Fun for Some, and Some for Fun

In the Harvard Business Review this week, Grant McCracken takes on the concept of “forced fun” in a corporation, using the way Zappo’s treats visitors as an example. Here’s an extract of Mr. McCracken’s post:

Visitors touring the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas are greeted noisily. Staffers blow horns and ring cowbells to bid them welcome.

This sort of thing puts my teeth on edge. Call me a grinch. Call me a humorless, life-hating, stick in the mud, but commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong. I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation.

I have never met Grant, and have no idea whether or not he is a grinch, but one thing I can say: his logic is flawed.

I get the point – who wants to be subject to inauthentic displays of emotion, either as the giver or recipient? But as many of the commentators point out, people choose to work where they will and do business where they will, and corporate culture is one of those aspects that draws or repels.

As our grandmothers would tell us, honey works better then lemons.

By using terms like “forced fun” and “commandeering personal emotions”, the author tries to portray the issue as one where employers are infringing on private freedoms, or encouraging insincerity, a place where an employer should not tread. But the freedom issue is really at the point of decision to work within a company that has a certain culture. And some companies choose to have a culture of fun, and excitement, and engagement.

People are complex and holistic beings, and emotions are woven into us, impacted by our surroundings, our co-workers, our behaviors, and yes, even our expectations and the expectations of others. Any business owner should not only own the tangible and financial aspects of the company, but also own the responsibility to develop (and model) a positive culture. Unless lemon juice is preferred. Take your pick. As a customer, I’ll take my pick as well. Guess what kind of climate I’ll seek out?

Mr. McCracken says, near the conclusion, “When we commandeer the emotional lives of our employees we waste a valuable resource.” I respectfully disagree (PLUS – read this article just published by WSJ Online, regarding happiness in the workplace). When we FAIL to commandeer the abilities of our employees, and don’t encourage self-control and productivity in all areas (including imagination, task performance, and emotional engagement), then we leave the company culture to drift. Leadership of people is not simply addressing 70% of who they are. It’s tapping the entire potential of each individual and making a much greater “whole” in the process.

I’m all for personal authenticity. And for corporate authenticity. If someone wants to be sour, moody, or emotionally fickle and/or disengaged, I’m sure there are plenty of places to go and be “authentic.” Please, however – don’t go to Zappo’s, and don’t try to work with me!


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Steve Jobs to Unveil Apple’s new iPants

All the hullabaloo about a new tablet has been a carefully orchestrated hoax, according to a source inside Apple who leaked plans for the elaborate announcement of a brand new platform from the stylish technology company – iPants.

Reportedly, Steve Jobs was behind an elaborately planned launch that included a 7-figure payoff to American Idol to feature General Larry Platt singing what will be the theme song for the new product, “Pants on the Ground.” This YouTube meme went viral just before the big Apple unveiling in order to generate awareness of a major cultural problem in the inner city, that of ill-fitting pants.

“We plan to conquer the ‘denim divide'” Jobs told insiders in a leaked e-mail. “For too long, Apple has been known to produce high-priced products for elitists. Now, with iPants, we’ll use our technology and fashion sense to reach a whole new demographic – jeans-wearers who are not designers or techies, but regular folks who are simply not aware that jeans should be on the waistline.”

Leaked photos showed that iPants device, secured to any belt that has sufficient bling to generate a small electrical current, will deliver a mild but uncomfortable electric shock to the wearer whenever the pants droop over 6 inches from the ideal waistline location, determined via real-time sub-space transmission technology married to GPS triangulation. Wearers who have iPhones and Twitter accounts will also possess the option of a Foursquare auto message, such as, “I just got zapped by my iPants at Broadway and 33rd.”

It is anticipated that Jobs may actually drop his famous jeans during the product announcement ceremony to demonstrate the iPants shock, and rumors are swirling that the audience will then get a preview of the long-rumored iBriefs, currently under hush-hush development in the top-secret textile section of the Palo Alto campus.

For General Larry Platt, who recently signed a recording contract to belt out a series of operatic duets with Sarah Brightman, the announcement will come as a major lift to his once-floundering career as a zeppelin test engineer. “I thought that the Balloon Boy kerfuffle might help elevate my professional opportunities, but now, starting with iPants, I plan to evangelize Apple products in every city, or at least on YouTube.” When pressed for future plans, Mr. Platt would not comment on the stylish matching black hat and turtleneck he was wearing, only stating that the “iThreads wi-fi network you’re detecting has nothing to do with these wires in my clothes.”


Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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The Twitter Help Desk

I have the best Help Desk in the world. It’s called my network of smart people on Twitter.

Just yesterday, one of my partners (my biz model is operating as the eHarmony of pharma training and e-marketing – matching up my business partners with client needs) asked me about a need they have to control distribution of .pdf files. How to limit the viewing/copying of files to a set number of licenses?

I was clueless, but I turned to my network on Twitter. In short order, four responses (so far) came back:

All of this occurred in a short period of time, and I was able to just pass on the suggested resources to the person who asked. Investment of time? Minimal. Good will created all around? Plenty. Because people like to help and share, at least good quality folks – and those are the kind you want in your network.

Here’s the point – build your social network by identifying really great people, who are smart and have a pay-it-forward mentality. Add value regularly – be helpful and generous when they have needs. And you’ll find that they are more than happy to add value back. Many times I’ve turned to my Twitter Help Desk, and I cannot recall being disappointed.

Just remember – it’s not about Twitter, and it’s not about having 100,000 “followers.” It’s about building a smart network. Do that, and you give yourself a totally unfair advantage!

(Image credit)


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The Post I Keep Wanting to Write (but haven’t…yet)

I can see this long-delayed post in my mind’s eye. It’s big, loaded with names, and pure linkbait. It’s a feel-good post with a rather long list of all the fine people I’ve actually MET (in real life) because of involvement with social networking.

My kids make jokes about all my “virtual” friends – ha-ha, you little ingrates – the old man “gets it” better than you do! Other people pass along the standard ignorant caricatures about interacting with a bunch of people you don’t know about stuff no-one cares about. Ignoramuses. I’ll stack up my buddies against anyone you know in a heartbeat.

Making friends and creating opportunities. THAT’s what social networking is all about.

So, why do I keep not writing that post? Because it would take too long! Too many links to create. And then I’d also forget people, which is embarrassing. I’ve had the wonderful privilege of meeting so many of you at conferences, tweetups, and other meetings, that it’s almost impossible to keep up any “list.”

But, what the heck. I think I’ll dedicate 10 60 90 minutes and do a half-job right now, without the links. The fact that it’s a rush job will also provide my excuse when I inevitably forget some of you. Plus, my brain cells are declining. So there.

My pharma/healthcare folks: Shwen Gwee, Sally Church, Dennis Urbaniak, Erik Hawkinson, Jon Richman, Sarah Morgan, Phil Baumann, Wendy Blackburn, Fard Johnmar, Cynthia North, Jim Edwards, Marc Monseau, Marian Cutler, Christiane Truelove, Leigh Duncan-Durst, Betsy Stevenson, Valerie Guertler, Brad Pendergraph, Mark Davis, Ed Silverman, Silja Chouquet, Heather Powell, Ray Kerins, Paulo Machado, Michael Myers, Kevin Nalty, Jay Bryant, Suki Fuller, Jennifer Harwell, Koreen Olbrish, Ellen Hoenig Carlson, Dana Lewis, Steve DeLabio, Enid Crystal, Chris Mycek, Kerri Sparling, Dave deBronkart, Manny Hernandez, Kelly Kunik, Meredith Gould, Jack Barrette, Craig DeLarge, Fabio Gratton, Eileen O’Brien, Carlen Lea, Jack Bilson, William Martino, Michael Parks, Greg Rust, Mark Senak, Mario Nacinovich, Ben Atkins, Daphne Swancutt, David Reim, Xavier Petit, Zoe Elliott, Maria Relaki, Neil Wiser, Dana Webster, Amber Benson, Donna Tocci…plus others I met pre-social media (like John Mack, Jane Chin, Kevin Kruse, Jeanne Male, etc.) and others I look forward to meeting sometime in the future (Andrew Spong, Nat Bourre, Ken Burbary, etc.)

Marketing/SocMed pals: David Armano, Matt Dickman, Liz Strauss, Amber Naslund, Ann Handley, Joe Cascio, Jay Baer, Beth Harte, Becky Carroll, Brandon Goldman, Chris Brogan, Terry Starbucker, Drew McLellan, Christina Kerley, Jason Kintzler, Sarah Evans, Darryl Ohrt, Jeremiah Owyang, Mack Collier, Chris Kieff, Joe Jaffe, Deirdre Breakenridge, Paul Chaney, Juliann Grant, Lance Hill, Tom Clifford, Dossy Shiobara, Kirsten Wright, Adam Wolf, Matt McDonald, Jason Falls, Shannon Paul, Scott Monty, Amanda Gravel, Christine Perkett, Jay Ehret, Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni, Scott Bradley, Alan Wolk, Connie Reece, CB Whittemore, Josh Bernoff, Greg Verdino, Lewis Green, Doug Meacham, Toby Bloomberg, David Reich, Arun Rajagopal, Todd Andrlik, Cam Beck, Rohit Bhargava, Jennifer Berk, Saul Colt, Luc Debaisieux, Kristin Gorski, Gavin Heaton, Lori Magno, Jane Quigley, Cathleen Rittereiser, John Wall, Steve Roessler, Mario Vellandi, Jon Burg, Kaitlyn Wilkins, Shonali Burke, Liz Pullen, David Berkowitz, Lauren Vargas, Lee Odden, Aimee Kessler, Jacqueline Dodd, Kellye Crane, Kevin McNulty, Julie Roads, Becky McCray, Peter Shankman, Jaimie Field, Ellen Cagnassola, Sheila Scarborough, Lisa Petrilli, Phil Gerbyshak, Natalie Scott, John Moore, Stuart Foster, David Polinchock, Stephen Harris, Jackie Silver, Tim Jackson, Shashi Bellamkonda, Trey Pennington, Jon Swanson, Scott Stratten, Sonny Gill, Jonathan Fields…raise your hand in the Comments if I’ve missed you, because I know I’ve skipped a bunch!

Can’t wait to finally meet in real life: Mike Sansone, Ike Pigott, Amy Fitch, Matthew Ray Scott, Karen Swim, Lisa Hoffmann, Tom Martin, Christina Stallings, Shannon Whitley, Douglas Karr, Kevin Dugan, Tracy Lee, Brett Duncan, Sonya Martin, Dana Moos,  Robert Hruzek, Ben Kunz,  Angela Maiers, Todd Defren, Chris Wilson, Lon Cohen, Rosa Say, Andrew Clark,  Dennis VanStaalduinen, CC Chapman, Kristi Colvin, Olivier Blanchard, Brandon Cox, Ashley Messick, Frank & Pamela Martin, Kevin Pho, Cheryl Smith, Chris Garrett, Deb Brown, Anne Galivan, Stefano Maggi, Tamera Kremer – this list could go on and on…

In several instances, real business and/or collaboration has occurred through these connections – partnerships, referrals, joint ventures.

Now, I understand all the talk about the ROI of Social Media for business, etc. I really do. But look at the list above. What better ROI can there be than meeting people like this; sharing life, information, and resources; and creating great networks together? I don’t need any calculations to tell me if social networking is worthwhile. I have…you.


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Loveless in Nashville

You’ve probably seen the chick flick Sleepless in Seattle. Today, I want to talk about Loveless in Nashville. No, that’s not an on-line Lonely Hearts Club in Music City.

It’s a none-too-fancy restaurant that has been serving mouth-watering chicken, biscuits, and jam since, oh, the days of the Pony Express. Loveless Cafe.

Yes, the food is wonderful, in that fill-your-belly-to-bursting southern cooking kind of way. But I haven’t been there for, like 28 years. So why write about it now?

Because, a quick web search indicates that it’s still there. And I can tell you one 28-year old reason why.

Newlyweds, and fresh off of a move from Connecticut to Nashville, where we planned to take up residence, my bride and I walked into the famed Loveless Cafe for dinner. We were such newbies to the area, in fact, that we didn’t have a bank account set up yet. I think it was about our first week in town.

I remember the usual friendly Southern service. Very large quantities of wonderful food that I wish I could afford to eat in these days of more restricted caloric intake. The homey atmosphere. And, at the end, the travelers checks (remember those, anybody?), always advertised as “same as cash” – that’s all we had to pay for the meal. Like I said, no bank account yet, and no cash in our pockets.

Loveless’ didn’t take travelers checks. Ooops.

So how did they handle this embarrassing situation? I will paraphrase the waitress’ words: “Now, that’s all right honey, you just take this bill, and once you have your bank account set up, just send us a check for it.”


Needless to say, this native New England couple was blown away. Yes, we sent them a check. And yes, I never forgot. And somehow, almost three decades later, I’m simply not at all surprised to see that they’re still in business.

Treat people like that and it’s hard to lose.

(Apparently, CC Chapman has been there too! If you’ve been to Loveless, leave a comment with your impressions!)


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Half-Right on the Massachusetts Left

I read David Meerman Scott‘s article on the Huffington Post today, about how the social media divide may be very telling in the close Massachusetts Senate race.

I believe that David is half-right. Read the article (it’s well-thought-out). In it, David decries that poor efforts the Coakley campaign has made to use new media to reach voters, compared to the Brown campaign, and especially to the prior Obama campaign.

He concludes:

The Coakley campaign is underestimating the importance of social media and the new rules of marketing and PR.

John McCain relied on what worked to elect George W. Bush and he lost mainly because of social media. Now Martha Coakley is relying on the playbook that elected Ted Kennedy and she may lose because of social media too.

Now, while it is true that the Coakley campaign does appear to be pretty sparse in its use of networking tools, I think the most substantive divide is not the tools – it’s the passion. Passion + networking will bring about success. However, networking tools without passion won’t cut it.

Martha Coakley, the candidate, is not inspiring (positive) passion. Scott Brown is. And that is a primary reason why his networking efforts will be more successful. It’s not just how you highlight the use of tools. It’s whether you ignite people, who will then use the tools themselves. There’s no excuse for any campaign to poorly employ Facebook, Twitter, and other tools. But these approaches cannot, in and of themselves, inspire people when the candidate does not.

True in business. True in politics. True everywhere.

Or am I missing something here?


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Who’s Behind the Avatar?

My friend Toby Bloomberg is collaborating with John Cass to ask a question about transparency – namely, what sort of transparency needs to be in place if “outside” agents are feeding social media content for a client brand?

From Toby’s blog post:

Social media is a hungry beast that to succeed demands content…PR agencies, advertising agencies and social media consultants are seizing an opportunity to carve a service niche from their time pressed, staff starved clients. Yes, the agencies are stepping in and taking over the role and responsibilities of implementing social media initiatives….but unlike an ad campaign or dropping a media release where no one really cares what name you use, social media is supposed to be different. Tweets and posts are supposed to be from the real people who are working for the brand…However, since on Facebook and often on Twitter “no one knows your name” seems to be the acceptable norm, 2010 will see more. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just fact of social media marketing life? Does it really matter?

I’ll toss in a few brief thoughts:

1. Since there is an expectation set currently in place with social media (real people interacting with real people), and since violating that expectation leads to a lot of unwanted on-line attention, it’s not wise for a brand to play “let’s pretend” in social media platforms – at least, currently.

2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing expertise to “feed the beast.” Life is full of outsourcing. Just be honest about it.

3. I’d recommend that brands who outsource the maintenance of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. establish a “brand” identity on those platforms instead of trying to pretend that there is one person behind the account. I’m OK with, say, TiVo having a brand account – as long as it is positioned as a brand account. I’m also OK with the TiVo account being TiVo Shanan if Shanan is for real (she is, apparently – and very nice!). If the platform is going to provide info and interactions from a team, fine – let’s just have accurate expectations.

4. These platforms are communication channels and we all have to take a deep breath and have a reasonable view of how companies will use them. I happen to think that the companies who advance with real personality in their social media endeavors will likely do best, but not every company is prepared out of the gate to have designated in-house personnel to “feed the beast.” We don’t need to beat these folks with a purist club and accuse them of being inauthentic – unless they’re being inauthentic! Let people get their feet wet, and outsource as they must. We should encourage brands to use social media responsibly, realizing that those who abuse it by a lack of transparency will be outed in time, and the lesson will be learned!

My 2 cents – your thoughts?


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People I Value: Amber Naslund

Social Networking is about people. And despite the ignorant caricatures of many people about social media, when you boil it down, under all the noise and trivia and spam there are some really great people.

One of them is Amber Naslund.

Why? Well, two words come to mind, and you can alter the punctuation any way you like. She’s a real professional. Real. Professional.

If you’re connected to Amber via her blog and/or Twitter, you find a person who is doing her best to do great work, as a social media professional and as a mother. And she’s very real – whether she’s pulling her hair out with a sick child, or enjoying a great glass of wine, or wrestling with how to write on her blog, you’re getting the real deal.

Of course, reality is one part of the equation. Amber is also engaging and generous. And quite fun to be around. If you can’t learn from Amber and enjoy her (virtual or real) company, you might need a prescription for something.

So, if you don’t know Amber yet, you should. She’s Real. Professional.


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Roll your own Future

I enjoyed reading Geoff Livingston‘s blog post today, Confessions of a Start-up Junky. One of the things I admire about Geoff, which shines through in this post, is that he is aware of who he is (and is not), and tries to design his business environment according to his strengths.

Very smart. This is a lesson best learned young.

For close to 20 years, one of my primary functions was Sales. I succeeded, but steadily came to one important conclusion…I’m not a salesman. In fact, I was speaking just recently to a pharma professional considering the possibility of taking an entrepreneurial direction, instead of staying within a big pharma company. I asked this person what percentage of his/her day was actually spend doing something truly productive. The wide-eyed silent response spoke volumes.

One piece of advice I’d give to any professional still developing his/her professional identity – Read the book Discover Your Strengths (it won’t hurt to read its precursor, First Break all the Rules). Take the StrengthsFinder on-line assessment or a similar tool to help you identify your true strong suits. Sit down for a couple hours and do a total blue sky exercise (What would I REALLY love to do if there were no barriers)? Sit down with a trusted friend/adviser and bounce ideas around. Gain as clear an idea as you can of where you truly excel, and where you’d like to take that.

Then work toward it. You may well be in a “mis-match” of a role or company. Fine – learn and grow all you can, build your opportunity network, and craft a future that will maximize YOU.

You might not be a start-up junky like Geoff, or a company builder/author like Deirdre Breakenridge, or a pastor/social media chaplain like Jon Swanson. But if you’re only operating at 25% capacity, then you’re robbing the world of your talents.

Take the challenge to shape your own professional future. As Geoff puts it in his post, “I always love winning when I’ve been told it’s unlikely or impossible. When I receive resistance from naysayers, it only fuels me. To me, success comes from personal commitment to achieving a goal as opposed to what other people tell me I should be or can achieve.” Exactly!


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