Author Archive for Britt Raybould


Bold Words Refocused

Note: This is the last post for Bold Words that will appear at  Going forward, Bold Words will be self-hosted at To continue receiving content from this blog, please be sure update your subscription information as described below.

My silence the last two months isn’t a reflection of not having anything to say. Instead, the last two months have been filled with an internal debate about whether there was value in continuing to share what’s on my mind. To that end, I’ve changed a few things that I hope will improve this blog and your experience reading it:

  • Bold Words is now self-hosted ( Most subscribers should continue to receive their feeds as before; however, if you subscribed when my URL was still a address, you’ll need to update your subscription. You can receive content via RSS or email.
  • The design is still in flux, but I’ll retain a clean, easy-to-read design that makes it easier for site visitors to read and find content.
  • I’m committing to three posts per week; Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • I’ll handle any topics related to work on my new business blog at

Why the changes?

I consider these changes a re-commitment on my part to writing on a regular basis. Setting up the second blog and business site was an acknowledgment that I need a separate place to address work-related topics. The content at focuses on helping small business owners and marketers find solutions to their problems, a topic of interest to me, since that’s what a do, but not necessarily of interest to the bulk of the Bold Words audience.

What’s next?

I expect the Supreme Court nominations will provide plenty of material during the coming weeks and months. The economy, and how we’re choosing to address financial issues, occupy my thoughts, too. Plus, I’ll have to address at some point the way we talk and write about things like the swine flu. If nothing else, our changing relationship with language is worthy of thought. Teens conducting entire conversations by text versus calling on the phone or sharing ideas via the 140 characters of Twitter all fascinate me.

I hope to spark conversations and make this summer one to remember.


March Madness

March has proven a crazy month. Between work, travel, and illness, I’ve had little time to write. However, I’ve been doing a lot watching and listening.

I’m baffled.

We seem to have lost our collective minds.

The country was so outraged over bonuses paid to AIG that Congress responded by proposing a 90% tax. Never mind that the Constitution frowns on singling out a select (small) group of people for legislative action (e.g, bill of attainder).

Critics of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were calling for his head after he’d been in office less than three months. These calls came despite the reality that few individuals could offer truly different alternatives and the consensus is that we won’t know of months, if not years, whether initiatives implemented to date will have the desired impact.

Pundits are posing the question of whether President Obama (and his family) suffer from overexposure. From appearing on Jay Leno to hosting a virtual town hall, Obama seems to be everywhere. So the question is asked, “Can he do all those things and his job, too?”

What we’ve overlooked through all this madness is our role.

Does it make sense that AIG executives who played a role in the current mess are receiving a bonus? Hardly, but when did we become a society that embraces the breaking of contracts? We also need to be careful what we wish for. If Congress proved willing to tax a selective group, what’s to keep them from doing so in the future at your expense versus the corporate bogeyman?

Tim Geithner, whether you agree with his policies or not, has undertaken a herculean task. In our 24-hour news cycle, he’s operating under circumstances that likely would have broken the New Deal before it was ever implemented. We also put unrealistic expectations on how a public official should handle himself. Do we want polished politicians whose expertise lies in sound bites or bureaucrats whose expertise lies in sound policy?

To the last bit of madness, I say this: while I didn’t vote for Obama, I find the criticism of his every action to be ridiculous. No manual exists for the job he holds. Lyndon Johnson put it best when he said, “The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.

I believe we are a nation made up of mostly smart people. Isn’t time we started acting based on our intelligence instead of our fear?


Graphics Novels, Politics, and Tropicana

I have an ongoing debate with a friend about the value of graphic novels (aka book-length comics). He lured me in initially with V for Vendetta and added to my collection with a gift of Watchmen and Y: The Last Man. I’ve read the first two, but haven’t gotten to the latter.

Perhaps I’m a snob, but there’s something that feels so adolescent about reading with pictures. Objectively, I know this issue is a personal one. Time has even gone so far as to place Watchmen on its list of All-Time 100 Novels. So, as an avid reader, why can’t I embrace graphic novels with the same abandon as the traditional book form (and why should you care)?

My graphic novel discomfort is an example of something plaguing many of us: when things we love take different forms, we aren’t always willing to share or to transfer that love equally. Translation: we’re missing opportunities.

Love Across Party Lines

Consider this application: in theory, as citizens of the United States, we love our country. However, every time a political party takes power we run the risk that our love will be compromised if said party’s ideology is the opposite of ours. For the last eight years, a growing number of people actively spoke out and campaigned against President Bush. Like all presidents before him, Obama now faces similar adversaries.

Of late, the media has been absorbed with the kerfluffle about who heads the Republican party and Rush Limbaugh saying he hopes President Obama fails. Much debate has ensued, with a large chunk focused on whether citizens who don’t agree with him should hope Obama fails and by default, don’t hope that our circumstances improve.

Whatever side you come down on, I think there’s a point being overlooked. We can still love something even as we’re critical and unsure of its different forms. For instance, I think people who say they hope Obama fails should take the time to provide an alternative. Love of something isn’t just about pleasure. It comes with responsibility

Squeeze’em Until It Hurts

We can take this attitude in multiple areas, not just politics. As companies morph into different things, or change their products, we either choose to adapt or push back (see Jackie Huba’s excellent write up on the Tropicana redesign drama). And simply because we can’t embrace the new form of our original love, doesn’t mean the new lacks value.

I will probably never choose a graphic novel over a traditional one, just as you may never choose to support a Republican over a Democrat or buy products in new packaging. However, the only person who looks foolish if I never consider the “new” honestly is me. Do you really want to be foolish?


The 99 Percent Trap

2400895854_15d0bc0a61_mOver at Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder re-posted a book review by Kevin Kelly on The Deniers, a book that reviews the arguments of scientists who question global warming. This post comes a few weeks after a series of guest posts by Charles Platt that questioned the validity of global warming. As the days go by, the comments started to include attacks on the person versus the idea.

Global warming is a perfect example of the 99% Trap. I define the 99% Trap as our tendency too slip into attacking the person versus questioning the idea when we perceive ourselves to be right. In pursuit of that final 1%, it’s easy to grow frustrated. After all, how can someone question what 99% believes to be true?

Doing so might unintentionally limit our options. Consider the history of 1%ers (for the record, I have nothing against the Catholic church):

  • Galileo championed heliocentrism and ended up under house arrest during the Roman Inquisition because the Catholic church believed it contradicted the literal meaning of the scriptures and couldn’t be proven empirically.
  • Martin Luther stood up to the Catholic church and challenged it as the sole religious authority.
  • Abolitionists challenged a practice accepted by large portions of the world’s population, raising awareness and turning it into a actionable issue.
  • Suffragists fought for, and in many cases won, the right to vote regardless  of gender or race.

Each of the individuals or groups started out as the 1%, as the minority. Luckily for us, we now know our world circles the sun, more than one theology has a place in society, few place exist where slavery remains legal, and a significant portion of the world’s population has the right to vote.

Here’s where the danger lies. What happens if the 1% is in the wrong, sometimes dangerously so, but isn’t challenged? That’s what often drives the 99%. What do we risk if the 1% becomes 2%, 10%, or 25%?

Whether it’s frustration, fear, or something else, we sometimes give in to the temptation to stop questioning the ideas and go after the person. When we do so, our arguments immediately become suspect, at least to the people we’re trying to convince. We also risk losing the people leaning in the direction of the majority but who remain skeptical of certain points.

The 99% Trap can happen in almost any situation, whether it’s the boardroom or the bedroom, you have to choose to not slip up and turn the situation personal. The reality is that 100% consensus isn’t likely. If you’re responding to the arguments and not to the individual you won’t risk your position and may actually pull a few from the 1% in the process.

Image via Flickr, unloveablesteve.


Bad Science Language

115045505_621679f0ca_mLanguage in science is a challenge. Science comes with gray areas that both intrigue and confuse.  Getting it right every time is unlikely, making science a perfect example of ongoing thought evolution. However, few things make me more angry than when science is twisted to suit agendas. Consider the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield:

The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found. (link)

One thing in particular caught my eye a little later in the article:

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

Herd immunity brought to mind Mark Earls and his insights into why humans do what they do. I was pleasantly surprised to see him post today on this very issue:

As I’ve noted before, vaccination is a HERD thing: its real power works at a population level. If that falls below a certain level, then diseases that used to cause significant damage can become prevalent again. Fuelling the conversation that suggests that there are risks or any evidence of risks leads to the lower level of compliance with the vaccination programme and creates the opportunity for the resurgance of once almost unknown childhood diseases. Particularly when the science is so damn clear. (link)

I will never understand why scientists elect to promote ideas that aren’t backed up by real research. It seems like these pretenders are discovered with relative ease once someone elects to take a hard look at the data. Very little seems to be gained while a huge amount is put at risk.

Scientific language becomes even more important when we’re talking about things that impact lives directly. Parents want to know what they can do to best protect their children. Inaccurate information only makes this harder to do.

As a layperson, I can think of few positions that come with greater social responsibility than that of scientist. This responsibility includes choosing one’s words with care. Each individual has a right to his or her opinion, but once it’s expressed publicly, the individual must accept the consequences.

Image via Flickr by ms_cwang.


From Where Do You Seek Knowledge

Too often, I fail to acknowledge how lucky I am to know everything I do. I have access to resources that even 50 years ago weren’t readily available in local libraries let alone in the comfort of my home via computer. Beyond easy access, there’s the sheer volume of knowledge that’s accumulated over the years. With every passing year, we learn something about the world and about the people who inhabit it. However, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the way we’re gaining our knowledge—we’re doing it secondhand.

From Knowledge Comes Beliefs

Using the things we learn we form opinions and ideas that support a certain line of thought. Sometimes these opinions and ideas harden into beliefs that stick with us for years. Over time, I’ve come to realize that few of us extend the effort to go to the source, but rather listen to others who have.

I’ve defined the source as Authorities. These individuals include scientists and others who ask a particular question and then pursue activities in an effort to answer said question. Then, there are the Filters. These individuals include politicians, pundits, activists, and the like who analyze ideas generated by the Authorities and promote them to like-minded constituencies.

A significant portion of our knowledge comes from these two categories. It makes sense that we seek after the knowledge of people with the experience versus repeating everything ourselves. This reliance places us in a position of trusting that what we’re hearing is a truth, at least of sorts.

Too Much Faith

In recent years, I believe we’ve become far too reliant on the interpretation of knowledge promoted by Filters and ignored the original source to our detriment. I see this reliance in multiple public discussions where either side is equally vehement in its defense of a particular position:

  • Global Warming
  • Abortion
  • Big vs. Small Government
  • Foreign Policy

The list could go on for pages, but I suspect that within an instant you could easily call up multiple ideas and opinions related to these debates, both in support of your position and against it.

Now that you’re thinking of the reasons why you believe what you do, where did your knowledge come from? Perhaps I assume to much, but I hypothesize that much of what we know comes through Filters.

Authorities Require Extra Effort

Going to Authorities for our knowledge is a challenge. Sometimes the answers we’re seeking are buried under statistics and confusing prose that make our eyes feel heavy. Sometimes the obscurity of an Authority makes it difficult to return to the original work, particularly if a much easier book written by a Filter sits on the shelf or holds forth on the television. But we often miss something when we seek our knowledge via Filters—the original purpose of the Authority.

Filters Have Their Own Purpose

Filters have their own goals to fulfill, and whether those goals align with the original intent of the Authority can be secondary. Often, in order to answer a question, an Authority seeks to understand an opposing viewpoint to the answer pursued. The same does not happen as often with Filters. We’re left to weigh for ourselves the intent behind the knowledge the Filter chooses to put forth, sometimes with mixed results.

Debating with Filtered Knowledge

Consider our current circumstances. For many of us, what we know about the stimulus package being tossed around in Congress is based on what we’ve heard on the news or read online. (Note: If you’ve read the full bill, I’d love to hear your take on the situation.) We hear about Republicans fighting with Democrats, President Obama chastising reluctant politicians, and ominous declarations of what will happen if Congress fails to act. We hear very little about the actual details of the package itself, unless they’re controversial, like Representative Waxman’s addition of contraceptive funding. Why is that?

We’re talking about spending $800+ billion (that’s EIGHT zeros). It feels like we’ve abdicated our right to go to the source and instead rely on the Filters for what comes next. The same things has happened with multiple public debates. I’m not advocating that we swear off using Filters, but I do wonder what our world would look like if we were a little less reliant on them.

Filters make it easy to block out opposing viewpoints, putting us at individual risk. Sun Tzu said,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In our pursuit of evermore knowledge we owe it to ourselves to return to the source, to wade through the difficult, to challenge the interpretation presented by the Filters. Otherwise, we risk knowing neither ourselves nor our enemies.


Life’s Little Annoyances

Note: This post is part of my yearlong commitment to share how the books I read impact my perspective.

For me, it’s the dog owner who neglects to pick up his pooch’s business. I also admit to suffering minor road rage at tailgaters and people who can’t drive the speed limit. Despite our preoccupation with the big things life throws our way, the little things can still drive us to distraction.

With pleasure, I finished reading Ian Urbina’s Life’s Little Annoyances and learned firsthand how some individuals have chosen to fight back against the small, daily things that drive us crazy. While I enjoyed the examples of combating everyday nonsense, I was surprised to learn what can come out of pushing back against the craziness.

  • A remote to turn off multiple TV types (i.e. turning off the obnoxiously loud TV in the restaurant)
  • A tool that slices open CD packaging safely
  • A rejection hotline number and email address for people when they want to avoid giving their info
  • A set of plastic wedges that keeps the airline seat in front of you from reclining all the way
  • A website that tells you the nearest location of a coffee shop that’s NOT Starbucks

These examples are within the first 50 pages of Urbina’s book. He highlights several others throughout. I suspect that there are many other inspired inventions that all started out as a way to vent one’s frustration with the status quo.

I think when we hit a wall or the status quo interferes with our objectives, our first inclination is to be frustrated, angry, irritated, etc. What if we looked at these little annoyances, or big ones for that matter, as opportunities to change the status quo, to end up better off than we were before?

What Are Our Options?

For instance, consider our current economic mess. People have lost jobs, their homes, and their retirement. Do we really want to wait until Congress decides how to stimulate the economy before we make a move? Here are some things to consider:

  • If you’ve lost a job, is it possible that you could start your own business?
  • If you’ve lost your home, is there an opportunity to move in with elderly relatives who could benefit from your care and attention?
  • If you watched your retirement go down the drain, do you have other opportunities that you didn’t consider before because of your retirement plans?

One of the most frustrating aspects of an economic crisis is the absolute focus on the bad. Yes, times are tough, but why aren’t we hearing more conversations about how we can make things better?

Why aren’t we talking about how buying locally can support businesses in our community? Why aren’t we talking about banking with institutions who were wise to avoid the sub-prime mess and have healthy cash reserves? Why aren’t we talking about whether it’s really for the best if our economy returns to “normal?” (Carl discusses the possibility that instead of a recession, the economy is resetting itself.)

We need to ask ourselves what we really want our world to look like and what we’re willing to do to help make it happen. Stepping over the mess and cursing the people around us accomplishes little.  How are chosing to deal with life’s (little/big) annoyances?


Who’s Missing From Forbes’ Web Celebs

Yesterday, Forbes posted “The Web Celeb 25,” including a list of near misses (my bff Chris Brogan for one) and others who had dropped off the list. According to the authors, here’s how the list was created:

To generate the Web Celebs ranking, we first defined a “Web celebrity” as a person famous primarily for creating or appearing in Internet-based content and for being highly recognizable to a Web-based audience. That definition excludes people who were significantly famous before they hit the Web–like author and pundit Arianna Huffington–and leaves us with a pool of people whose fame depends on the Internet.

Next, we created a candidate list of over 250 Internet personalities. Each candidate was ranked in five areas: Web references as calculated by Google; traffic ranking of their homepages as calculated by Alexa; Technorati rank of their primary Web sites or blogs, TV and radio mentions and press clips compiled from Factiva; and number of followers on microblogging site Twitter. We gave extra weight to results from Alexa, Google and Factiva. All five categories were totaled to produce a final score, and sorted to arrive at our rankings.

That list of 25 ended up including one woman, Heather Armstrong. Women who just missed the list or dropped off it included Gina Trapani, Xeni Jardin, and Kathy Sierra. Where the hell are all the women?

First and foremost, the authors used a clearly defined and objective process for selecting the peeps on their list. Second, I don’t perceive any active role of sexism. However, I’m left scratching my head over why so few women made the numbers cut. So much so, it woke me up at 5:30 this morning.

Having no wish to spend the time double checking Forbes‘ numbers (and doubting there’s anything wrong with them), I’m left with my theories about the dearth of women on the list due to the numbers game.

Women Do Things in Groups on the Web

BlogHer comes to mind as one the largest such groups to combine the efforts of women on the web. When things are done as a group, singling out any one individual for recognition becomes tricky because how do you weigh impact, especially in a large, active community? It’s sometimes easier to measure in offline communities when women can run for PTA president (huge job by the way…do you know how much fundraising they do?) or other public offices.

Women Pick Unsexy Niches

Shiny gadgets can be seen as infinitely more attractive than the day-to-day details of being a mom. Women also show a willingness to talk about things our other halves can be less comfortable with (note: I don’t say always): emotions, relationships, personal introspection, etc.

While I don’t agree with everything she does, I’ve been a little surprised at the flak Penelope Trunk gets for her openness about all aspects of her life and not just running a startup. We devour celebrity gossip but wag our fingers at individuals sharing personal details? Seems contradictory to me.

Women Run Things vs. Star in Them

It’s a common enough saying, “behind every great man, is a great woman.” Not to imply that the men who made the list aren’t great in their own right, but I suspect several wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have the help of women to run day-to-day things. Robert Scoble has always been very open about his appreciation for Maryam, his wife, who blogs, too.

Whether it’s wives, girlfriends, or mothers, women often end up in the nonglamourous roles, leaving little time for stardom. The same is true for women in business. Sometimes we end up managing the details to make sure the bigger picture happens.

Measuring By Numbers Creates a Gap

I could go on with the list, but the point would be the same: measuring exclusively by numbers creates a gap. Perez Hilton took top honors this year on the web celeb list. Forbes noted that a new post appears every 12.5 seconds and his site attracts 4.8 million viewers a month. I’m curious though, how much of his content do you think will matter in six months or even a year?

I don’t believe the core of this argument is about men versus women, but rather about how we place value on what people do. Yes, the ability to generate money matters from a survival standpoint, and numbers help determine the potential money generation. However, as recent market events have shown, numbers can be twisted, hiding the reality. Don’t we stand to benefit if we can look beyond the numbers?


A Bailout from Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of Senator Christopher Dodd amazes me. Why?

The president joined politicians such as Senator Christopher Dodd, who today called for using “every possible legal means to get the money back.” The bonus pool for 2008 by New York City financial companies was the sixth-largest ever amid record losses in the securities industry, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report yesterday. (link)

So what’s the big deal?

It’s been over seven months since it was revealed that Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) got a sweetheart deal on his Washington, D.C., townhouse directly from Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of troubled subprime-mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. Participating in the “Friends of Angelo” program saved Dodd about $75,000 on his mortgage, and raised more than a few eyebrows about whether Dodd should be accepting such hefty gifts from entities he’s tasked with overseeing and regulating. (link)

To be clear, Dodd wants all those naughty Wall Street peeps to give back their bonuse, but I see nothing in the news about him offering to make up the $75,000 break he received from a company involved directly in the current economic mess.

I believe we should be asking hard questions asked about Wall Street bonuses paid out in 2008, particularly if they were paid with tax dollars. However, I find it tacky that one individual who is doing so sees nothing wrong with receiving what amounts to a questionable bonus.

If we’re truly suffering from a “crisis of confidence,” according to Dodd, then how do his actions help counteract that confidence? Don’t talk to me about how Wall Street should behave when it’s still unclear whether your hands are any cleaner.

Change Congress Makes Sense

Dodd’s case is neither unusual nor limited to either political party. What makes this situation so frustrating is the lack of transparency. One of the reasons I’m enchanted (yes, enchanted) with Larry Lessig’s Change Congress movement is it’s position “that politicians should work for the people, not special interests.” You can’t get much more transparent. Even more powerful is its acknowledgment that the system itself has to be reformed in order for change to happen.

Currently, Change Congress is calling for a donor strike and they’ve hit the $500,000 mark:

“I’m pledging not to donate to any federal candidate unless they support legislation making congressional elections citizen-funded, not special-interest funded.”

This language gives me confidence in the potential for my government to be better than it is today. Dodd calling for “every possible legal means” does not instill confidence because his actions bely the words. Whether you agree with President Obama’s agenda, one piece that we can all get behind, regardless of affiliation, is that things need to change. What are you doing to effect that change?


Using A Fork to Eat Soup

Snow RemovalLiving in a snowy state, I’m all too familiar with snow removal. This morning at 3:45 a.m. I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand my city’s snow removal operation. Two road graders removed the bulk of the snow in the road. That’s when the entertainment began, and I got a well-deserved reminder that we don’t always use our tools wisely.

Two backhoes were moving steadily down the street. As they got closer, I realized they were clearing snow piles from driveways created by the road graders. The first backhoe turned into the driveway with its bucket upside down then dragged the snow backwards. This movement was repeated twice, creating a row of snow out in the road, which required an additional forward scoop or two by a backhoe to finish clearing the driveway.

As I watched these two backhoes, it became clear that neither was responsible for a particular action. One backhoe randomly performed one or both actions before moving on to the next driveway. Instead of backhoe #1 doing the initial removal with backhoe #2 doing the final clearing, the process appeared random and inefficient with each driver doing whatever struck his fancy.

Getting Stuck

This behavior highlights our very human tendency to get stuck in a habit, despite the options we have available. Much of our decision-making isn’t necessarily driven by what makes sense but by what we’re used to, even ignoring the potential of the tools we have at our disposal.  The comparison seems ludicrous, but imagine trying to eat soup with a fork in spite of a spoon sitting next to the bowl. That’s what some of our behavior looks like.

It even affects the way we use language. I’ve mentioned it before, but I still find it frustrating when people look at me oddly for using my full vocabulary. I try to take into account my audience and judge what words are best suited for the situation, but there are still times that I get grief for using “big” words. If a better word exists to describe something, doesn’t it make sense to use that word?

You Have to Look Past the Obvious

Despite the existence of an assembly line organization in meat slaughtering, it didn’t automatically replicate in other industries. Henry Ford saw the potential for improved efficiency and implemented the system in his factories, helping lower the overall cost of automobile production. Since then, other industries have implemented assembly lines, giving it little thought. However, it took one person in the beginning to see the potential application in another setting before assembly lines became a common practice. The same things happens with other good ideas or tools.

Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s chairman of the board during the first half of the 20th century, had the confidence to state, “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” Luckily for Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, et. al., he was wrong (I have five in my possession at the moment). The things we can do now with the computers were only a dream when the first machine was built. Imagine what will be possible in 10 or 20 years. Again, such progress takes someone looking past the status quo and understanding the potential.

Doing More than Talking

We’ve been mired in talk of Web 2.0 for years, with a sprinkling of Web 3.0 beginning to enter conversations, and I’m not sure we’ve learned the lesson of Web 1.0: whatever the iteration, what matters more is what you do with the tools. Like my early morning snow crew, we stick with the tried, whether or not it’s really true. For me, this discussion is less about changing and more about trying. There’s no requirement that one must change if another option is available, but it seems silly to dismiss the option without fully understanding what’s available.

Image courtesy of Urban Eyes on Flickr.

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