing some minor strategic consulting for Paragon and their marketing guy, John, also knows Mike Sansone. Of course!)

Alan and Tamara:

Tamara, Barb, and her husband, Mark:

Barb and Mark got us a nice romantic bottle of wine :)

Left to right: Eric, Christy, Tamara, and Christy's husband, Mark:

And of course, my soon-to-be-bride and me:

What a wonderful night!

by Brett Rogers, 1/28/2007 9:28:05 AM

What Happened to the Artist?

We're almost moved in. I'm hoping that within the next two weeks, I'll have all of my art stuff unpacked and I'll be able to get back at it. I miss it.

I want to do more pen and ink with watercolor sketches. And just more watercolor. Haven't done that for a very long time. What I really wish for is that I can get back to doing two watercolor sketches a week during my lunch breaks. Like this...

Sigh. But now, back to work...

by Brett Rogers, 1/28/2007 9:26:40 PM

Women Rule

If you've had the misconception that the world within computers was a male-dominated arena, you've been mistaken.

"(Though) men tend to be both early adopters of new technologies and avid consumers of the news... women make up slightly more than half of the active Internet universe and we can expect them to play an increasingly significant role in blog consumption."
Women are never a minority and should never be considered so. Any marketing campaign that leans male-ward is in need of reschooling.

I also saw this recently: Single Women Account for 22% of Home Buying Market.

Women bought 1.76 million homes between July 2005 and June 2006, up nearly 14% from a decade ago. In comparison, during the same period, the number of homes purchased by single men accounted for 9% of the home buying market, a figure that has remained unchanged.
Male-oriented marketing may appear successful, but it won't be nearly as successful as when it puts the woman first.

by Brett Rogers, 1/29/2007 7:42:38 AM

Speed Networking the Strategic Consultant

Last night, I attended a speed networking event here in Des Moines. Adam Steen engineered the shindig to take place at the Village Bean. The goal: attract 50 people of diverse backgrounds together to gain introduction and discover synergies and give them 5 minutes to swap pitches and learn about each other.

Take a look at some video of the event. You'll see Mitch Matthews explaining to all of us how it works, then what it looked like in practice, and then the mingle that happened afterward.

I explained to people in my elevator speech that companies hire me as a strategic consultant. I help a company re-discover their strengths by learning who drives their culture internally. I talk to their customers and vendors and learn why people like to do business with them and dig to see how deep that loyalty is. Looking at the company's strengths both internally and externally then enables me to see what blue oceans they might explore to grow their business. My deep IT background, breadth of experience across industries, and artistic creativity help me help them see their business in new ways. All in 45 seconds. Whew!

So who did I meet?

Matthew Clements, of AdWorks

Matthew is a principal of AdWorks, which produces a kiosk to print coupons. They want to position these in airports and get local malls and other retailers to buy ad space. Interesting idea, and it seems like they have a few folks excited about it. He talked of how one local mall developer wanted to place these in ten places. But being a new business, buying all of those kiosks is spendy. If the idea truly has legs, why not get capitalized and shortcut the bootstrap phase? Mitch Matthews and I asked the question at the same time: "Have you talked to Adam?" Money guys are called Vulture Capitalists for a reason, but they're not all cut from the same self-important cloth.

Joe Fitzgibbon, of Farmer's Insurance

Joe handed me a business card with his office manager's name on it. Maybe he grabbed the wrong box on the way out the door to this event.

I asked him how he is differentiating himself in the marketplace. Why is his insurance better than others' insurance? Why is his agency better? What niche can he explode that his competitors haven't? I think it's cool that he showed up, but I don't think he was ready for my questions.

Julie Moore, of Pinnacle Construction

I enjoyed my conversation with Julie. She's 3Ĺ weeks into her new gig as the director of client relations for Pinnacle Construction Group. They compete with the big dogs, like Weitz. So I asked, "Why would I choose Pinnacle?" She responded with "We're smaller. We're personal. We care." Good answer.

Here at home, I looked at her business card and tried to visit her company's web site. I made the mistake of reading the domain as, when it's actually I wonder how many other people do that?

If I could talk to her customers, what would they say? Why did they choose Pinnacle over other commercial contractors? Once they learn those strengths, how can they amplify those for growth? How strong are they in networking with collateral businesses, such as architectural firms? How can they deepen their personal approach in those relationships? People like doing business with those they can consider friends. If I were them, I would blow that angle wide open.

Wade Den Hartog, of Association of Business and Industry Foundation

Wade has a great story. ABI is a business advocate here in Iowa's capitol. He works for the foundation. From the web site, "High school students from across the state of Iowa, and parts of Illinois, attend Business Horizons, a week-long camp where they run their own mock business. Students interact with business leaders to learn about the free enterprise system and work in teams. With volunteer mentors, they design a marketing plan, create a television commercial and deliver an investor presentation." Very cool. Wade comes across very human and engaging and I bet he's quite good at what he does. But his business card doesn't reflect the foundation's generosity of spirit at all, nor does it teach the mission as given above.

I told Wade that as a kid, I had five paper routes. At the age of 12, I made money. What can 12-year-olds do for money today except to catch scraps from their parents' table? It would be cool if the foundation continued to explore ways to allow for the entrepreneurial drive to take root early. I need to follow up with Wade. I want to ask that question and chase that.

Andy Drish

Andy and a partner, both Drake University students, have developed a program to help students with their personal presentations. But no business card, no company, no contact information.

Ginger Johnson, of Snap Creative Works

In a sea of white business cards, Ginger's was green. A great laugh and a personality you don't forget, Ginger wants to help make businesses better. She and I think along similar lines about business growth, so I'm sure that I'll see her again. Wish she had a web site... but she did promise a blog - real soon!

In the absence of a web site, I Googled her, but I get this page.

Amanda Brend, of Siemens

Amanda is a woman in a male engineer's world, and she loves that. She knows that she gets relationships better, is more intuitive, and being a brainy chick, she looks and feels like she is at the top of her game.

I pointed her to Tom Peters' web site.

I came away from the conversation wondering what's next for her.

Anthony Marinaro, of Out of Box

Out of Box does event planning. Anthony and I talked a bit of his plans for a web site. He owns the domain - good - and we talked of how he wants to put the menu and other details online. I told him that every business is a good story. How it got started, how it gets business, how it grows. Does he blog? Not yet. But wouldn't a blog about how he approaches each event and how he helps to make it a success market his business well? I think so.

David Elliott, of Business Network International

I have to confess, David's model was the first I heard where I wondered how viable it was in today's climate. For $295 a year, a person can pay dues to be a part of a closed group of people who do business within that circle. He told of being in the sign business years ago and getting $10K in business within that circle. That makes sense. Within the group, they have a strict agenda for each meeting and no outside speakers. I dunno... it seems to me that the more dots I can connect, the stronger a business can be. Maybe I'm missing this one.

Abby Tjaden, a pharmaceutical rep

I asked Abby, "What makes you stand out from the crowd of other pharmaceutical reps?" Her answer: her appearance. "I'm tall and blond. I'm hard to forget." That's true. I think this was the only time that I felt I talked more about what I do more than the other person talked about themselves.

Mandy Van Maanen, Garrison Organization

Mandy comes across down-to-earth and self-assured. Her job is executive recruiting within the insurance industry. How do you succeed, I queried. Her answer was kind of mystic. I got the impression that she's quite intuitive and that she sizes people up quickly. She's been doing this for 8 years. Garrison isn't a firm of which I've heard. I asked if she knew much about her competitors, and her nonchalance made my question seem irrelevant.

Lauren, a government employee

My final conversationalist was Lauren, who insisted that I not take her picture. She works rather high up in the government here in Iowa and would like to run for office someday. I suggested that she get her future domain early - that it would prove to be a benefit later for her when she was ready to run. But she seemed hesitant.

We talked of campaigns and the phenomenon of Jesse Ventura, who ran for governor of Minnesota with comparatively no money and won. I said that I thought the Internet and his use of grassroots tactics spelled his success. She countered that and insisted that it was the same-day registration of 18- to 25-year-olds attracted to his fame as a wrestler that put him over the top.

Here in Iowa, politicians are particularly clueless about the use of Internet campaigning. What makes a candidate buzzworthy? Did our newly elected governor in Iowa win because he was a Democrat not associated with Bush, or because he radiated great ideas that resonated with people?

I asked her what made for a great campaign. Loyalty, she said. 24/7, stalwart advocacy for the candidate. You could see it in her eyes that she knew this in her heart.

It was an interesting night. What I did notice is that some industries/large companies in the area were notably absent. Sometimes music is found in the notes left off the page.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/31/2007 6:40:17 AM