War? What is it good for...

In a column for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward quotes Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, saying:

“We are at a time where there is a new world order. We don’t control it. You must question everything, every assumption, everything they’ — the military and diplomats — ‘tell you. Any assumption 10 years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what are we using the military for. Afghanistan will be defining for your presidency in the first term,’ Hagel also said, according to his own account, ‘perhaps even for a second term.’ The key was not to get ‘bogged down.’”

As I read the quote, I couldn’t help but think that it applied to every type of organization - not just the military.  Imagine if you swapped the word ‘military’ out for something else - like brand, or nonprofit, educational institution or media company.  You would still need to question everything.  You would still need to avoid being bogged down.  The concept, the strategic approach that Hagel is talking about… it applies just the same to everyone today.

Crisis and Media Discussion (Revisited)

Life is beginning to return to ‘normal’ here in New York City.  I realize that is somewhat easier for me to say given that I live on the Upper West Side (vs. downtown for example).  We never lost power, cable or internet access. Damage in our neighborhood was limited to a few downed trees and the like.  The subway is still closed and my office downtown in inaccessible - both of which are a hassle, but certainly not a tragedy. Overall, the disruption to our school, work and similar schedules is the biggest challenge we have had to address.  I feel very fortunate indeed.

Like many others, I have been tracking Super Storm Sandy closely over the past few days, especially by consuming as much media – traditional and social, real and fake - as I could find.  My interest in disasters is fueled, at least in part, by my curiosity around how our society plans for, deals with, and responds to disasters.  As a part of my work, I think a lot about how technology and the internet impact the ways we get/share information – and especially what happens during crisis.  If anything, my personal connection to this event offered an additional lens through which to analyze everything that has happened.

One thing you realize quickly when you monitor disasters, humanitarian and otherwise, is that the media response to these events varies significantly.  Super Storm Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the United States, so it likely would have received significant coverage regardless.  But, the fact that the storm hit, among other places, New York City - the center of the media universe - guaranteed that coverage was, and will continue to be, more extensive than other similar events.

It begs the question… while every humanitarian crisis/disaster inflicts enormous pain and suffering, why doesn’t the media doesn’t give them similar attention?  And what impact does that have on how we understand, appreciate, prepare and respond when these events unfold?  What would be different about how we prepare for, deal with, and recover/rebuild after a crisis if our media coverage was different?

——-

Almost two years ago, on February 28, 2011, I moderated an event sponsored by CauseShift and Oxfam International.  We gathered leaders from the humanitarian aid sector together with innovators inside and outside the sector for a special two-hour event/discussion about the media’s role during crisis. We challenged those who gathered to create new ways for humanitarian agencies and the media to keep people engaged in real-time and over the longer-term.

The event featured series of one-on-one interviews.  After this 'conversation gauntlet’ set the tone for the discussion, participants broke into teams and brainstormed solutions based on the following questions:

  1. How do you explain a disaster in real-time?
  2. How do you create a marketplace to more efficiently identify needs and match them with resources?
  3. How do you keep 1 million people interested one year later?
  4. What do we need to STOP doing during disasters?

Below you will find videos/transcripts of the interviews I conducted during the event, as well as notes/details from the solutions session.

Moderator Preparation:
Research Links

Conversation Gauntlet transcripts and videos:
Ayesha Khanna, Hybrid Reality Institute
Kathleen Hessert, Exercise 24
Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Stephen Cassidy, UNICEF
The Conversation Gauntlet (videos only)

Breakout Team Ideas:
Answers to the Four Main Questions

(You can find more information here: http://rallythecause.com/2011/03/23/feb-28-crisis-and-media-event-the-outcomes-library/).

——-

These conversations should be outdated – two years is an eternity in today’s fast-moving, constantly changing, rapidly evolving, 24-second-news-cycle driven world.  But as you read through the notes, you probably get the feeling, as I did, that not much (or at least not enough) has changed over that time.  I am confident we are getting smarter and adapting our behaviors in preparation for the next major event.  But I also think we can learn a lot more, and more quickly, and move more quickly to update our systems and approaches to dealing with these events.

Let me know what you think.

Crisis and Media Discussion (Revisited)

Life is beginning to return to ‘normal’ here in New York City.  I realize that is somewhat easier for me to say given that I live on the Upper West Side (vs. downtown for example).  We never lost power, cable or internet access. Damage in our neighborhood was limited to a few downed trees and the like.  The subway is still closed and my office downtown in inaccessible - both of which are a hassle, but certainly not a tragedy. Overall, the disruption to our school, work and similar schedules is the biggest challenge we have had to address.  I feel very fortunate indeed.

Like many others, I have been tracking Super Storm Sandy closely over the past few days, especially by consuming as much media – traditional and social, real and fake - as I could find.  My interest in disasters is fueled, at least in part, by my curiosity around how our society plans for, deals with, and responds to disasters.  As a part of my work, I think a lot about how technology and the internet impact the ways we get/share information – and especially what happens during crisis.  If anything, my personal connection to this event offered an additional lens through which to analyze everything that has happened.

One thing you realize quickly when you monitor disasters, humanitarian and otherwise, is that the media response to these events varies significantly.  Super Storm Sandy was one of the largest storms ever to hit the United States, so it likely would have received significant coverage regardless.  But, the fact that the storm hit, among other places, New York City - the center of the media universe - guaranteed that coverage was, and will continue to be, more extensive than other similar events.

It begs the question… while every humanitarian crisis/disaster inflicts enormous pain and suffering, why doesn’t the media doesn’t give them similar attention?  And what impact does that have on how we understand, appreciate, prepare and respond when these events unfold?  What would be different about how we prepare for, deal with, and recover/rebuild after a crisis if our media coverage was different?

——-

Almost two years ago, on February 28, 2011, I moderated an event sponsored by CauseShift and Oxfam International.  We gathered leaders from the humanitarian aid sector together with innovators inside and outside the sector for a special two-hour event/discussion about the media’s role during crisis. We challenged those who gathered to create new ways for humanitarian agencies and the media to keep people engaged in real-time and over the longer-term.

The event featured series of one-on-one interviews.  After this 'conversation gauntlet’ set the tone for the discussion, participants broke into teams and brainstormed solutions based on the following questions:

  1. How do you explain a disaster in real-time?
  2. How do you create a marketplace to more efficiently identify needs and match them with resources?
  3. How do you keep 1 million people interested one year later?
  4. What do we need to STOP doing during disasters?

Below you will find videos/transcripts of the interviews I conducted during the event, as well as notes/details from the solutions session.

Moderator Preparation:
Research Links

Conversation Gauntlet transcripts and videos:
Ayesha Khanna, Hybrid Reality Institute
Kathleen Hessert, Exercise 24
Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Stephen Cassidy, UNICEF
The Conversation Gauntlet (videos only)

Breakout Team Ideas:
Answers to the Four Main Questions

(You can find more information here: http://rallythecause.com/2011/03/23/feb-28-crisis-and-media-event-the-outcomes-library/).

——-

These conversations should be outdated – two years is an eternity in today’s fast-moving, constantly changing, rapidly evolving, 24-second-news-cycle driven world.  But as you read through the notes, you probably get the feeling, as I did, that not much (or at least not enough) has changed over that time.  I am confident we are getting smarter and adapting our behaviors in preparation for the next major event.  But I also think we can learn a lot more, and more quickly, and move more quickly to update our systems and approaches to dealing with these events.

Let me know what you think.

Talking About Online Organizing With Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans is in the business of creating 21st Century Movements.  As he explained it during his talk at #BIF8 “We organize people around major global issues and try to deploy their collective power using technology in really smart ways.” 

Consider that, you would think that Jeremy’s work, which uses technology to help build and mobilize individuals and communities on a global scale, puts him at odds with the argument that Sherry Turkle is making about the need to re-connect offline, face-to-face.  When I asked Jeremy, he reconciled the two different views this way:

“I totally agree with most of what Sherry Turkle says, and I agree with her general argument about the corrosive effects of digital overload.  But in this case, I don’t think they are as mutually exclusive as they seem.  When we do these large mobilizations online, a smaller sub-section self select to participate in high touch offline activities.  What the online gives you is the ability to get more people doing the offline stuff than would otherwise have done so.  So it gives you scale and the ability to get new people into the system more fluidly.

That’s not to say that every time someone signs an online position they are creating deep connection – but over time you can build brands and organizations that people begin to attach some identify to.  The experience of seeing the $30 you raised going into a television ad that influences the outcome of some legislative battle – that’s actually very reinforcing.  So there is a lot you can do to build community online, that is a different set of things that the offline interaction gives you.  The comparison is not apples to apples.”

Jeremy acknowledged that there are limits to what basic online actions people will take, and how valuable those actions can be when applied in an organizing context.  But is it possible for organizers to create online activities that are equally valuable to the types of offline, high-touch activities that smaller groups are doing, but in larger numbers? Jeremy answered:

“There is certainly a need for more tactical innovation in the online organizing space.  There is also a risk of the space becoming commoditized, when everyone becomes so good at the testing and refining that cynicism creeps into the process.  And I think you are seeing some of that already. That said, I think the key is to continuously find new ways to deploy scale in politically useful ways.

There are some situations where scale really does matter. If you want to coordinate in a very short period of time a large number of simultaneous offline events or a calling campaign at a very critical moment, or to raise a huge amount of money [Jeremy cited a recent project where money was raised to help get a group of gay Iraqis out of Iraq at a speed that a traditional foundation would never be able to handle] – all those things rely on scale, not necessarily on the actions of the small, high-touch groups.

I think you just have to recognize that there is a set of things that scale gets you – among those things is not the deepest forms of community and connection, but you can still conduct a set of activities that are really valuable to movement building and generating political power.“

Finally, I asked Jeremy about how to prevent the commoditization of online organizing.  He replied:

“One risk is things become too sensationalized. You want to appeal to a broad audience, but you don’t want to sensationalize or trivialize.  Sometimes sensationalizing something will lead to a bigger response, but that can also lead to a diminution of the brand.  So I think that’s a big risk.

I also think we need to find new ways to reach people – email is still highly effective, but in the United States people are sick of it, so there is a need to reach people in ways that are potentially different. That’s an area of opportunity.”

I am still not convinced that online organizing will help us to solve the problems facing our society – not as it is currently conceived or executed. But I have known Jeremy for many years and worked with him directly on one occasion (on a campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons that launched in late 2007/early 2008) – and if his work proves anything, its that we have the potential to figure this stuff out.  Now we just have to do it.

My Conversation with Sherry Turkle

While Sherry Turkle, an MIT researcher and the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, was on stage presenting at #BIF8, I sat huddled behind the screen of my laptop.  That seems fitting given that she was talking about how technology is undermining our ability as human beings to connect and engage with each other.  Here plea to those of us in the audience – and across our society – was to “look up, look at each other… and start a conversation.”

During a break, I took the bait and went to have a one-on-one conversation with Sherry Turkle. 

First, I asked her to contrast the energy and enthusiasm that exists around the idea of movement building, and specifically the use of technology to support collaboration on a global scale, and her argument that technology has undermined our ability to connect and form intimate connections that is necessary to build community. Her response:

“I think we have to separate the hype from the reality. I don’t take away what technology allows us to do in terms of getting people together and organizing them.  But in order to really get the job done we need to not be afraid to face each other, face-to-face, and really have that conversation. I think that we are going to be sorely disappointed if we rely on massive organizing potential and end up somehow phobic about face-to-face. I don’t want to take away from this wonderful potential of what technology can do in terms of mass organizing, but I think we will be somehow disappointed if we trade away our love affair with each other.”

As our conversation continued, I suggested that one of the appealing aspects of technology is that it made it possible for large numbers of people to take a shared set of actions – watch a video, read an article, like an organization or share a view, etc.  Arguably, we have been able to train people to behave in certain prescribed ways, believing, at some level, that when people take those simple actions, we are driving meaningful, measurable changes in how people think or act.  By comparison, we all know that a face-to-face conversation is more fulfilling, and potentially more impactful – but also far more difficult to make happen, and nearly impossible to do at any kind of scale.  So I asked whether/how we could teach people to talk to each other at scale.  She responded:

“I think what’s funny about that question is that we don’t need to teach – we need to remember.  We have gotten out of the habit because we don’t have dinner with our families. We don’t have breakfast with our families.  We don’t take walks with our kids.  I’m not trying to portray a golden age when we just hung around, but we are losing the moments when people did talk.  We first need to go back to the social situations that we value, when people did those things that were conducive to talking (her example is walking with another person on the beach, an activity she has observed over the past two decades being replaced by people walking by themselves while constantly thumb-texting).  To ask, how are we going to teach people to talk to each other on the beach – let’s just put away our phones and see what happens when we spontaneously discovery the please of talking to each other on the beach.

I started to imagine all these conversations taking place – and then going very badly.  What happens if/when we put down our devices and engage in a face-to-face conversation – only to leave the conversation feeling unfulfilled?  If hiding behind technology is, to some extent, a reliable defense against being hurt, what are we supposed to do when that (inevitably) happens?  She responded:

“I’ll take that chance, because I think our image of what that conversation will look like has been flattened out by the experience of texting.  Our idea of conversation is so flattened out that people are willing to call almost anything a conversation – but what are they talking about?  I think we should put down the devices and see what happens.”

Our conversation continued for a few more minutes, and others joined in to offer thoughts and ask questions as well – but by then, Sherry Turkle had asked me to turn off my recording device, so I don’t remember most of what was discussed in enough detail to relay it here.  That makes sense, I guess.

Draw Something... Or Maybe Don't

You will be hard pressed to find a marketing conference, corporate summit, or innovation-oriented gathering these days that doesn’t include an artist, toiling away behind an oversized canvas, trying to translate the thoughts and ideas being presented on stage into an illustration or makeshift infographic. The idea behind creating these visual summaries is that the core concepts will be more easily remembered, shared, and applied to work that begins after the summit, conference or gathering ends. Does it work? How many people do these wonderful creations actually reach? How do people change their work, or their thinking, when these visual thought products are hanging on their wall (or whatever)?

I attend a lot of conference and events, so I have collected my fair share of visual summaries over the years. But I have never received one without directly participating in an event. Nobody ever forwarded a set of visual notes to me via email. I have never seen visual notes show up in my news feed. If the idea behind creating these visual summaries is that the core concepts expressed at some conference, summit or gathering will be more easily remembered, shared, and applied to work going forward, and they were performing as intended, then I would expect to see the visual summaries everywhere. I would expect that people would reference them more – or at all – in their work, across social media… anywhere. That simply isn’t happening.

I am starting to think that visual summaries are just a form of performance art – potentially interesting and thought-provoking if you happen to be watching it unfold in real-time, but of little value if you aren’t in the right place at the right time. The summits, conferences and gatherings that employ these artists suggest that one of their goals is to promote ideas, drive innovation, and influence how people work and behave with some larger business or social purpose in mind. But for those goals to be realized, the ideas and thoughts must spread, they must be referenced, and they must be absorbed into our work and thinking in ways that influence how we operate – and change our behaviors. If visual summaries aren’t able to produce that kind of reach, we should find another way to capture and communicate out the information we need and want.

Don't Stop Thinking About... The Issues

Bill Clinton put on a master class in political persuasion last night at the Democratic Convention. His 48-minute opus – half prepared, half-improvised – effectively made the case for President Obama’s re-election to undecided and moderate voters, dismantled many of the key arguments being promoted by the GOP, and re-energized the Democratic base in anticipation of the final push towards election day. 

There is nobody else in politics, or in public life for that matter, who could have delivered that speech – Bill Clinton has magical powers when it comes to communicating with and engaging with people.  Still, there is an important lesson that anyone in the business of communicating, marketing or speechwriting can take away from his performance: substance matters.

“Clinton on Wednesday avoided this kind of Oprah-style mood music in favor a more potent skill — his ability to convey the concrete human dimensions of public policy,” explained John Harris and Jonathan Martin in their analysis of Clinton’s speech.  They added: “repeatedly, Clinton cited a barrage of facts and figures, woven with historical context, sometimes in a highly argumentative way.”

Most politicians avoid talking about substantive issues. Brands, nonprofits, everyone avoids talking about substantive issues.  They focus instead on storytelling and branding. The belief is that if you connect with someone on an emotional level they’ll be motivated to take action. But it’s not true. Storytelling is important, but it is not enough.  People take action, whether its voting, donating, buying, or simply changing their behavior in some small way when they understand and appreciate the impact of those decisions.  Stories alone can’t do that.

Audiences are smart enough to understand complex issues when they are explained effectively.  Clinton understands that – and showed as much in his speech. As Harris and Martin noted “…his emphasis on policy has the effect — and in large measure the reality — of seeming to treat voters as adults who must be reached by reason, rather than Hallmark-card sentimentality.

Bill Clinton connected with the audience – in the room and across the country watching on television – on an emotional level, as well as intellectually. Both are important.  So talk about the substance.  It will change everything.

Convention Thoughts

This is the first year since 1992 that I haven’t attended the Democratic Convention – and the first time since 2000 that I haven’t attended both the Democratic and Republican Conventions.  I have watched hours of live coverage, read pages and pages of commentary and analysis.  I even hosted a radio show discussing the role of digital and social media in this year’s conventions.

Here are some quick thoughts about the first night of the Democratic Convention:

The Democrats have, thus far, orchestrated a far better convention than the Republicans (and we are only one day into the event).  Barring some sort of disaster, inside or outside of the arena/stadium in Charlotte, President Obama is likely to enjoy a far better bounce coming out of the convention that Mitt Romney.  A benefit for sure of scheduling your convention a) after Labor Day (when people are back, preparing to return to school and work, and generally focused again on things that matter in the world), and b) after the Republicans (so you can see how their speakers lacked energy and failed to mention their candidate by name enough – and make adjustments before you take the stage).  Factoid: Michelle Obama’s speech generated more tweets-per-minute than Mitt Romney (a measure of nothing beyond how many tweets people posted, not as some suggest a reflection of voter intent or similar, but still). 
 
I have been asked why Deval Patrick didn’t give the keynote. Answer: Because a) he is from Massachusetts, b) he doesn’t represent a voting block (African Americans) that the President needs help to win (compared to Hispanics), and c) he’s not an up-and-coming star in the party, he is already a star.  That said, he gave the best speech of the night – Michelle had the best delivery, but she needed a few more substantive points to knock it out of the park.
 
Bill Clinton will be the main attraction tonight… but, the Giants and Cowboys also kick off the NFL season. Unless Clinton’s speech falls during half time, I would expect the audience for football to dwarf the convention audience.  I hope I am wrong.

Deja Vu All Over Again: PDF Edition

Earlier this week, while attending the Personal Democracy Forum conference, I heard the head digital strategist for the Romney Campaign, Zac Moffatt, talk about his job.  The most striking thing he said was that he was still working to make sure that digital strategy was considered a key part of the campaign’s overall plan, that the digital team had a pro-active budget to work with, and that he and his team had a seat at the table when big decisions were being made.

Really?  I heard the same thing from the folks responsible for driving digital campaign strategy in 2004 and 2008.  This is 2012.  This is supposed to be the most technologically savvy, social-media-fueled election in the history of politics… and the Republican nominee still needs to be convinced to give digital its rightful place in his campaign?

Forget partisanship for a moment… if a politician doesn’t recognize the importance of using digital technology and media to engage with voters, I don’t trust that person to hold office.  Digital technology and media are central to our lives, whether we like it or not, and its long past time that the political world truly figured that out. 

Tonya Hall Show: Friday, May 11, 2012

I have the honor and privilege of guest-hosting the Tonya Hall Show again today.  The show is all about embracing the power of social media, everything happening on the world wide web and how the internet is changing our lives.

On today’s show we’ll be talking about three topics: 1) the 2012 election… and how this cycle is shaping up to be different (beyond just the tools that people are using).  2) Obama vs. Romney… and what each campaign can/should be doing to use digital/social media to gain an advantage, and 3) the online influence of outside groups (including the media)… and how the accessibility of social media to everyone impacts how the election will be decided. 

My guest is David Almacy.  David is a senior vice president for Edelman.  Prior to joining Edelman, David was the White House Internet and E-Communications director under President George W. Bush.  In that role, he managed online communications strategy, served as an official spokesman for Internet press and bloggers and acted as a liaison to the federal government Web manager community. He was also the primary owner of the White House Website (WhiteHouse.gov) and spearheaded its comprehensive redesign in March 2007.

Just last week, David was named one of the top 50 people in politics to follow by the Huffington Post. 

For more information about David, read his blog - CapitalGig - or follow him on Twitter.

I will post notes and links about the topics we discussed after the show…

Tonya Hall Show: Thursday, May 10, 2012

[Updated]

I had the honor and privilege of guest-hosting the Tonya Hall Show today.  The show is all about embracing the power of social media, everything happening on the world wide web and how the internet is changing our lives.

On today’s show we talked about two topics: 1) sports and society – and what digital and social media are doing to help extend the impact that sports is having on our culture, and 2) the evolution of sports media – and how the role and impact of journalists who cover sports, and related issues, is changing in the digital age.

My guest was Tom Farrey, a veteran investigative journalist, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ESPN, and the author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children. Tom’s work over the years has explored the connections between sports and the largest themes in society – education, globalization, technology, race, gender, poverty and ethics, among others.



In 2011, Tom also became director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society program, a vehicle for convening leaders and fostering dialogue around topics of critical importance. The program helps inspire solutions to major issues so that sport can best serve the public interest, starting with the health needs of children and communities.



you can follow Tom on Twitter: @TomFarrey

Some notes/thoughts from the show…



The way we view sports is changing.  Clearly there are a lot of people using digital and social media to access information about sports - watch games, follow teams and athletes, discuss happenings (81% of people prefer the Internet for their sports news over radio and other traditional sources, during a televised game that they are watching, 83% of people will check game updates online…).  The sports media world is changing – there are more voices, more noise as well.  But, Tom noted that there is also a new appreciation for investigative journalism related to sports, and interest in the connection between sports and society, because of the range of ways people can get information and connect to different issues.  

For more  substantive issues to gain traction, Tom suggested, the focus needs to be right.  The issue of steroids in sports, for example, wasn’t of immediate interest to most casual sports fans.  But something like concussions, which has a more direct impact on people’s lives, has generated significant interest and discussion online.

Title IX. As a part of the Sports & Society project, Tom is organizing an event (May 31 - Washington, DC) focused on Title IX, the landmark legislation that greatly expanded access to sports participation opportunities for many girls and women, Title IX celebrates its 40th anniversary in June, but most girls still do not play sports. The deficits are most pronounced in urban and other low-income communities. And Tom suggested that addressing the participation rates is a matter of national consequence for reasons that include social development and public health.  Check out hashtag #T9andbeyond for more information.

Must-reads: At the end of the show I highlighted a few must-reads related to the discussion, including:



There was so much more discussed on the show that just can’t be adequately summarized here, but if you want to listen, the archived recording is available here.

Still more notes from #ActivateNYC12

I spent yesterday at the Guardian Active Summit.  Here is my last round of observations/thoughts from the afternoon sessions:

Questions. Om Malik, the founder and editor in Chief, GigaOM Network, talked about how important it is to be constantly learning.  He explained: “If I start the day with five questions and I end the day with five questions I have failed. If I start the day with five questions and I end it with ten I have succeeded.”  He added that the media industry, in particular, has a lot to figure out right now, that it is even more important that they ask questions (and have questions asked of them).

Numbers.  Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, shared three numbers that caught my attention:

  • 56.8%… the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted in 2008 campaign.  That number isn’t very high when you consider how many people chose not to exercise their right to vote (and how important participation is to a functioning democracy). Sadly, the number who participate in the 2012 election is expected to be lower.
  • 390,000… As a part of its commitment to open government, the Obama Administration has released 390,000 data sets to date.  As Rasiej noted, a lot of that data may be useless, but people are building interesting things on top of some of the data, and its creating opportunities – for government and non-government folks alike – that weren’t there when that information was not being shared.
  • 5.9 billion… the number of mobile phones in the world (roughly 87% of the world’s population).  The majority of those phones, right now, are not smartphones – but its only a matter of time before the computing power of the devices that people across the globe carry makes our current smartphones look like those old-school brick phones (that Zack Morris used to use on Saved by the Bell).

More numbers. Nancy Lublin, the Chief Old Person at DoSomething.org, shared a few more eye-popping numbers:

  • 100%… text messaging has a 100% open rate.  And, texting actually over-indexes for minorities and urban youth.
  • 3330… the average teenager gets 3330 texts a month (and for teenage girls that number is closer to 4500 per month).
  • 1/3… one-third of all homeless in the United States are under the age of 18. 

Mark Every Death.  Clay Shirky introduced a site called Homicide Watch D.C. (http://homicidewatch.org) which provides a listing of every homicide in the nation’s capital.  No exceptions. Every victim is featured on the site and has their own URL – allowing family and friends to access, or share, information that relates to the murder.  As Shirky put it, “the site is designed as if the web exists.”  No editorial choices are made about what to feature on the site, because everything gets covered.

That’s it for now.

More Notes from #ActivateNYC12

I am spending the day at the Guardian Active Summit.

Here are a few more observations/thoughts from the morning sessions:

Back to Basics. Adam Sharp, the senior manager for government, news and social innovation at Twitter outlined three trends in a Twitter-powered political world: 1) the democratization of access, 2) the impact of everything being real-time, and… most interestingly, 3) a return to retail politics.  Its not every day you hear someone from a tech company talk about the importance of getting offline and connecting with people in a more direct and personal way.  Politics has always been local, and platforms like Twitter make it possible for people to find and engage with others who share their interest in new and powerful ways. But we can’t forget what is actually required when we want to connect, and stay connected, to other people in a meaningful way and for a sustained period of time.

Filter for Good. Eli Pariser, the author of Filter Bubble and CEO Upworthy.com, talked about the tension between attention and relevance in a world of information.  When the focus is on attention, content publishers (media, brands, everyone) compete using whatever methods they can dream up.  But, as Pariser explained it “if you can engineer relevance, design algorithms that create relevance, you can get people coming back to your site and that means you have happy advertisers.  It’s a win-win.’  One opportunity for relevance is to ‘Filter for Good’ – make it possible for information that is important for people to understand (and not just ‘like’ as in the case of the button on Facebook) to get shared.  Pariser suggested Facebook consider adding an ‘important’ button that users could click when a non-likeable, but still relevant story appears in their news feed.

More later.

Notes from #ActivateNYC12

I am spending the day at the Guardian Activate Summit

Here are a few observations/thoughts from the morning sessions:

Publicness. There are lots of different to describe the idea of being open and connected.  Jeff Jarvis uses the word publicness, by which he means you operate in public, for the public, and with the public.  Jarvis suggested that the internet is our greatest tool for encouraging and advancing publicness, but cautioned that both publicness and the internet require a lot of experimentation.   He argued that we, as a society, are experiencing a lot of change – most believe that change is happening at a very rapid pace, but Jarvis argues the opposite, believing the actual change is happening very slowly. “We are at the very beginning,’ he said, and “we still have a lot of work to do to figure it out.’


Attitude isn’t enough.  When Jeff Jarvis interviewed Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, a clear theme emerged: Openness is not just an attitude, but a reflection of your relationship to the world. Hoffman noted there are still verticals (and thus, inevitably some information won’t be shared, some people won’t interact) but they exist on top of platforms.  So the key to openness and sharing, and thus collaboration and progress, is to make the platforms more open.  As the platforms open, the different verticals have more opportunity to exchange ideas and interact with different people and ideas.  In the end, Hoffman suggested, the goal of organizations/institutions the opportunity is to make the information we need to lead our lives easier to find, easier to make sense of, and easier to work with.


Responsibility to provide. G. Edward DeSeve, the president of the Global Public Leadership Institute and a former special advisor to President Obama, gave a brief talk about how government could become more open, and the role that tools and data play in supporting that transformation.  His message: data and tools don’t solve problems on their own, but the availability of data and more tools ultimately can be used to help government do a better job serving its constituents. I raised my hand and asked whether we were likely to see the social norms and behaviors that people in government bring to these conversations update, or how to accelerate that change in thinking.  DeSeve acknowledged that the people within government are not thinking openly enough, and that change will be difficult and slow to realize.  Then he told a story about the CIA and how that they now operate under a mindset of ‘responsibility to provide’ – the idea that intelligence and data should be open and shared, as much as possible, unless there is a legal or security reason for keeping it closed.  Interesting.


NOTE: The CIA has a long, detailed overview of how information sharing with Congress has evolved over time but the timeline stops in the 1990s, so I’ll have to do some more digging before I can make sense of this concept.


More later.

Think before you give

The New York Times cites a study that challenges the business model of some nonprofit organizations.  Here is a blurb from the article:

Giving used eyeglasses to poor countries may please the donors, but it is not worth the high delivery costs, a new study has concluded, and a $10 donation would do more good.

The study, led by Australian scientists and published in March in Optometry and Vision Science, found that only 7 percent of a test sample of 275 donated spectacles were usable. That raised the delivery cost to over $20 per usable pair. A simple eye exam and a set of ready-made glasses from China can be provided for just $10, the authors said.

The rejected glasses in the study had scratched lenses, damaged frames or prescriptions so specifically aligned to the original owners’ pupils that finding a match was unlikely.

Used glasses also must be cleaned, assessed and shipped, adding to the cost. Then potential recipients often reject them as castoffs, dirty, unfashionable or designed for the opposite sex.

I recognize that this is just one study and the research only applies to one type of organization/charitable model.  Still, there is an important lesson here as we start to think differently about how to address serious issues in a connected society.  All actions are not created equal.  All donations are not good donations.

Overall, the idea of recycling used goods to serve another societal need seems to make sense.  It certainly sets up a great story – and, as the study cites, makes donors feel good about their simple actions.  But a good story and a happy donor base aren’t the goal, or shouldn’t be the goal.  The goal is to give people access to quality eyeglasses… and if that goal isn’t being achieved, or could be achieved in a more efficient and effective way, then the organization is failing at its mission.

I routinely counsel organizations not to seek contributions – to not ask for money. Why not?  Because money is probably the least interesting thing that someone can offer - compared to their time, expertise, access to their network, and so on.  But in this case, it seems clear that raising money can more towards helping address a societal need (the lack of access to eyeglasses) than anything else.  In that case, dollars trump everything else.

Just because we have established that organizations whose goal is to provide eyeglasses to people who don’t have them should seek financial contributions instead of donations of used goods (that was easy!), doesn’t mean our work is done. We still have an abundance of used eyeglasses.  That begs the question: what other ways might old eyeglasses be used to solve a societal problem? 

Answer that…

Lessons from a Pitch (It) Competition

[Cross-posted at WeMedia]

I didn’t win the big prize at the We Media PitchIt! competition, but I walked away with something potentially more valuable: honest and constructive feedback that will help to shape the future trajectory of my project. Here is a quick recap and some lessons learned:

Eight minutes is awkward

Each of the eight finalists was given eight minutes to present their project, plus another four-or-so minutes for questions from the judges. Of course, eight minutes is more time than you would need to provide a simple elevator pitch, but not enough time to get into sufficient detail about a platform or plan. If you think that preparing for an eight minute pitch simply requires adjusting your cadence, or offering more/less detail, you are wrong. A specialized deck, and script, for that length of a pitch is required. I
settled on 15 slides and finished with 5 seconds to spare – managing mostly even pacing through my key points and still time for a quick back-and-forth with one of the judges.

Questions have many answers

I prepared for the Q&A portion of the competition by anticipating questions that might be posed by the judges and preparing and practicing some stock answers. Still, when my moment in the hot seat arrived I found myself scrambling. When one of the judges asked how I would integrate an existing platform into my plans, I assumed he wanted me to explain how I would make that work. I had an answer for that, as well as an answer for why my plans were superior to the existing options in the marketplace. I mis-read the tone of his question and provided the wrong answer, thus missing an opportunity to clearly distinguish my plans. I didn’t harm my pitch significantly, but I didn’t do myself any favors either.

Eight minutes is awkward

Each of the eight finalists was given eight minutes to present their project, plus another four-or-so minutes for questions from the judges. Of course, eight minutes is more time than you would need to provide a simple elevator pitch, but not enough time to get into sufficient detail about a platform or plan. If you think that preparing for an eight minute pitch simply requires adjusting your cadence, or offering more/less detail, you are wrong. A specialized deck, and script, for that length of a pitch is required. I
settled on 15 slides and finished with 5 seconds to spare – managing mostly even pacing through my key points and still time for a quick back-and-forth with one of the judges.

Questions have many answers

I prepared for the Q&A portion of the competition by anticipating questions that might be posed by the judges and preparing and practicing some stock answers. Still, when my moment in the hot seat arrived I found myself scrambling. When one of the judges asked how I would integrate an existing platform into my plans, I assumed he wanted me to explain how I would make that work. I had an answer for that, as well as an answer for why my plans were superior to the existing options in the marketplace. I mis-read the tone of his question and provided the wrong answer, thus missing an opportunity to clearly distinguish my plans. I didn’t harm my pitch significantly, but I didn’t do myself any favors either.

[Cross-posted at WeMedia]

Chief Asshole

Earlier today, as a part of a plenary discussion at the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference, I was appointed ‘Chief Asshole’ as part of the effort to drive innovation in the social impact space.  It is an honor to hold this title.

How exactly did it happen?

We were talking about the need for innovation in the nonprofit/social impact sector – both in terms of changing the way organizations think and operate, but also with regard to how we focus on finding solutions to the complex problems that we face as a society (these are, of course, the themes that I take up in my book, Shift & Reset).  I suggested that brands, technology companies, and others on the for-profit side were, in many cases, doing more harm than good by pursing socially oriented efforts without fully understanding how to drive the kinds of meaningful, measurable change that is needed.  The partnerships that exist between brands and nonprofits, under the banner of cause marketing for example, do little to identify solutions – instead providing marketing and corporate social responsibility benefits to brands at the expense of real impact.   

I challenged the nonprofit/social impact community to call out efforts that were not helping to drive innovation or pursue solutions to the most pressing issues we face.  I suggested that nonprofit/social impact organizations needed to collaborate with companies in ways that allow for their expertise and experience to more fully and appropriately utilized. And I told the crowd that we needed to do a better job standing up for ourselves, our knowledge, and our work – and as a part of that we should be holding corporations accountable for prioritizing their own reputation at the expense of achieving real outcomes.

I finished my rant by saying… “look, if I need to be the asshole who says those things, and calls people out, and makes that case so others don’t have to do it… I will."  And then Beth Kanter (@kanter), one of the leading voices in the nonprofit technology space and the moderator for our plenary, officially gave me the title of Chief Asshole.

As I said, it is an honor to hold this title.  But I am not the only person who is willing to be a part of this conversation.  This will be a team effort.  We’ll be a team of assholes.  And together, we will shake things up.

Why I Donate

Earlier this week I received an email from a nonprofit leader with the subject line ‘Supporting Non-Profits.“  The email read as follows:

Brian -

Just read your post on Fast Company from 3 years ago (sorry for being late to the party).

"The Cone list is littered with groups that I supported in the past, but no longer give time or money to today.  I haven’t stopped giving my money and time to groups, quite the opposite in fact, but I have found many other organizations who are doing more and better work to address the issues that I believe are important in ways that I know are having a greater impact.  And I know I am not the only one.”

If you don’t mind, could you tell me the biggest factors that affect your charitable giving? How are you able to cut through the groups that talk about the issues and support the ones that tackle them?

It is a difficult question and one that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

I don’t feel as if I have a lot of money to just give away, especially when I don’t see the direct impact that my (inevitably small) contribution would make.  I want to make a contribution and know that I am making a difference, and feel like I have a connection to the organization I am supporting and know they truly value my commitment and our relationship. 

I haven’t been donating much of late.  Frankly, I don’t see many organizations tackling issues the way I would hope, nor do I feel appreciated for the contributions that I do make. 

I give when I am able to see clearly that a group is being smart and communicating well.  I sometimes give when a friend asks - but mostly because I want to support my friend, and not necessarily because I believe the organization deserves the support.  And I give to see what I can learn from a group.  Mostly, I find myself buying things that end up having some benefit to an organization – for example: I bought a book about ending malaria.  But, to be clear, I bought the book because I was interested in the issue, and curious to see whether value of the book itself lived up the hype it was receiving (note: I wrote a post about how I thought it could have been so much more) – knowing that money went to support Malaria No More wasn’t a major factor in my decision making.

I definitely prefer to share expertise, because I believe that is the most valuable thing that I can offer.  I wouldn’t mind sharing connections or making introductions, but I do hesitate because most organization in my experience treat people as nameless, faceless donors, and I value the people in my network more than that.  And I’m willing to give information… data… about myself, about my experiences, etc. to help an organization get smarter. Of course, I don’t get asked for that kind of stuff very often.

What about you?

Kony 2012: Mistakes Were Made (Part 1)

I have lots of thoughts about the Kony 2012 campaign from Invisible Children - what was smart (a lot), what was not as smart (a lot) and what it all means.  Let me start with this:

Jason Russell, who narrated the Kony 2012 video in addition to directing it, told Reuters on Friday that he didn’t expect the incredibly detailed story of Joseph Kony and child militias in Africa to be answered in a mere 30 minutes.  The article quotes Russell as follows:

It definitely oversimplifies the issue. This video is not the answer, it’s just the gateway into the conversation. And we made it quick and oversimplified on purpose… We are proud that it is simple. We like that. And we want you to keep investigating, we want you to read the history.

My view: the campaign concept and the video are not where the team at Invisible Children missed the mark — it was the follow-through that should have been done better/differently. 

If you assume that the audience will be motivated to learn more about this issue, then you have to help them access and make sense of the necessary information.  Invisible Children failed at that important task.  While there is information online about Joseph Kony, and more news coverage and blog-driven analysis of the issue being published each day, Invisible Children missed the opportunity to guide and shape the conversation beyond the most basic introductory level. 

Invisible Children should have created and promoted more information and insight about Joseph Kony to accompany the video — think a directors cut version that explored the background and characters that were featured.  In addition, Invisible Children should have curated articles, books, interviews and other information from credible voices on this issue to help bolster their argument and provide important context to their audience. 

The execution of the campaign and video were smart - and clearly resonated.  By failing to more deeply engage on an intellectual level, however, that audience that saw the video, Invisible Children has missed the biggest opportunity of all - to keep the audience engaged, to get them more connected to the issues, and to build an army of supporters that they could mobilize to further promote their work and help fulfill their mission.

More later.

Shift & Reset Podcast at SXSW

I will be hosting a podcast at SXSW today that looks at some of the big themes trends and topics that everyone will be discussing all week in Austin – or should be discussing — and how those ideas can be used to change business, media, and maybe even the world.

I have three very smart people joining me for this conversation:

Melinda Wittstock, the Founder and CEO of NewsiT

Gemma Craven, the head of the NY team for Social@Ogilvy

Jack Madans, Project Manager at CodeForAmerica


Here is my setup/intro:

Technology and the Internet are driving significant changes to our society, and these changes are being felt by everyone. The ways people get/share information are changing - rapidly and constantly. The result is that the ways we conceive of, create, distribute, consume and share media (all forms, but especially online) are very different than just a few years ago.  This provides us with wonderful opportunities to transform and innovate how we do everything - conduct business, promote media, organize communities, and drive change.  And yet, it is obvious that we need to work collectively, and in decisively new ways, if we want to see real changes. We must broaden the scope of our concerns beyond the isolated needs of a single organization, market, or sector and instead address these challenges on a global level.

I will post more later.