Archive for the 'bold ideas' Category

30
Jan
09

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?

16
Jan
09

The Value of a Vow

Vows, oaths, contracts…all are standard ways to indicate that we promise certain things. How seriously do you take your commitments? Unbeknownst to me, courtesy of Women’s Health, I discovered that respect for vows is even less than I thought. In this case, the discussion involved vows of the marital variety:

With the U.S. divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s not unreasonable to assume that half the husbands in America will be back on the market eventually. And a number of studies have shown that about half of all married men and women have cheated.

These stats may explain why we no longer instantly brand any and all mate poachers as devil spawn and why so many women are willing to compromise other people’s commitments. As a culture, we understand that relationships are complicated and change over time. “We no longer expect most marriages to last a lifetime,” Kirshenbaum says, “so when a woman gets involved with a married man or vice versa, it doesn’t shock us the way it used to.” We almost expect it.

I’m curious…do you think that the ability to keep (or not) marital vows is an indication of one’s ability to keep other commitments? The same question could be asked about any type of commitment. For instance, if a doctor can’t stick to her Hippocratic Oath, does it carry implications in other areas of her life?

Vows, oaths, and whatnot are all words. It requires the intent of the individual to give them any power. So what do we give up when we betray those commitments?

01
Jan
09

All About the Money

2892058635_da341cba5f1My New Year’s Eve proved to be a restless evening compounded by a nasty head cold and a thought that kept swirling around my head. The ongoing talk surrounding money, and the things connected to it (e.g., jobs, homes, etc.), seems to have focused on money as the end versus the means. The thought I keep coming back to is when will we start talking about and focusing on doing or making something without money entering the conversation?

First, I must clarify that I recognize the necessity of money. For many, it’s the only tender that can be traded for things like food and shelter. My argument isn’t about money in a good versus evil sense, but rather how we allow it to define our lives.

Second, the value of money and the things we buy with it has proven to be a very flexible thing. People who believed their homes would finance a move into an even larger residence or even fund their retirement are facing mortgages now worth more than the value of their home. Investors have watched as their portfolios followed the downward market trends, leaving many to wonder how they’ll ever regain what they’ve lost.

Finally, I’m a believer of efficient markets and the underlying principles of capitalism, so I’m in the group that believes current circumstances will improve for the better. However, despite the potential for improvement, I still come back to my original conundrum: do we need to change how we think about money?

Money: For Better or For Worse

I like money. I like what it allows me to do and the experiences that it makes available to me. At times, I’ve allowed myself to be caught up in the idea that money was the desired goal rather than a vehicle for something more tangible. I believe that one of the reasons so many are upset about the current economic crisis is a fear of whether they can still do anything or produce something of value. Consider the focus we’ve placed on being able to replace and upgrade. If you believe there’s nothing about you that makes you impossible to replace that’s cause for fear.

In recent months, we’ve heard the phrase “too big to fail.” I wish that I’d heard more about people who were too valuable to lose. Our focus has been on the institutions and what they represent (often money) and not on the people who actually make things happen.

When the Detroit  automakers went to Washington, D.C., looking for financial assistance, more than one person called for a change in leadership of these companies. But I never did hear who should replace the CEOs of any of these companies or what the new leaders should do.

A cornerstone of President-elect Obama’s financial recovery package focuses on rebuilding America’s infrastructure. I’ll be curious to hear when the focus shifts to making sure there’s something worthwhile for all that infrastructure to connect. For example, what is Detroit without car manufacturing? Does any industry currently exist that could move in and support the city if the car manufacturers go away? What about the cities who rely on carbon energy production?

At some point, regardless of whether you believe the prophets of doom or the overly optimistic naysayers, we’ll pump and mine the Earth dry. And if something ceases to be available it doesn’t matter how much money you have at your disposal.

What Happens If We Stop?

If we stop creating, if we stop producing, we will find ourselves in a bind, particularly if we only chose to do so because of money. Yes, we need money to survive, but when do we cross the line from survival into servitude? I’m the first to admit that I like my creature comforts and that I like having enough money to fulfill those wants, but I also try to be wary of allowing it to drive my decision making.

Consider many of the corporate CEOs in recent history who were driven more by the pursuit of money than the production of something valuable. Enron, WorldCom, and Bear Stearns are just a few of the more egregious examples.  So where does that leave us now?

I believe our long-term success, and happiness for that matter, will be determined by our ability to make more than just money. Yes, money holds a powerful sway on society as a whole. We tend to admire and often idolize those who make large sums of it. But how would our perception of those people change if they suddenly didn’t have their huge sums of money? Would they, as individuals, still be worthy of our attention?

The Warren Buffett Lesson

I wonder often about why Warren Buffett has chosen to stay in his original home in Omaha, Nebraska. As the richest man in the world, he could live wherever he wanted in whatever type of home. His decision for staying fascinates me from the standpoint that we’re so often bombarded with the message that bigger translates into better.

On top of his housing selection, Buffett’s decision to donate to various charities 85% of his Berkshire Hathaway stock prior to his death also intrigues me. To me, his actions are an example of turning money into something tangible. The end goal doesn’t appear to be about making more money but rather about making lives better. Such actions may lead to the creation of more money, but the immediate goal is one of giving back to improve current circumstances.

Since the end of World War II, we’ve been a nation focused on consumption. I wonder when we’ll figure out that at some point, they’re won’t be anything left to consume if we don’t refocus our efforts on producing things of value.

Image courtesy of Steve Wampler.

01
Dec
08

Arguments Made Too Simple

Last week, I took an unfair potshot at the Big Three car CEOs, one that was commonly made by the press and that I latched on to in order to make a point:

One of the best examples of words taking the place of much-needed action was the Big Three CEOs in Washington begging the government for money. Never mind that they flew there on their private planes (undermines the “need” argument a bit).

Joni Hubred-Golden called me on it, rightly enough, with her comment:

I am not generally a defender of the Big 3, but it has to be said the problem is more complex than them begging the government for money, private jets notwithstanding. And in that regard, I don’t recall a hue and cry of the current magnitude when we bailed out the mortgage industry, where prosecuted fraud was involved. It’s easy to take pot-shots at the execs, but if the Big 3 fail, hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t making seven-figure salaries will pay the price. I live in Detroit, and I know many already have.

Too Simple

She’s right. I did something that I abhor in others and try to avoid doing myself: I simplified a piece of information to make my argument, ignoring the nuance that can influence one’s perspective. My argument should have focused more on the lack of planning by these CEOs than whether they took private jets to D.C. I still see it as a bit of contradiction, but focusing on their transportation instead of the true issue of the American auto industry distracts from reality that we’ve shoveled money to some companies with little thought or transparency. Why are we hitting the brakes on these three?

Note: I’m not a fan of sending billions to companies who made bad decisions, but I’m equally frustrated by the seeming randomness of the largesse and lack of transparency about the exchanges. If the government is going to become the lender of last resort, shouldn’t the people who own its resources have some idea where their money goes and why?

With the recent bailout of Citibank, Joni’s point is again reinforced: where’s the hue and cry over bailing out financial institutions?  Now the Big Three will again descend on D.C. with the hope of convincing politicians that they deserve some of the money that’s been so freely shared with others. However, going back to the question of the real issue, I saw this story about how one CEO will make his way to D.C.:

When the Big Three automakers come back to Washington for hearings later this week on the proposed auto bailout, Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be making the more than eight-hour trip from Detroit to the Capitol by car, the company said today. The company won’t say yet, however, what kind of car Mulally will take (a Ford F-150 pickup truck or a Ford Focus compact car?), whether he will be behind the wheel, or when he will arrive: “It depends on traffic,” says a spokesperson. (link)

Is It Too Late to Change?

Perhaps Mulally is looking to make a statement, but the extremes between the two positions again, to my thinking, overshadows the main issue: can the American car industry pull itself out of a hole dug with expensive union liabilities, SUV mania, and poor management decisions?

This thinking leads me to an even bigger question: does American industry as a whole have what it takes to turn the magnifying glass on itself and diagnose the challenges it faces in the coming decades? Can it survive a Global Revolution on an even larger scale than the Industrial Revolution? For instance, if the Big Three get their money, do they honestly believe that pouring money down the same holes will fill them any faster? Do they see the need for rethinking their business from the road up? Do you believe that America needs to rethink industry?

07
Oct
08

American Democracy or Bust

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not sure I can vote for either presidential candidate, and I’m afraid tonight’s debate drove that home. For what seems like years and multiple elections, I’ve heard the same talking points and “personal” attacks, regardless of the actual candidates themselves. Frankly, a two-party election bores the hell out of me. We all know what the Democrats are about. We all know what the Republicans are about. Isn’t it time we tried something new?

What about a Green or a Libertarian? Well, Ralph Nadar put a nail in the Green coffin, and even though ex-Congressman Bob Barr is somewhat known (Monicagate, anyone?), he still isn’t enough to power the Libertarian party into serious competition. Let’s think about these two parties. In some ways, they represent extremes of both major parties, appealing to niches versus vast majorities, a hindrance for winning a national election. I write this even with my personal leanings being Libertarian flavored on many issues.

Candidates that have challenged and beat the establishment have done so because they represented a majority of the public’s view on a topic of interest. The Republican Party first rose to prominence in the 1800s over the issue of abolishing slavery. However, it seems like we’ve come to a bit of a stalemate. The differences between the two parties are predictable and not necessarily in a good way.

Democrats and Republicans

For all that Obama positions himself as the candidate of change, does he really represent a different version of the Democratic party or simply a more attractive, charismatic package than Al Gore or John Kerry? While I disagree with many of the Democratic positions, I’ve never believed Democrats as a party to be stupid, just somewhat disorganized with multiple voices clamoring for equal billing. Now they have a presidential candidate who’s perhaps the best orator in a generation and a fundraising machine courtesy of the Internet and millions of contributors. He’s spending some of that money this month on a personal Obama satellite channel. Maybe he is a man of the people, a candidate of change.

For the Republicans, well, if they win this election it will be due to a Hail Mary. Nothing is in their favor. The economy has tanked. We’re still stuck in a country five years later where we were told we’d be greeted as liberators. And for a party that claims to favor a small government, one is left wondering if this is small, what big government would look like. Add in a candidate who claims to be a maverick and picks a maverick as a running mate and citizens can only wonder how many other Middle East countries might be ready to “welcome” us. One also can’t ignore that the sitting Republican president has some some seriously low approval ratings. I don’t think the White House welcome mat is laid out for McCain.

As Good As It Gets

Is this election really as good as it gets? I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Socialist, or even a misanthrope. If these candidates are representative of the best this country has to offer, we’re in trouble. I write this knowing that many people believe Obama to be this country’s only hope for future success. I respect that belief. He may very well prove me wrong and be the best president we’ve every had. But what happens if he’s not? Who’s left in the Democratic party, Hillary aside, to take up the party leadership in a way that bucks the past? The same applies to the Republicans. I didn’t like anyone in that primary anymore than I liked any of the Democrats.

We’ve proven so innovative in so many areas. Why does America’s democracy continue down the same path it’s followed for years? Can’t we make it better? H.L. Mencken captures it perfectly with the thought that, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” But, one can counter with the wisdom of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

American history has shown that political parties can rise and fall. If you truly believe that either of the major parties is a perfect fit for you, more power to you. However, if you look at that status quo and potentially have to hold your nose to vote for the least bad candidate, isn’t it time we thought seriously about a new party or at least a new type of political candidate? Do you believe you deserve better?

06
Oct
08

The Bubble Popped. Now What?

I’ve held my tongue for days as I’ve watched the supposed leaders of this country try to explain how they’re going to “solve” the current economic mess. Part of me enjoys the perfect timing of everything blowing up right before an election. The other part, well, it wonders why everyone is so shocked that the bubble popped. The United States and its citizens were testing the theory that they could live on credit indefinitely.  Amazingly enough, running at a deficit has a cost that we’re all becoming intimately acquainted with.

I’ve waited with great patience for one, just one, person to accept responsibility, even if it’s only partial, for any part of the chaos. Surprise, surprise all I hear is both political parties blaming each other and talking heads on CNBC predicting a long-term recession. I hear everyone talking about Main Street bailing out Wall Street. I hear politicians assure me that they must intervene. Why?

Who Takes Responsibility

I’m not an economist, so my argument does not even attempt to address the financial side of things, but rather what I consider to be the moral and the ethical aspect of the situation. Accountability has been missing from society for a while now. Occasionally, you’ll hear about an investigation into corruption at City Hall or something similar. The prosecuting attorney gets some air time that will play well during the election and everyone gets to feel good that someone is getting the bad guys. Unfortunately, I don’t believe our current situation fits this mold.

Here’s the reality: I believe that each one of use is guilty to some extent for the situation we find ourselves facing. If you don’t own a credit card, you’re mostly excused, unless you took out a mortgage for more than you knew you could afford to pay. I believe this mess started when we started listening to the media, our friends, our family, telling us that we deserved to have what we wanted NOW, not later, but RIGHT NOW.

So we got sucked into the credit card offers that screamed, “One Year Without Interest” or payment plans that promised, “Only $88 A Month.” We bought the big screen, the boat, and all the others toys, believing that a “little” debt was ok, because our homes were worth double, triple, etc. what they were when we bought them.

But wait, why not sell my home and buy a bigger one, because my investment will increase even more in a bigger house that’s worth more. Oh, I can get in that bigger house for less with an adjustable rate mortgage that increases my payment by $1000 a month in three years? No problem. I’ll have enough equity by then that I can swing it or sell the house for twice what I paid for it.

The Gray Area

Before you jump on me for ignoring the plight of people who were taken advantage of by ruthless mortgage brokers whose only concern was earning a commission, I know that hundreds of thousands of people were misled. Everything from last minute rate changes to outright threats played a role in bad mortgage lending. However, even if you say these individuals make up 50% of the bad mortgages that still leaves another 50% who should know better.

Consider the words of consumer behaviorist Larry Compeau of Clarkson University from a Newsweek column in March 2008.

“People in their 30s haven’t really experienced a significant or long recessionary period…I am concerned that they won’t be able to respond quickly enough to mitigate what may be the damage ahead.”

The column’s author Eve Conant continues, “Not only do people under 40 save less, but they have less to save.” Indeed, savings as a percentage of disposable income have plummeted in the United States, from between 7 and 10 percent in the 1960s and ’70s to just 0.4 percent in 2007.” (link) Note that it’s savings measured against disposable income. Doesn’t that make us complicit?

I can also hear the argument that the cost of living has increased as wages have flattened, making regular use of credit a necessity. Health care, the cost of food, the cost of energy. You name it, most everything costs more. But let’s be honest, how many people are surviving on credit cards alone as a sole source of funds? Isn’t it more likely that the credit cards are paying for the vacations, the clothes, the iPods, and the toys of life?

I’m the first to acknowledge that the credit market is screwed up and not aimed at protecting consumer interests. (I strongly encourage Maxed Out, both the book and the documentary, for a look at the credit industry.) However, we keep going back for more. I find it telling that because I pay my balance in full each month, credit card companies refer to me as a deadbeat. Their number one customers are the ones caught in the revolving door of minimum payments, never touching the principal and only paying the interest. Doesn’t this outlook tell us something important about credit card companies?

Make Something Happen

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to protect our individual interests? For those who believe more government regulation is the answer, good luck. The $700 billion bailout started as a three page document in the White House and after the House and Senate got through with it, the number had increased, going from 110 to 451 pages. The Senate, because it’s constitutional barred from initiating finance bills, slapped multiple bills together to create a package that skirted that pesky rule. Any regulation will come with strings that may or may not benefit individuals, regardless of which party controls Congress and the White House.

So I say start small. Go to OptOutPrescreen.com and get your name removed from the list that the credit agencies provide to businesses extending credit offers or insurance. You can opt out for LIFE if you want. Start a savings account even if it’s pennies in a jar (example of government stupidity, it costs roughly 2.5 cents to make each penny, a loss of 1.5 cents per coin).

Finally, the thing I believe will save us, as it has in the past, is our ingenuity and willingness to innovate. Some have suggested, for example, that if the U.S. could create a green energy revolution through technology innovations, swinging things back to the positive side. At the foundation of whatever proves the solution will be people who made something, who didn’t just consume. We talk about the scales of justice being balanced. Doesn’t the same rule apply to what we do with our lives? If we take, doesn’t it make sense to give back?

UPDATE: If you’re curious, I wrote a post a little over a year ago about the history of credit cards and their role in the economy.

23
Aug
08

Looking Beyond Tech

Looking outward is not always easy or natural. I see this firsthand through my own life. If something isn’t a part of your day-to-day routine or perspective considering its impact on the bigger picture can be a challenge. Last night I had a chat with Chris Brogan about how the tech community, for example, struggles with looking outward. He beat me to the punch, posting on our conversation early this morning.

Going beyond Chris’s suggestion of solving real-world problems, I wonder why groups are so resistant to recognizing the impact of outside influences. Last year at Gnomedex, a couple of the presentations had political overtones, which seemed to infuriate some of the attendees. Some of the feedback boiled down to, “Why are we talking politics at a tech conference?”

Why not talk politics at a tech conference? Despite our preferences otherwise, the potential impact of outside influences on the tech world is huge. Political issues that directly impact the tech community include: media consolidation, net neutrality, internet taxes, patent applications, and copyright enforcement/duration.

Technology, and every other industry, doesn’t have the luxury of operating in a silo, focusing only inward on the cool toys. Despite our desire to maintain the purity of our sandboxes, too many outside forces are at work trying to muck things up for the rest of us. If we aren’t proactive and willing to address related issues, political or otherwise, someone else will do it for us, often in a way that doesn’t best meet our needs.




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