When Statistics Have Faces

I’ve had my heart stirred in very unexpected ways this week. I’m used to having my mind moved – I often gravitate toward ideas, facts, and numbers.

But sometimes you’re confronted with human faces, and the statistics fade into obscurity, where they often belong.

JamieAs with many others in the social media community, I was profoundly moved this week by the tragic death of a young mother (Jamie Loveless) who died of multiple organ failure after pneumonia triggered, most likely, by the H1N1 virus. Please read the story here. I’m a husband and a parent, and I cannot even imagine the agony of this family. Over the months, as the H1N1 clamor increased, I’ve had my share of commentary on the over-hype of the thing…but now it doesn’t seem so harmless or abstract any more. And certainly not funny. This virus has a face now – Jamie’s face. And it’s heartbreaking.

Also, this week, I attended an ePatient Connection conference. One of the reasons I really enjoyed this event was that I had real-life contact with very real, very human patient bloggers – human beings with names and faces who were not mere statistics or users of products, but people just like you and me. And I learned from them something very stirring and unexpected – disease guilt. How those with even manageable diseases are often haunted by an ongoing sense of guilt for not being “normal.” I awakened to the fact that these very real people with faces and names were undergoing very real emotional turmoil because of conditions that, in many cases, they never had a choice to contract. How easy it has been to simply view patients as…numbers. No more, I hope.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve always hated the term “consumer” – it feels so depersonalized, so statistical. We’re not mere consumers. We’re us. People.

Marketing, and life, and networks, are all about humanity. With faces, names, and souls. And sometimes, very deep sorrows.


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Hitting the Pinnacle of Buzzwords

I freely confess to hating business buzzwords and jargon. Like David Meerman Scott and many others, I find the practice of repeating technical-sounding phrases in an effort to appear knowledgeable to be pompous and counter-productive.

It’s an over-leveraging of verbal resources. Yes, I went there.

Now, at the same time, I love a broad and deep vocabulary. Words like “obfuscation” (which means, if you’re not familiar with it, the use of words to obscure rather than clarify meaning). Obfuscation is a great word that actually nicely describes what buzz-jargon does.

I have found one company (which will remain anonymous) which has managed, over time, to establish a new benchmark in meaningless blather. Every trip to the well of this company’s jargon pool brings forth a new wealth of meaningless bloviation (look it up – another favorite vocabulary word). I thought I’d share just a bit from the latest press release, for your edification and amusement:

____________ today published a strategy pharmaceutical companies can apply to reinvent growth for established drug brands. Addressing the total context of change reshaping the operating environment, the approach shifts the center of gravity in pharmaceutical brand management, focusing on market collaboration and novel linkages to create new health and business value. Available for download through the _________ website, the strategic brief builds on the concept of ‘health ecosystem design’ introduced by _____________ as a new model for competitive strategy, regionalization and employer initiatives, and account-based sales to integrated delivery networks.
_____________ has pioneered a methodology for market strategy defined in 21st-century terms, an approach that enables an evolutionary leap in solutions for growth and competitive advantage. The firm was the first to introduce ‘marketing ecosystems’ as a framework to synthesize strategy, media, content and distribution platforms for in-line products.

Now, I ask you – do you have any CLUE what is being talked about here? Oh, and this company’s tagline now is: A New Grammar for Strategy. Enough said.

Lesson: talk about your business in plain English. Leave obfuscation to the pros….


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Small Talk

Many people who don’t actually “get” Twitter find it easy to dismiss it as a bunch of not-very-social people exchanging useless trivia with fellow avatars.

We know better, of course. But the fact is, that we DO often share a lot of stuff that is, in itself, seemingly trivial. And here’s why I LIKE that:

We’re simply doing what friends, neighbors, and co-workers have done forever. It’s small talk. And it helps build relationships.

SmallTalkYou see, I’m involved in these networks, not just to mine professional information (in which case the discussion I just had this morning about eggs for breakfast would be noise rather than signal), but to build relationships. To pre-meet people. To do what normal people do every day and everywhere – talk about their day, share a picture, rate the wine they just tried, share an amusing story about their dog or kids…whatever. This small talk is the glue that binds us together in humanizing relationships.

It’s great to share links and other resources, and I do it all the time. Twitter is wonderful for that. But I’m building a network of colleagues and friends. And that doesn’t happen without small talk.

Anyone connected to me knows that I upload photos, make bad puns, share personal anecdotes, and seek to be pretty transparent on-line. The reason is simple – I’m not an information machine. I’m a person. And so are you. I like the glimpses into your life, because when I finally meet you, I feel like I already (partly) know you.

For those of us who are solo entrepreneurs, Twitter IS our water cooler. My network of people is my surrogate pool of office-mates. Most people have no clue how valuable it is for me not to be “alone” on a daily basis as I build a business, learn, grow, and explore the world. Yes, I have my “real-life” family and friends right here in NJ, but (because I really hate that distinction) I have my “real-life” network all over the world, and it’s been an absolute pleasure pre-meeting and then meeting many of you.

So, next time someone disses Twitter, simply let them know that they tweet all the time. Just in a smaller pool than you do.

I do wish I was having eggs this morning…


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Hiring for Virtue

trustsummitThis morning, I had the privilege of attending the “Trust Summit” breakfast meeting, featuring Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), Julien Smith (@julien), David Maister (davidmaister.com), and Charlie Green (@charleshgreen). The panel was very engaging, and it was refreshing to hear people of substance and experience reinforcing the idea that the core of business is doing things right, and caring about people.

At one point during the session, as the discussion turned to the type of people who are trustworthy, I put out the following series of tweets:

    I don’t think you can teach virtue. You model it, and you hire virtuous people. Then you train specific behaviors. My 2 cents
    I’d hold that if someone doesn’t have a virtuous approach by the time you’re looking to hire them for biz, it’s too late.
    We should hire FOR basic virtue, not with the hope of imparting what isn’t there. Otherwise, trust will never occur.

Since two of my favorite on-line people,  Jane Chin and Jon Swanson, were interacting with me on these thoughts, I thought it might be best to elaborate in something other than 140 characters.

Let’s take a step back – we live in an age of subjectivity where words are often drained of meaning, so by virtuous character, I mean a person with a clear, well-founded, internally-embraced and externally practiced code of conduct that conforms to norms of ethical uprightness. Unfortunately, many will dispute what ethical uprightness actually IS, but an honest person who practices the Golden Rule smells an awful lot like what I’m talking about.

I don’t believe it is the role of a business to teach virtuous character to its employees. I believe that leaders should model it, encourage it, and train for specific behaviors that align with a virtuous and ethical approach to business. But we’re in business to do business, to serve and to perform – we should HIRE people with virtuous character and then give them the specific pathways to walk in.

I guess I should also say that we’re all “in progress”, and very few people have their virtue muscles fully exercised. But even though our character is still under development, there’s a core of “rightness” in the soul that cannot be imparted by teaching and management. External forces can shape and sharpen, can water and cultivate – but until someone is ready to be BE virtuous, they’ll never become trust-worthy.

Can and should virtue and character be taught? Yes. But that should be done in the formative years, but parents and other members of the surrounding community. It is not the role of a business to put in virtuous character, but to hire the best people who actually possess it.

I believe that, by practicing the principles found in books like Trust Agents and The Trusted Advisor (books authored by the panelists mentioned above) we can encourage the people who have virtuous character (in bud or in full flower) to create or find the types of businesses that will have an ethical core – businesses that will do good and succeed over the long haul because the people leading them are GOOD PEOPLE.

What we don’t need is “check off the box” training programs on ethics. We need virtuous people – in business, in government, in churches, and everywhere else. That is our greatest challenge. Talent and brains are cheap. People with a heart and a conscience and a spine – that’s pure gold.

Am I some off-base idealist? Or is this the way it oughta be?


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Pfizer unveils new logo!

I haven’t seen any formal announcement, but if you go to the Pfizer home page or look at this news release, you can see that (apparently) Pfizer has updated their company logo.

pfizer 2Pfizer1

The weighting on the letters is more even, the color is lighter – many of the old logo elements are the same, but there appear to be subtle changes.

Thus far, a Google search hasn’t revealed any mention of this…so, I guess you heard it here first (I’ve always wanted to break a news item)!


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Time. Talent. And Magic.

After 10 years in one job (sales and marketing in medical devices), and 10 years in another (sales/marketing/biz dev/consulting with a software provider for pharma), I ventured out on my own. That was over three years ago; Chris Brogan hadn’t yet co-written Trust Agents, but in fact, the business model was a “make your own game” approach as a client/vendor matchmaker, built on networking.

So what was I doing for the 20 years before that? Setting the table.

I wasn’t ready to be an entrepreneur out of the gate. There was raw talent there, but it needed a long period of refining through experience. Most everybody has an area or two of serious talent – but for many of us, it takes years of exercising and honing those abilities before you are ready for new levels of influence and opportunities, including going out on your own as an entrepreneur.

In the meantime, you have to look at your current jobs as setting the table for better things ahead.

Now I absolutely rejoice when young people work their talents and their opportunities quickly and skillfully, moving through a much shorter preparation curve and rapidly launching entrepreneurial endeavors. People like Scott Bradley, Sarah Evans, Kirsten Wright. I love seeing that because these folks will shape the future. But for many, the trajectory upward is going to be slower, and sometimes less direct.

magic_dustJust be sure you’re setting your table. Specifically:

    1. Only move into and stay in positions that will challenge and grow your skills. Stagnation for a paycheck is not a luxury you can afford.
    2. Do such a good job that your employer and co-workers hate to see you go, and can only say good things about you. Leave a very sweet reputation aroma in your wake.
    3. Network. Constantly. On-line and off-line. It is very likely that your next opportunity will come from that extended “family” of supporters.

At the right time, the “magic” will occur (by magic, I actually mean providence, but some prefer to believe in luck or chance, so we’ll Harry Potter it for now and just say “magic” as a catch-all!). You’ll be restless in your current position, ready for something new, and a confluence of events and people will occur such that a new challenge is opened up. Sometimes you’ve strategically pulled levers to help make it happen, but often it’s the wonderful serendipity of being a networked person who is well-regarded and worthy of the next step.

It’s very common, in your late 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s to feel restless in your professional development. Keep honing your talent. Keep putting in productive time. Keep setting the table. And keep your eyes open for the magic!

Update: And, as Brogan would say here and here, there’s no overnight success!


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Are you “In”?

A few random thoughts that came to mind this morning, while meandering about the yard looking for pictures to take…

If you’re building a network via social media, here are some “in” questions to ask yourself:

    Am I being informative?

    Am I being insightful?

    Am I instigating new ideas?

    Am I inspiring others directly to be their best (and being an example)?

    Am I being interesting?

    Am I encouraging? (OK, that’s an almost in-)

    Am I inundating with trivia? (Don’t!)

People have a pretty well-developed instinct for figuring out if we’re just there to sell, or whine, or collect connections to feed our egos. We’ll build a substantial and loyal network when we enter into other people’s worlds and provide them with genuine value. Especially the part about encouraging.

Hmm…on second thought, maybe this just has to do with life, social networking or not!

OK, now back to work…


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Backing up to the Cloud

Like most people who do a lot of work on computer, I’m not ENTIRELY smart or consistent about doing backups. Fortunately, I haven’t had any hard-core disk crashes of late, but the idea of cloud-based backup (with something like Mozy or Carbonite) appeals to me because the process is automated, and the data is somewhere else in case the house burns down. I’ll probably pull the trigger on one of those services this month.

But what about all the on-line stuff – blogs, pictures, twitter, etc.? I was excited to see that a group including Jason Falls is launching a service called Backupify (formerly Lifestream Backup – yes, the name change was a positive step!), which will provide continuous backup of your on-line assets via an Amazon cloud-based service. They support a whole bunch of on-line content repositories (see the home page) – wouldn’t mind if they added Yahoo Mail, actually (any way to grab LinkedIn data also?)

In fact, they have a nice offer going, which I’m taking advantage of right here and now – a free year of premium service for blogging about Backupify (more here). Yeah, I like freebies like everyone else. But this is no tchotchke – I have countless hours invested in my on-line content. I’d like to make sure it doesn’t evaporate at some point.

As more and more of our “stuff” migrates to on-line platforms, this type of service will be invaluable. And it will be nice to mute that faint but distinct voice in the back of my head that I’m playing Russian Roulette with my data…


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David Armano Wins Nobel Prize for “Really Cool Drawings”

(why not celebrate our third birthday with a fresh social media spoof?)

Today, it was announced that globally-recognized artist and hat-wearing aficionado David Armano has been awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in creating “some of the coolest graphics on the planet.”

Full CircleAccording to Hans Blimsted, Swedish Nobel judge of Peace and Social Media Stuff, Armano’s work, while somewhat confusing to the average mind, is full of soft, pastel-y colors and will certainly, over time, contribute to world peace and to the entire re-architecting of business processes across the world.

“Take his use of circles within circles,” said Blimsted, in announcing the award to a hushed audience of twelve Swedish professional curlers, joined in a live stream by countless bloggers and Twitterati around the globe. “Just gazing at those round shapes reminds us that the world is one, we all are one, and by moving toward a social business design in new collaboratories, we can calibrate a new ecosystem of holistic frameworks. Umm…folks, I just read the notes – you make sense of it.

“Plus, he does dots and gently curved arrows. That means peace in any language. Well, most. Actually – what do all those little arrows mean anyway?”

dachis_ecoShocked bloggers reacted with a mix of exuberant exultation and petty jealousy. “I couldn’t be happier for David!” declared Cathleen Rittereiser, just before unlocking the “local” badge on Foursquare. “Of all the circular-thinkers I follow, David has always been the most well-rounded! And if the President can get one for sounding cool, David should get one for looking cool.” On the other hand, Dear Leader of PlaidNation Darry Ohrt sniffed, “The guy doesn’t know colors at all. Pastels-pshaw! When has he ever done anything in plaid? Amateur!”

Rumors that Barack Obama had actually declined his Nobel Prize in favor of Armano were quashed when the President strode out of the White House wearing a cowboy hat and proclaiming that he was at least as cool as Chicago’s Austin’s favorite designer. “Armano didn’t deliver the Olympics for us, but with his circles and my teleprompter, we’re going to run rings around those pesky petty tyrants around the world. Now that’s some hope and change, baby!”

Mr Armano could not be reached for 140 characters of comment, as he was encased in his studio creating the next-generation 550-circle graphic of intergalactic business interoperability.


Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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StickyFigure wins Nobel Blog Prize for 3 Years of Brilliance!

third BirthdayToday marks the third birthday of the StickyFigure blog. Hard to believe that first post (on UPS trucks – How to Waste 100,000 Billboards) was 1,095 days and 598 posts ago.

Two weeks after the blog began, it was nominated for a Nobel Blog Prize, and now, 3 years later, the ultimate honor has come to fruition!

Actually, no big international prizes were harmed in the writing of these posts. My biggest reward is interacting with you, my community of fellow thinkers/marketers/people. It’s been a great ride.

A greater proportion of my attention in the past year has been given over to trying to advance social media usage in the pharmaceutical sector (Impactiviti blog, which is a few months older than this one), and I’ve also been regularly updating my personal blog (Steve’s Leaves). But I’ll never stop enjoying the evolution of branding and marketing and social media, so, for better or for worse, you’re stuck with StickyFigure. Thanks for sticking with me all this time!


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(Image credit)

Telling the Company Story

I’m going to tell you a story about a company telling its story. It’s…well, quite a story about networking, serendipity, and marketing!

This spring, while attending the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I had the good fortune of sitting next to a pleasant young lady with whom I quickly found two things in common: 1) she was working at a company in central CT, only a few miles from where I grew up; 2) this company provided supplies to the radiation oncology community, a field in which I had a 10-year history in a prior professional role.

Beekley2Mary told me about this box of historical “stuff” that she had inherited, which contained a lot of archival material from the company’s multi-decade past. We talked about ways to tell the company story, and how those materials could be used. And life went on…

Fast forward to last week, just before I was scheduled to leave for Connecticut, for a quick visit with Mom before gathering together with my brothers for a New Hampshire adventure. Out of the blue, I get an e-mail from Mary Lang of Beekley Corporation, Bristol, CT – she had seen my recent post about how Ben & Jerry’s told their story on the HQ walls. Well, now the story-telling panels were done in Beekley’s new offices, and would I like to come by “some day” and see the end result?

I love the serendipity of social networking. I had a couple hours open after a lunch in western CT – how about TODAY, Mary – like, say, 2:00pm??

So I included Bristol on my drive up. And I was not disappointed.

Beekley1Not only was the series of panels (mounted on walls throughout the office) extremely attractive and well-designed, but they had a great story to tell. The story of a company that had a distinctive culture right from the get-go, with a strong focus on employee development and excellence in execution. This culture could be seen through the statements, news clippings, and historical documents that now “told the story” to every employee in the office. And the culture could be palpably felt in interactions with Beekley employees.

A consistent graphical design was woven throughout all the various pieces and panels, and the business philosophy of the founding family was also a common thread. Maybe a lot of people throughout the business world have never heard of Beekley (the company or its founders/leaders). But now visitors and employees certainly get an eyeful!

Beekley4This was a company that had evolved over time, starting with a printing business and moving, as customer needs manifested themselves, into medical supplies and other areas. However, with each change in direction, the company distinctives remained.

Beekley believes in exceeding expectations, in having the right people on the bus and developing them (10-15% of employee time is spend on professional development), and in creating an environment that is pleasant, professional, and supportive. Right down to the design of maximum window space to contribute to a cheerful feel in the office.


I walked out of there impressed by the internal marketing storytelling, but even more by the story itself. A little company, doing its thing in its niche, practicing excellence and growing steadily, hiring smart and telling its story.

May such companies increase in numbers and influence!


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Up and Down

What happens when a former hiker takes on some peaks in the White Mountains. The Old Man and the Mountain, on Steve’s Leaves.


Twitter is a Big, Fat Waste of Time…

…if you don’t have a purpose for using it.

dogpitchedThat was how I summarized it for some folks last week who were repeating the usual drivel (endlessly parroted by non-users) about the uselessness of Twitter.

I think it kinda helped to agree with them. Yes, if all you’re doing is posting mindless updates and reading other people’s mindless updates, then sure, it’s a big waste of time.

What most non-users DON’T understand, and which you now have the opening to explain, is:

    1. Twitter is the best Help Desk invented by mankind (give an example)
    2. Twitter is a rich platform for “pre-meeting” people that can become friends in real-life (give an example)
    3. Twitter is a great place to find professional “office-mates” who are valuable sounding boards and sources of information (give an example)
    4. Twitter cannot be matched for the ability to connect people with others (give an example)
    5. Twitter is a wonderful tool to learn how to distill thoughts into very compact sentences (these 5 points are an example)

Don’t be intimidated by the ignorant dismissiveness of those who don’t yet “get it.” Take the opportunity to open their minds just a bit, with a quick story about what CAN be accomplished via platforms like Twitter, for those who have a purpose to help, learn, grow, and connect. But if all you’re doing is talking about your dog’s vomit, then maybe it is a waste of time…


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