Archive for the 'Impressions' Category



01
Aug
07

Perfection’s Tight Fit

How much time do you give to the pursuit of perfection? Salvador Dali had the right idea: “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” (link) So why are we prone to obsessing over something it’s likely none of us will ever attain? Whether its our physical appearance or the quality of work we produce, the concept of perfection is one we can’t shake. It’s the spark that keeps pushing people to innovate. It’s also the nonsense that makes us our own worst critics.

The last few days, I’ve been on a mini break. I didn’t have the most reliable Internet connection, so posting wasn’t really an option. Even though I enjoyed the break, part of me fretted over the lack of “perfection” in my posting. I normally manage to do a post a day, Monday through Friday. That didn’t happen this week. Logically, I know that not posting once this week, and twice last week, won’t send my blog into a tailspin. However, when you’ve set your mind to seeing things a certain way, it can be hard to ignore that itch to be “perfect.”

The pursuit of perfection can also make us impatient. We demand more out of the world around us, and if we aren’t satisfied the first time, we rarely return a second. While I applaud individuals standing up and asking for what they want, I do wonder what we miss out on when we ask for and expect perfect results every time.

Throughout history, several “mistakes” led to items we now take for granted. For example, 3M charged scientist Spencer Silver to create the strongest adhesive on the market. He ended up with an adhesive that stuck to objects but easily pulled away. A few years later, a second 3M scientist, Arthur Fry, remembered Silver’s earlier invention when he noticed his notes falling out of his hymnal. Fry added Silver’s adhesive to paper and found that it stuck but could be removed without harming the page. The result? You can stick Post-it® Notes wherever you want. (source)

If Silver had achieved his goal this first time, 3M could have had the strongest adhesive on the market. However, given time, Fry created something truly memorable that has lasted much longer. Maybe instead of pursuing perfection, which technically means finishing or bringing to an end (link), it might help to focus on the experience. Instead of obsessing over matching the ideal we’ve set for ourselves, would it hurt to ask if we’re actually enjoying the trip?

Comments?

18
Jul
07

A Whole(some) Apology?

A follow-up to yesterday’s post…Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has issued an apology for his Rahodeb antics.

“I sincerely apologize to all Whole Foods Market stakeholders for my error in judgment in anonymously participating on online financial message boards. I am very sorry and I ask our stakeholders to please forgive me.”

His apology may not be enough to save his job, and I have my doubt about whether it saves his individual integrity.

Throughout history, we’ve seen repeated examples of individuals whose not so great behavior becomes public. Then, on the proverbial bended knee, these same individuals come begging for our “forgiveness.” Politicians are famous for such campaigns. However, what’s left after the campaign is complete?

Politicians may enjoy our “forgiveness” at the ballot box. Movie stars prone to public rants about whatever “ism” bothers them may still pack them in on opening night if they’ve undergone the requisite sensitivity training. And CEOs may keep their jobs—for now—with a public apology after taking anonymous jabs at competitors.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but with every peccadillo, every rant, every underhanded maneuver, I lose more respect for those individuals. Those events stick out a hundred times longer than the positives, especially if it seems so contrary to the original vision I held of an individual. In many instances, they never get my respect back. And realistically, they don’t really want my forgiveness or my respect. They want my vote, my money, or something else that contributes to their success.

Any potential good said individuals may accomplish will always exist under a shadow of previous behavior. For businessmen like John Mackey, sometimes the only thing you have that separates you from everyone else is your credibility. With this incident, his credibility is damaged, and a brief, two-sentence apology doesn’t really change things.

People may remember John Mackey as the dynamic co-founder of a company that changed how the retailing world viewed organic food. I suspect, as many, if not more will also remember his starring role as Rahodeb. Unfortunately for Mr. Mackey, he should have passed on the role and let someone else be the anonymous hack.

Comments?

16
Jul
07

Pointless Space Saving

I’m kicking myself for not taking the picture. On July 4th, I ventured with my mother to our local town for the annual parade. Arriving an hour in advance, we were dismayed as we drove up and down the parade route—every spot, both in shade and out was reserved. The irritating part? A good 50% of the chairs were EMPTY. We gave up and went home.

Every year, we’ve had to arrive earlier and earlier to get a spot, but we drew the line at an hour. I suspect we won’t even try next year. Beyond my disappointment, I was reminded how much space savers drive me crazy. I draw a clear line between people waiting in line or holding a spot with their physical presence and those people (you know who you are) that use objects to save them a spot.

All those empty chairs represented people who believed the parade was worth their time, but waiting to watch the parade was not. My evil side wants to show up at 6 a.m. next year, set up hundreds of chairs, then spend the next four hours politely informing people, “I’m sorry. This seat’s taken.” Ridiculous, right? (but oh, so tempting)

The absent space-saving behavior reminds me of companies who “save” a spot in the market with crappy me-too products. If you want the benefits, pay the price. Regardless of the goal, if you don’t believe it’s worth investing your time before the payoff, why do it?

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,” said Woody Allen. (link) I think that’s why, for example, Apple continues to charge ahead, and companies like Dell and Microsoft are late to the party. Apple always shows up. You saw it two weeks ago with the build up to the iPhone. And already, rumors (mostly believed to be untrue) are flying around that a smaller, Nano-based version is in the works. That’s a benefit of showing up—people talk about you.

A mentor gave me a piece of advice: never assume your time is more valuable than someone else’s. That’s why I believe showing up is one of the most powerful things you’ll ever do. You’re showing your commitment, and you’re respecting the time of those who’s attention you seek. Isn’t it easier to believe in someone, in something, when you see the commitment instead of the empty chair?

Comments?

13
Jul
07

Microsoft, Call James Fallows!

Microsoft is missing a huge opportunity. James Fallows, a national correspondent with the The Atlantic Monthly, has posted in recent days three posts(1, 2, 3) about his aggravation with his new laptop running Windows Vista. Why, why, why isn’t Microsoft contacting him (he’s currently based in Shanghai) and helping him figure out why Vista is hogging so much of his hard drive? We aren’t talking about some local newspaper reporter. Mr. Fallows is a respected journalist. He actually worked at Microsoft! (link) He’s a regular blogger. Is any of this sinking in? Sigh. So much of Microsoft’s image could be changed if they took the initiative in situations like this one.

Comments?

10
Jul
07

Frustrating Customer Experiences

I always run out of shampoo before I run out of conditioner. Everyone knows you never use as much conditioner as shampoo. You invariably end up buying the same bottle size then cursing your luck as you stand in the shower with a wheezing shampoo bottle. From that point, you are always off. You’ll always have more of one than the other.

Products “sold” as pairs rarely match up. For example, the average package of hot dogs has ten dogs. The average bag of hot dog buns holds eight. Is it intentional? Did the dog people and the bun people get together and decide that it made some sort of weird sense to sell more dogs in a package than buns? If so, they haven’t shared their secret reasoning.

I found a post on The Group of 6 that outlines three things companies might want to keep in mind:

1. Realize their customers have expectations.
2. Exceed their expectations.
3. Do better at that every single day.

With products like shampoo and hot dogs, my experience is tainted by frustration. I always know the experience isn’t as good as it could be. Imagine my loyalty to a company that takes away my expected frustration. You may have the best product in the world, but if the experience is frustrating, customers literally have one foot out the door at all times. Isn’t that loyalty worth two more hot dog buns?

Comments?

05
Jul
07

False Genetic Markers

A post on Advice Goddess, highlighting the work of Satoshi Kanazawa and Alan S. Miller, reminded me of a recent email exchange between my friend Grayson and I. We went back and forth about whether the value we place on beauty is largely a product of society. It’s from one of his comments that I took my post title:

We are at a point in the history of Western civilization when we can physically mold our bodies to fit beauty ideals that last through clothing and unclothing, giving the recipient an edge over the competition in passing genetic material. There, however lies the rub. They are—for lack of a better term—false genetic markers.

Psychology Today excerpted Kanazawa’s and Miller’s soon-to-be published book, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. They hit on this concept of “false genetic markers:”

Men prefer young women in part because they tend to be healthier than older women…Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio…The irony is that none of the above is true any longer. Through face-lifts, wigs, liposuction, surgical breast augmentation, hair dye, and color contact lenses, any woman, regardless of age, can have many of the key features that define ideal female beauty. And men fall for them. Men can cognitively understand that many blond women with firm, large breasts are not actually 15 years old, but they still find them attractive because their evolved psychological mechanisms are fooled by modern inventions that did not exist in the ancestral environment. (link)

So what’s a male to do if he can’t trust what he sees? Same goes for women. Cosmetic procedures among men increased by 8% between 2000 and 2006. Top procedures? Nose reshaping and Botox®. (link)

As, Kanazawa and Miller point out, it’s the need to perpetuate the species that drives men to search for fertile mates. Over time, evolution has built into men that certain characteristics (e.g., blonde hair, small waists, etc.) point to fertility. So do women, or men for that matter, owe an explanation to potential partners about any cosmetic procedures? If a man really prefers being with a blonde and you get your color from a bottle, should you confess?

Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “How trivial. What’s bold about this issue?” I believe that Kanazawa and Miller even discussing the idea, and other’s like it, pushes us to reconsider how we think about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t understand why we are driven or even built to behave a certain way, it can be difficult to understand why things happen. In the intro to the excerpt, the authors make a point about this idea, and the others they discuss, that can often overshadow the conversation:

The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct. (link)

This post isn’t about the morality or ethics of plastic surgery. If you really feel the urge to go under the knife or get shot up with collagen, go for it. I’m not the one looking in your mirror every day. Instead, I’m trying to understand why we keep forcing ourselves into a mold, why we choose to believe that “blondes have more fun than brunettes.” We try to fit the mold in other areas of our lives too—the cars we drive, the houses we buy, the jobs we take. I’m tired of seeing people afraid to be themselves. We weren’t meant to be a world of lookalikes.

Who are you trying to be? In a society that seems to prefer the “false genetic markers,” saying, “No, thank you. I’d rather be me,” can be the boldest thing you ever do. It takes guts to embrace who you are, and I believe it’s a lifelong journey. You change over time and time changes you. Gravity isn’t kind, and people in the movies, especially women, always seem a certain age.

Embracing your genetics isn’t always easy. Part of me will always lament that I stopped growing at 5’4”, while another part of me will be happy I can fly “comfortably” in coach. And I tried being blonde for a while, but the upkeep was ridiculous. My hair grows too fast for color to last long. Why do any of these things matter? Because being your big, bad, bold self isn’t about avoiding experimentation. It’s about knowing that even if you chose not to experiment, that’s ok too.

The pursuit of “false genetic markers” is here to stay. Like I said before, if you must have plastic surgery, do it. But don’t do it because you think others require it of you. And in answer to my earlier question, wouldn’t it be better to confess before you give birth to child with your “natural” nose and “natural” hair color?

Comments?

02
Jul
07

Passing the Religious Litmus Test

Do you think the U.S. could ever elect a non-Christian, agnostic, or atheist to the presidency? The Constitution explicitly states:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (link)

Lately, America seems inclined to only elect candidates who make religion a visible part of their lives. In spite of our founding as a nation built on religious freedom, the most extreme beliefs end up running the show. Look at the Republican party during the last ten years. No one believes that the entire Republican party is Evangelical. However, Evangelicals are one of the loudest sub-sections and their opinion has resonated, resulting in public policy decisions that favor their beliefs. And it’s no longer enough to be religious. Your flavor of religion is of equal if not greater interest.

The voting public that shares this belief assumes that if they know a candidate’s religion they can stop asking questions. These voters then take that assumption to the next level and believe that one can predict a candidate’s position based on how she worships. Last I checked, a candidate was declaring that she would represent ALL her constitutes, not only the religious ones.

When Being Religious Isn’t Enough

Recent weeks have shown that religion will play a role in the coming presidential election, at least through the Republican primaries, due to Mitt Romney’s membership in the Mormon church. Jeff Jacoby’s recent editorial for The Boston Globe discusses comments challenging Romney’s fitness as a candidate based on his religion. Jacoby makes the point that “a candidate’s public record has far more to say about his fitness for office than his private devotions do.”

Others have made the comparison before, but I’m struck by how much this situation reminds me of the John F. Kennedy Catholic question. Kennedy’s bold speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association seems particularly relevant today. Like now, bigger issues than a candidate’s religion were at play in the country:

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles from the coast of Florida—the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power—the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms—an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. (link)

In spite of these pressing issues, people stilled wondered if Kennedy would be the Pope’s president. Kennedy cleared up that concern:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him. (link)

With the Catholic twist, Kennedy then makes a plea similar to one made by many candidates:

…judge me on the basis of 14 years in the Congress,…do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here. And always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed Church-State separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic. (link)

What We Will Miss

Romney could make a comparable speech (so far he has shown no public interest in doing so). Most of the fears Kennedy broached in his speech could easily apply to Romney and his Mormon religion. I believe the most powerful part of Kennedy’s speech comes towards the end, when he says:

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people. (link)

Who are we as a nation if we’ll pass over an ethical, highly qualified candidate if he doesn’t sit next to us in the pew on Sunday? What leadership will we miss if we decide it’s more important that we share the same beliefs with a candidate? I’ve reached a point in life where what you do the other six days of the week is as, if not more, important than what you do on Sunday (or Saturday for that matter).

Romney may end up being the worse choice out of the lot, but that evaluation should be based on his record as a candidate not his record of worship. I worry what will happen to this country if, like abortion, we make religion an absolute litmus test for holding public office. A candidate’s religion doesn’t cost me more tax dollars, her public policy decisions do. So here’s to measuring a candidate based on what he does in office rather than who he worships. The strict Constitutionalists screaming about activist judges should appreciate that.
Comments?

20
Jun
07

How Not to Appease A Customer

I feel like I’ve been cheating the last few days on my posts, relying on personal events as fodder. But I couldn’t resist given today’s story. I saw firsthand how not to deliver customer service in a situation that could easily lead to a lawsuit.

I met one of my best friends for lunch today. When I arrived she had already ordered a virgin daiquiri (the virgin part will prove important in a sec) for her and some French fries for her daughter. At 19 months, my friend’s daughter enjoys dipping anything in everything. So between sucking on the straw and dipping her fries in the daiquiri, she managed to drink/eat half the glass. My friend finished the other half, and we continued to chat over our food. About half way through, the manager appears.

Manager: “Ladies, did you put the daiquiri in the sippy cup?”

My friend: “No.”

Manager: “Well, we just noticed that your child was close to the drink and we wanted to make sure it didn’t end up in her cup.”

My friend: “Why does it matter? I ordered a virgin drink.”

Manager: “Well, if it was in a frosted glass with a black straw, it was alcoholic.”

My friend: ” She drank half of it. What do you mean there was alcohol in it? I ordered a virgin drink. She drinks and eats everything I do.”

(At this point, the manager winces as it becomes clear they are at fault.)

Manager: “Well, we think you ended up with an alcoholic drink.”

My friend: “How is that possible.”

Manager: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Where’d the mix-up happen? Did the server enter the wrong drink order or did the bartender make a mistake?”

Manager: “I’m not sure. I know you must be upset.” (Notice: no acknowledgment of any individual error will ever be made in this exchange.)

My friend: “I thought I could trust that when I ordered a drink with no alcohol that’s what I would receive.”

Manager: “I am so sorry. I know you must be upset.”

My friend: “Yes. How would you feel if your 19-month-old drank alcohol?”

Manager: “I’d be upset too.”

My friend and I agree we’ll probably laugh about this story in a few years, but she was understandably upset. Our meal was comped and her daughter appeared to suffer no ill effects. A follow-up trip to the doctor confirmed she was fine.

Watching this happen, I was taken aback at the manager’s approach. His initial attitude implied that my friend was knowingly giving her child an alcoholic drink. When it became clear that his staff was at fault, he became mildly apologetic. However, it took my friend stating that she refused to pay for the meal before he made any movement at smoothing over the situation, other than saying he was sorry.

If he’s smart, he’d do more than comp a meal. He’d offer a gift certificate, something, anything to change her perception of the restaurant. Because from now on, every time this restaurant is mentioned, she’ll share the story of how they brought her the wrong drink that she then shared with her daughter.

Now imagine my friend’s response and the story she’d tell if the manager had come to the table and taken the position from the beginning that they made a mistake. Please let us make it up to you. Here’s my card with my direct number. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions or if there’s anything I can do for you. Then the mistake becomes secondary in the story compared to the apology.

Comments?

06
Jun
07

Real Leaders Actually Say Something

I conduct a significant portion of business over the phone or email. In some cases, I never actually meet my clients in person. And for the times, I do end up meeting a client in person, I’m always a little bit surprised. This idea got me thinking about expectations based on appearance versus actual ability.

We now live in a time that we know when a presidential candidate gets a $400 haircut, or hear speculation that the female candidate had some “work” done. I’m utterly baffled by this turn of events. And I believe this focus on the completely trivial has made it incredibly easy for anyone in authority, politics or otherwise, to gloss over the issues. I wonder how political campaigns would be handled if all you ever heard were candidates’ voices.

In 1933, Americans elected Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Presidency. He served until his death in 1945. At the time of his election, Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down for over 10 years. In part, Roosevelt was able to camouflage his condition because “at the time…private lives of public figures were subject to less scrutiny than they are today.”(link) He also learned to walk short distances with the support of braces and a cane. If his condition became common knowledge, in spite of Roosevelt’s belief that he was getting better, I have my doubts that he’d have been elected to three terms. So what would we have missed? Roosevelt’s leadership during some of the darkest days in U.S. history.

After entering office, Roosevelt continued many of Hoover’s depression-relief programs, and implemented some of his own (Social Security and the minimum wage to name two):

The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity – or it will move apart. (link)

Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.(link to full text and audio file)

Roosevelt actually sounds like a leader. You can follow what he says, and what he says sounds coherent and logical.

Little Substance

Today’s politicians, and most other public figures too, are so caught up in the image that they pay no attention to the substance. I listened to a small portion of the Republican debate from last night on C-SPAN radio and was astounded at how little the answers actually addressed the question. For example, debate moderator Wolf Blizter of CNN asked each of the candidates if they’d pardon Scooter Libby, just a yes or no answer please. In theory, there should only be 10 lines of text, a yes or a no from each candidate. Here was the response (you’ll see it’s more than 10 lines):

REP. PAUL: No.

MR. GILMORE: No. I’m steeped in the law. I wouldn’t do that.

REP. HUNTER: No, not without reading the transcript.

MR. HUCKABEE: Not without reading the transcript.

SEN. MCCAIN: He’s going through an appeal process. We’ve got to see what happens here.

MR. GIULIANI: I think the sentence was way out of line. I mean, the sentence was grossly excessive in a situation in which at the beginning, the prosecutor knew who the leak was —

MR. BLITZER: So yes or no, would you pardon him?

MR. GIULIANI: — and he knew a crime wasn’t committed. I recommended over a thousand pardons to President Reagan when I was associate attorney general. I would see if it fit the criteria for pardon. I’d wait for the appeal. I think what the judge did today argues more in favor of a pardon —

MR. BLITZER: Thank you.

MR. GIULIANI: — because this is excessive punishment —

MR. BLITZER: All right.

MR. GIULIANI: — when you consider — I’ve prosecuted 5,000 cases —

MR. BLITZER: I’m trying to get a yes or no. (Laughter.)

MR. GIULIANI: Well, this is a very important issue. This is a very, very important — a man’s life is at stake. And the reality is, this is an incomprehensible situation. They knew who the leak was —

MR. : Say, Wolf, can I explain — (off mike) —

MR. GIULIANI: — and ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.

MR. BLITZER: All right.

MR. ROMNEY: This is one of those situations where I go back to my record as governor. I didn’t pardon anybody as governor because I didn’t want to overturn a jury.

But in this case, you have a prosecutor who clearly abused prosecutorial discretion by going after somebody when he already knew that the source of the leak was Richard Armitage. He’d been told that. So HE went on a political vendetta.

MR. BLITZER: So is that a yes?

MR. ROMNEY: It’s worth looking at that. I will study it very closely, if I’m lucky enough to be president, and I’d keep that option open.

MR. BLITZER: Senator?

SEN. BROWNBACK: Yes. The basic crime here didn’t happen.

MR. BLITZER: All right.

SEN. BROWNBACK: What they were saying was that the identity of an agent was revealed —

MR. BLITZER: Governor?

SEN. BROWNBACK: — but that agent has to be in the field for that to be a crime. That didn’t occur.

MR. BLITZER: Governor?

MR. THOMPSON: Bill Clinton committed perjury in a grand jury — lost his law license. Scooter Libby got 30 months. To me, it’s not fair at all. But I would make sure the appeal was done properly, and then I would examine the record.

MR. BLITZER: Congressman?

REP. TANCREDO: Yes.

MR. BLITZER: Yes.

All right. We heard from all of them. (Applause.) (link)

Reps. Paul and Tancredo, admittedly second-tier candidates, were the only ones who actually said yes or no. Everyone else felt the need to explain, and those who did, didn’t do it very well.

Who Would You Vote For?

This blog is all about the words. So if you had to base your decision on the words of the candidates, not their looks, their flair for shaking hands, their Hollywood hair, who would you vote for? Who’s words matter the most to you? Who represents what you really believe? I suspect Congress, and Washington in general, would look a lot different if we actually paid attention to what they said rather than how they looked when they said it. Unfortunately a line from The American President says it all:

You’ve said it a million times: If there were a television set in every living room 60 years ago, this country does not elect a man in a wheelchair. (link)

What great leaders are we overlooking because we wouldn’t mistake them for a movie star?

Comments?

11
May
07

Volunteers vs Experts

Ever notice if you value volunteers more than experts or vice versa? Now, some might argue that I’m attempting to compare apples to oranges. For clarification, here’s what I mean by both. A volunteer is someone with personal knowledge and experience. She then chooses to volunteer those things for the benefit of others. The expert is someone with industry-recognized knowledge and experience. He then puts a price on his expertise and sells as the market demands.

I originally saw this comparison while reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (pg. 68 those interested enough to look it up). He compared the trust that people have for the Zagat guides, made up of volunteered reviews by diners, versus the expert opinion of food critics (aka the experts). Using this model, I looked back through history and was startled to see how many events relied on volunteers rather than experts.

  • Immigrants to any nation: Few people would qualify as immigration experts. These volunteers risked their lives to build communities that later became the basis of nations.
  • Volunteer militias and armies: In the absence of state-supported troops, men and women have proven willing to defend and die for neighbors, friends, and family.
  • Public service: Granted, we view politicians with cynicism and suspicion, but think about the efforts of the people behind the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence.
  • Volunteer organizations: Groups like the Peace Corps, and other humanitarian organizations, put lives on hold, and sometimes at risk, to aid the ones who need help the most.

In essence, isn’t the Internet, at least a significant portion of it, based on volunteer efforts? And isn’t one of the best parts of the Internet its ability to absorb the efforts of volunteers? Unlike other mediums limited by circumstances and by design (i.e. newspapers and television), the Internet allows for experimentation and idea sharing on a scale never before seen. I don’t have to be an acknowledged expert to share my ideas, much to the chagrin of many experts.

Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (link) Using the Peace Corps as a prime example, I think the volunteers on the Internet, while a bit bigger than “a small group of thoughtful people,” can change the world. Consider President Kennedy’s words, and where he mentions the Peace Corps, substitute the Internet (it’s a rough substitution, but you’ll get the idea):

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.” (link)

Yes, many people and many organizations are making large sums of money through their Internet presence and becoming acknowledged experts. However, I believe just as many people are engaged in “the great common task” of exploring and sharing this new world. In essence, we are the volunteer immigrants trying to figure out how to survive and build communities that stretch around the globe.

At some point, experts may take over the Internet as we define it today. But that’s ok, because the volunteers will be too busy exploring the new worlds and ideas experts consider too risky. Proof of this reality is confirmed every time we see a natural disaster or other calamity. It’s usually the volunteers who show up first and get to work. Experts are too busy giving interviews about the event to be much help.

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