tag:tomwebster.org,2013:/posts Aren't you THE Tom Webster? 2013-10-08T17:16:14Z tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536716 2013-04-17T16:56:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Autotweeting During A Crisis.

The whole "suspend your social marketing during a crisis" judgmentathon is a complicated mess. Do we expect brands to be able, on a dime, to stop their TV ads? Radio spots? Print ads? Events? Somewhat, but I would suggest not to the same extent. The vitriol expended over automated tweets seems to be somewhat disproportionate. Yes, I know it is easier to suspend social than it is to kill a flight of scheduled TV spots.

But what I don't know is whether or not the average consumer is as offended by a lapse in social media marketing judgment as a social media consultant might be. I just don't know. Maybe they are.

I do know that brands are run by humans, and I assume those humans have feelings, just like you and I do. So I don't assume that there is anything sinister behind a stray autotweet or two, or a momentary lapse in judgement.

So, the short answer is, I won't be drawing any conclusions about this sort of thing. Be well.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536717 2013-02-27T14:15:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Things I Have Learned About Running I guess I am a runner. I never considered myself a runner--I ran my first 5K when I was 35, and had been a sporadic runner at best until my wife and I started training for our first marathon. Now I'm logging 20-30 mile weeks and burning through sneakers. So, now I'm a runner.

Everytime I suit up to run, I have to start a negotiation process with my head, my lungs and my legs. My legs say, "we're too sore." My lungs say, "we feel like crap." and my head mostly agrees with them. Still, I've managed to coax most of them along for most of my runs. In the process of becoming a runner, I've learned a few things. Maybe they'll help you.

1. There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad gear. We've been training in Boston, in the winter. It is not pleasant in Boston in the winter. There seem to be four kinds of days:

A. Windy and in the teens

B. Snowy and freezing

C. Rainy and 40

D. Deceptively sunny and mild when you start, but one of A-C by the midpoint of your run.

Still, I can't say I've been cold or uncomfortable. I can't run more than 3 miles on a treadmill without wanting to shove an awl through my skull, so outside is really the only option. Here is where you spend your money. I run with a combination of Nike Element Shield Max jacket/tights or clothing from Craft and I've been warm, dry and comfortable. Smartwool socks help, too.Yes, there are days when I'm out there in $1000 worth of clothing and electronics. Ridiculous! But I'm out there.

2. There are no good running headphones. I've tried them all. I've tried "sports" earphones from Sennheiser, Adidas, Sony and Klipsch. They either won't stay in my ears once I'm sweaty, or they break in two months, or yes. I've never, EVER, gotten a pair of sports headphones to last more than 2 months. Maybe my sweat is corrosive, like Alien blood. THAT JUST MAKES ME THE NEXT STEP IN HUMAN EVOLUTION.

I even tried a pair of Motorola bluetooth sports headphones to go wireless. Regardless of what ANY package says, sweat and electronics don't mix. They lasted 2 months of 20-30 miles per week running in a Boston winter before one of the channels just quit. I'm currently running with a pair of Yurbuds. They stay in my ears. I haven't had them two months yet. They sound like stink.

So, just find a pair you like that stay in your ears and resign yourself to re-buying them every two months.

3. You rarely feel like running until you've run two miles. This is good advice for life, period--you CBT fans will recognize the wisdom here. There is no such thing as waiting for the motivation to run. You get motivated in the act of running. The first mile, for me, is creaky and slow. The second mile hurts. Miles three and on are pretty good, actually--and that's when the endorphins kick in and you start to get the real benefit of running.

The other helpful thing I've learned here is that it's the runs that really suck that help you--if you are doing your weekly long run and you finish looking and feeling like 30 miles of bad road, congrats--you've just stressed your system. It will heal up, recover and be stronger. That's the point of the long run. This helps me, mentally, when I hit double digits in miles and start to question my will to live.

4. Bring food and drink. This took me an embarrasingly long time to figure out, but sometimes, when you feel like crap and don't think you can go another mile, it's because the tank is empty. Duh. So far, I've had the best success with Gatorade (there is a fair amount of science behind it, after all), Hammer Gels (the ingredients list doesn't look like a Union Carbide manifest) and Bonk Breakers (like Clif Bars, but they crumble and digest easier.) 

5. Cadence matters. This has been my most recent lesson, and the one that has really changed my running (and hopefully in time to correct my training for the Boston Marathon). My running form has been kind of a controlled fall--I trudge along at 70-75 strides per minute (per foot) and kinda just fall forward without much movement north of my knees. My legs felt fine, but my heart and lungs really struggled--I spent my last 10+ mile run with my heart rate at 90% of my max for over 40% of the time. That's unsustainable.

So I went back to the drawing board on my form and cadence, and started trying to run at 90 strides per minute--shortening my stride and turning my feet over faster. The first 3-4 times I did this, my lungs and heart felt better, but my "chassis" was killing me--I was straining and stretching muscles in my hips, glutes and quads that I had gotten used to not straining that much.

Now, however, things are falling into place. Those muscles have healed and come back stronger, and increasing my foot turnover has snapped my whole body (arms, shoulders and quads) into a complementary motion that propels me forward much more efficiently. I feel better than ever. Yeah, it sucked for a week or so, especially when I kept telling myself that it was "too fast." But once you figure out how to work your whole body to keep that cadence going, you really figure out running. Took me long enough.

By the way, I try to keep that cadence (it's a practice) no matter how fast I am running. When I am recovering, that works out to be an awkward-looking shuffle. But it works.

6. Music Matters. Our marathon coach, Rick Muhr, is awesome. He doens't run with music, preferring to focus and engage with his form. I can't argue with him, because he's run Boston elevently bajillion times. But I will say this--when I threw out all of my dance/pop music that I thought had "a good beat" and replaced it with music that was strictly around 90 BPM (music that I once considered 'too slow' to run to), I had something to focus on--a metronome for my cadence. Having that constant guide in my ears gave me something to snap back to when I lost the plot on cadence, so I could always find that optimal footspeed again.

For reference, that makes ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" the perfect running song. If a foot hits the ground on every beat, you're doing it right. Also, here's my latest fave:

The Jayhawks – Waiting For The Sun

Again, these songs might seem "slow" to you, but try and match your footfall to the high hat, and you'll be zipping right along.

Those are some specific tips, but mostly, I'm pleased to be a continual student of running. That has been its greatest gift to me.

 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536719 2012-12-27T21:58:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Three Words For 2013 I wasn't going to write this post. Mostly, I must admit, because my three words for 2012 kinda fell by the wayside. But today was one of those days where everything just came together, and I saw 2013 a little more clearly than I had previously. After that, this post wrote itself.

It's the Thursday after Christmas, and I've just flown a regional jet from Boston to Philadephia in a Nor'easter to drop my son off with his mother. The flight was so bad--so, so bad--that I am now taking Amtrak back to Boston instead of getting on another crappyjet home. I've had some time to reflect on 2012, and look ahead to 2013. So, from an Acela somewhere in Connecticut, here are my three words for 2013, and what they mean: Consolidate, Coil and You.

Consolidate

This one is easy--and for a while, was (fittingly) going to be my one word for 2013. Last year, I tried a lot of things, and conducted a lot of experiments. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. It would be judgmental to say that I tried too many different things, but it would also miss the point if I didn't learn a few lessons from what worked and what didn't, and try to regroup a bit.

I invested everything I had last year--time, resources and wealth--into a very diverse portfolio of activites, investments and initiatives, both personal and professional. This year, I plan to take what I learned into account and spend more time on what worked. For me, that was client work, sharpening the saw of my research chops, and leveraging my personal and business successes into related work. In other words, 2012 was a year of stretching, but 2013 will be a year of doing fewer things, better.

Coil

I had a Border Collie named Maxine once. She lived to be 18(!) and was one of the smartest creatures I've ever met in my life, humans included. She was a rescue dog, and she lived with me in New York City for a number of years. Often, when I would walk her outside, people would stop me and make a point out of telling me how cruel it was that I kept a Border Collie cooped up in a city apartment. What I wanted to reply was that it was a whole lot kinder than letting her be euthanized, Judgy McJudgerpants, but...well, actually, that is exactly what I would often reply. Anyway.

When Maxine was 13, I took her to a sheep herding trial in a field in New Jersey, where she met sheep for the very first time. What I saw astounded me: even as a very mature (and slowing) dog, she instinctively controlled her first flock of sheep flawlessly. And she barely broke a sweat doing it. 

What Maxine had was the "stare." She would lie down on the ground--as low as she could possibly get--and stare at the sheep. If you only saw her from the neck down, you would think she was half-asleep. She appeared to be relaxed, legs folded under her. Her eyes, however, revealed the truth. She wasn't relaxed, she was coiled. The alertness in her eyes told you--and those sheep--that while she might seem to be consolidating (see Word #1), she was actually coiled to move. Those eyes--and how she stared at those sheep--spoke volumes about her ability to strike.

To me, coiling is the yin to the yang of consolidation. Being more ready to strike at opportunity, more responsive to to change, and more proactive to create that change is the kinetic energy inherent in any move to regroup or consolidate. Yes, I'm going to do fewer things better, but no, I'm not napping. I'm going to spend my energy more wisely, but spend it I will--and more than ever.

You

Finally, I have an admission to make about the past year. I stopped retweeting you. I didn't comment on your posts. I didn't promote your articles. Heck, I didn't even read most of them. I didn't help you as much as you helped me. 

People who know me know that my heart is in the right place, but both my professional and my personal life are extremely busy, travel-filled and complicated. I flew over 50 segments on JetBlue alone last year, and most of that for personal reasons. That doesn't even count the full slate of travel I had for Edison clients, speaking engagements and other business travel. I didn't leave enough time for you.

In 2013, I will. I promise. You've done so much for me. Thank you.

 

 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536722 2012-11-29T16:12:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z On The Passing Of Zig Ziglar Zig Ziglar passed away recently, and I was struck by how much his writing and thinking has influenced some of the people I respect the most. If you simply dipped randomly into Ziglar's writings, you could be tempted to dismiss his books as trite, aphoristic claptrap--a collection of cliches about the sales process. You'd be wrong, for two reasons.

First, if there is any kind of received wisdom about sales and the selling process, Zig fathered most of it.

Second--and most important for an introvert like me--Ziglar recognized the most important limiting factor in the success of any salesperson (and, whether or not you embrace the title, we are all salespeople): psychology. Not the psychology of the prospect, because that's all tactics. No, what Ziglar taught so many of us was this: it's hard to be in sales. There's a psychological toll. The real key to mastering sales has nothing to do with countering objections, or effective messaging, or your value proposition.

It's this: countering negative self-talk when most of your efforts, statistically, will fall upon deaf ears.

I don't have "sales" in my title at work, but my primary responsibility, one way or another, is to drive sales for a company that sells the invisible--our intellect. Most of the time, those efforts don't result in sales. If your "close rate" is higher than 50%, you either work for Apple or you don't take enough risks. What Zig Ziglar's writing gave me--an introvert tasked with driving revenue--was not a set of tools to convert prospects.

What I learned from Zig Ziglar was how to train my thoughts. The only thing I can ever control, in the words of the late David Foster Wallace, is this: my default thinking. And if your lot as a salesperson is to fail more often than you succeed, your default thinking can become poisonous.

So, I mourn your passing, Zig Ziglar, not for your tips and tactics for salespeople, but for your acknowledgement of this basic fact: in sales, your *only* enemy is how you think about yourself.

Turns out, that's true in life, as well.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536723 2012-11-12T13:35:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z The Dark Side of Content Marketing I don't consider myself a very good content marketer. The number of people I know of that can consistently and frequently produce amazing content on a calendar is pretty small, and I'm not going to risk offense by naming anyone here, so I'll leave it at this--if you don't think this applies to you, then it doesn't. Fair enough?

Content marketing is an enormously powerful tool, and it can be used for good and for evil. The recent fall from grace of noted author Jonah Lehrer is a useful cautionary tale for the latter. Lehrer, author of How We Decide and the pulled-from-the-shelves Imagine: How Creativity Works, has become something of a pariah, but a recent, superb piece in New York Magazine makes the point that all Lehrer did by plagiarizing himself and others, and by making up "evidence" out of whole cloth was, essentially, what was asked of him by "the system."

I do not excuse this, and "I was just doing what I was expected/told to do" has often been offered as a thin excuse for far greater crimes than Lehrer has committed or is even capable of committing. It is, in fact, a terrible excuse, and the first refuge of those that need to justify reprehensible or questionable behavior. And, let's be clear--Jonah Lehrer himself has never proffered this excuse, though the writer of this (superb) piece has dangled it as a tantalizing possibility. But this article, too, is content marketing.

So is this blog post.

I've given a number of talks over the past year or so disparaging a brand of "research" that we often see in social media--data provided for the purposes of content marketing. Some infographics fall into this category, as do studies that aggregate social media data to give you the "right" way to tweet. They aren't designed to help you--not really. These things have nearly no applicability to your specific situation or your business. They are designed to get you to click on them. To sign up for a white paper. To register for a webinar. To make you, in other words, a lead.

You know this, surely. But even knowing this, we often fail to close the circle here--that data produced for the purposes of content marketing is inherently incurious. As I've often written here and elsewhere, "incurious" is as vulgar a word in my business as I can possibly muster. It's the professional researcher's equivalent of the F-Bomb.

But we thirst for content. The social web is, in fact, a vast, insatiable mill for content. Providing content has become a viable career, and I do not disparage this. But the dark side of this is that the content marketer is often mistaken for an expert in the field in which he or she is creating content. In the case of Jonah Lehrer, he was riding on the coattails of absolutely the most influential thinker in my professional life and career, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. My entire post-MBA career has been spent studying Kahneman's work and his insights into consumer behavior and behavioral economics.

Kanheman's work has been translated, popularized, and extended by a wide variety of writers, ranging from Dubner and Levitt (Freakonomics), to Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) to Daniel Ariely (Predictability Irrational.) Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide also built upon Kahneman's work, but there is a crucial distinction here. Lehrer was a smart guy--I'm not belittling his intellect--but he was at heart a content marketer, not a scientist. Otherwise, he would have been a scientist, no? He popularized the insights of researchers like Kahneman, translating them for laypeople and finding the anecdotes and case studies that would entrance and captivate readers, but he did not extend those findings--he moved on to the next topic, the next book, the inevitable Ted talk and speaking circuit to which that grants one access.

I don't judge him. I cannot judge him (hell, I'd love to have a Ted talk.) But whether you see Lehrer as a James Frey-esque congenital liar or as a victim caught up in the trope of the writer-as-expert (as opposed to the expert writer), the fact remains that Lehrer became popular. He delivered what we, the buying public, wanted. He was hardly a scientist. But thousands believed he was a scientist, because he wrote like a scientist. He fed the content mill, and he did it very effectively.

The tale of Jonah Lehrer, whose career as a content marketer appears to be effectively over, is a cautionary tale, and it applies to pretty much all of us who do exactly what it is I am trying to do here--market myself as a thought leader/thinker/consultant by dint of a few blog posts. And I take that cautionary tale to heart, both as a creator and as a consumer of information. With that in mind, here are three things I take away from the story of Jonah Lehrer:

1. The content beast, though oft-fed, is insatiable. You are only as good as your next book, your next blog post, or your last talk. I don't write very often here or at Brandsavant, as this has long been a trap that I have resisted. For every blog post I publish, there are five or six others that never see the light of day, because they just aren't good enough. I only publish what I am proud of, and for that reason this space sometimes can lie fallow for weeks at a time. I'm ok with that. You, of course, need to find your own way, and you may be eminently capable of producing quality content more frequently than I.

But, if you cannot, the surest way to fall into the Lehrer trap is to write to a schedule, and not in the service of ideas. The tyranny of the content calendar is responsible for a lot of weak content on the web. Keeping up that pace out of deference to some kind of received wisdom about publishing frequency may not by default lead you to the kind of intellectual dishonesty of which Lehrer was guilty, but it does place stress on the system, as it were. My Brandsavant blog became much more important to me when it became a showcase for my best thought, and when it became important to me it became a better blog. At least, that's my hallucination.

2. There are experts about things, and there are people who can write about things. Those that can do both exceptionally well are exceedingly rare. I have enormous respect for writers like Brian Greene, who can not only translate science for laymen, but also do the science. That's a gift. A rare gift, as it turns out. We should celebrate those that have it, but also acknowledge that rarity.

Today, we see a lot of very gifted writers blogging about trends in social media and business, and we cannot help but be influenced by that writing and those thinkers. But we also have to acknowledge the fact that the folks doing the work and the folks writing well about the work are rarely the same people. Jonah Lehrer is a gifted writer. But, as a behavioral economist, he's a gifted writer. Our ability to share our content on the web, especially on social media, is wonderful and has presented me with opportunities that I never dreamed of 5 years ago. But the ability to disseminate content should never be mistaken for skills as a scientist, sociologist, human resources professional, operations manager or any number of disciplines that require actually doing the thing.

To that end, allow me to suggest that the best way to mitigate this phenomenon is to be sure and augment your reading/follow list/Google+ circles with the voices of the not-so-popular, the contrarians and the practitioners of the disciplines we follow. We are bombarded with content marketing that invokes psychology, organizational behavior, leadership principles, change management and corporate culture. Yet, very few of the popular voices who talk about how social media has transformed business have much actual expertise in areas outside of marketing and PR.

I do not denigrate those voices--far from it. I often range far afield of my own educational background and experience in my writing--but do be sure to balance those voices by seeking out HR specialists, psychologists, management consultants and CEO's who, though they may not have the platforms held by some popular bloggers, have just as much if not more to say about how social has transformed business as anyone.

I do not fault those who produce content in those areas--again, the system almosts demands it--but that very same system requires that we start holding content marketing to a higher standard.

3. Finally, the great crime of writers such as Lehrer (and one of my least favorite popular writers, Malcolm Gladwell) is this: they confuse information and evidence. I still believe that this post, on the difference between the two, is one of the best things I've written, and it is certainly the one that best sums up my personal approach to my job.

What writers like Lehrer, Gladwell and any number of currently popular business writers do is this: they start with the insight, and then seek out data to prove it. Lehrer certainly did this: he began with an idea, and then (as the writer of the excellent New York piece linked above noted) sought out the data required to serve as the scaffolding of that idea. There is a saying in my business: the plural of anecdote is not data. And while some popular "data-driven" writers and bloggers often have compelling anecdotes to illustrate their beliefs, those insights were not data-driven.

Anyone can cherry pick anecdotes in the service of an idea--Gladwell's "10,000 hours to mastery" myth is a prime example--but that doesn't mean that those insights actually came from data. And when we start with the idea, and then look for the data, then we no longer treat facts as information. We treat them as evidence; discarding that which does not support our idea, and elevating that which does. And this is one of the greatest crimes committed by some of the worst content marketing that I see on the social web.

And if you are using any of this content marketing to support business decisions, then it isn't a victimless crime.

Still, content marketing runs the gamut from helpful to innocuous to potentially harmful. How can we seek the light, and eschew the dark side? Well, as my lovely wife Tamsen reminds me, there is a simple trick to dealing with the geyser of information being spewed daily by Twitter, Facebook, blog posts and other content outlets: always seek to disconfirm, or, as I mentioned to Jay Baer in his excellent post here, don't seek to prove yourself right, prove yourself wrong.

That doesn't mean being a critic, or even a cynic. And it doesn't necessarily mean taking what we read in content marketing with a grain of salt, as it were. Instead, it means that what we read might be true--in fact, we can even hope that it is true--but our first obligation is not to believe it. Our first obligation is to wonder. When we are confronted with a new piece of data, or some new prescriptive article about the best way to use social media, the enlightened reader wonders if it is actually true and applicable to their situation, and then seeks to disprove it.

This has nothing to do with doubt and everything to do with confirmation bias. If you cannot disprove a thing after putting it to the test for your specific situation, then you have a genuine insight. But if you can readily disprove it, then you know to keep looking. And I don't know about you, but I keep looking, each and every day.

So, I have a love-hate relationship with content marketing. I acknowledge it. I use it. I embrace it. But I also recognize that that there is a truly dark side indeed to content marketing. What say you?

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536724 2012-10-16T14:35:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z What Book Changed Your Life? Is there a book that legitimately changed your life?

I've one, though not in the way you might think. I began my career as an English teacher (I taught Rhetoric and Composition at Penn State) and thought, for a time, that the literary life was for me. I had sporadically entertained thoughts of writing a novel over the years, but my perspective changed when I read The World According To Garp and A Prayer For Owen Meany, both by John Irving, in rapid succession. 

I still have a non-fiction book or two in me, of this I am sure. But reading those two books all but ended my desire to write fiction. I never wanted those books (particularly "Owen Meany") to end. They were funny, and sad, and wise, and devastating, and wonderful. When I closed Owen Meany for the first time (and I've read it nearly a dozen times) I knew that no matter how cleverly I could turn a phrase, I could never make anyone *feel* the same depth of emotion with my writing as Irving did for me. Harold Bloom calls this the "Anxiety of Influence," and I readily admit to being defeated by it.
Again, I'm certainly not done writing, and my book(s) will come. But those early reads of Irving were so daunting to me--they completely stripped the wires of my self-esteem as a writer--that they changed my life. They convinced me that I didn't have the talent, and maybe not even the courage, to go where Irving did. A change--not for the better, perhaps--but change, nonetheless. And I think, in the end, that I'm better suited to non-fiction, as it turns out. Irving gave me a focus, in that sense, so I can fairly state that those two books changed me, irrevocably.

A painful admission.

Change is neither positive nor negative. Change is change. What books have *actually* changed you?
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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536725 2012-07-16T17:04:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z On Social Networks, Politics and Civil Discourse As Election Day looms here in America, I've noticed a lot more overtly political content being disseminated on my social networks of choice. Facebook friends are taking stands, and leaving comments on even the most seemingly non-political posts of their friends. I see more and more "partisan" tweets. 140 characters appears to be just the right length for overt jingoism.

I've recently noticed a few people complaining on Facebook about the level of political discourse they've observed in their social feeds. I see people talking about better filters for such discussion, or even just unfollowing those who post politically disagreeable content. I do not judge this impulse. I've had it myself. I have had Facebook "friends" hijack my own posts to further a political agenda. I've toyed, briefly, with "unfriending" them.

I won't, of course. I friended them for a reason. Those reasons haven't changed, and I have always been judicious about the people I follow and allow in to my various social networks. But I'll be honest: I thought about unfollowing a few. I thought about unfollowing some of them because of the level of their discourse, and how much I disagreed with their positions. But here's the thing: I knew the political views of these people when I followed them, or accepted their friend requests. What I didn't know was the extent to which they would proselytize those views.

But should that matter?

One thing I have noticed in my "real life" social interactions: there isn't a lot of political debate. Sure, there are lots of political discussions, but hardly debate. Yet my Facebook and Twitter feeds seethe with partisan views, "inflammatory" statements, and provocative opinions. 

It's clear to me why this is so: I've allowed myself to be "sorted" into more politically-homogenous real-life social groups. I don't beat myself up about this: we've all done it. We've gradually been doing it for over 50 years. After WWII ended in this country, we were generally united around one cause. Our grandparents settled into postwar America living in suburbs next to people with differing political views, but who were probably good neighbors. Gradually, people of differing political views started to move away from these postwar suburbs and into more homogenous environments (this has been well-documented in an important book called The Big Sort, which I highly recommend.) It became less necessary for us to get along, as we sorted ourselves into more like-minded neighborhoods.

I recently called North Carolina--a "red state"--home, but lived in a decidedly "blue" area. The day-to-day banter I would engage in was either pro-democrat, neutral, or laughably conservative. Gradually I began to see that my current understanding of conservative America was being shaped by extremes--whether it was Rush Limbaugh, or those friends and neighbors brave or foolish enough to broadcast their conservative beliefs in the midst of the very liberal enclave of Carrboro, NC, I wasn't getting a good representation of moderate politics in my day-to-day discourse. 

In short, I had a very jaundiced view of conservatives. What I lacked was the viewpoint of mainstream, everyday-and-decidedly-not-grandstanding conservatives: the sort of people who aren't going to take extreme positions, but who might just self-select themselves out of my neighborhood, over time, to re-aggregate with more like-minded individuals.

This kind of re-sorting is an everyday occurence. We apply different names to it, but the fact remains: as soon as we have the economic means to do so, Americans choose to live with like-minded Americans. You might call it "school system" or "culture" or whatever. But liberals eventually sort with liberals and conservatives eventually sort with conservatives as soon as they are economically equipped to do so.

As a result, the "real life" political debate--where a passionate conservative engages a passionate liberal over a beer at the local watering hole--it less common than it used to be. When I do business in France, I've become accustomed to the fact that the French love debate--they love to engage me and even argue about politics. It isn't nastiness. It's a desire to understand me--where I come from, and if I have some kind of integrity.

Such confrontiational debate is not how average Americans do business, and has probably contributed to some uninformed opinions about the "surly" French. But I always enjoy these debates with my French colleagues and clients. Once I figured out that they wanted me to take stands, even ones they disagreed with, it was in fact a liberating experience. They actually wanted to know who I am--and chose to do business with me anyway. Not because they agreed with me (they generally didn't), but because they saw me as someone who said what they meant and meant what they said.

Today I look at my Facebook feed and I see comments from my friends, real and virtual, that I might disagree with. Some of them are inflammatory, and certainly not an invitation to a reasoned debate. I get that. But our continual impulse to shut off those comments, to block those views and to filter out strong positions has a self-selecting effect that is not only ultimately harmful to us, it's an active discouragement to our more moderate friends, who might share positions we disagree with but do not share the vitriol with which those positions are often debated in "public" life.

In our real lives, we have to get along with people who are at sixes and sevens with us politically far less than we've ever had to. Which makes our tolerance of those people on social networks, which know no geographical bounds, far less than it ever used to be.

So here is where I eventually have ended up: If you post something on my Facebook page or my Twitter feed that I disagree with, I am not going to unfollow you. I am going to ask you why you hold that opinion. If your answer is reasoned, I'm going to engage you. If your answer is disrespectful, I will in fact unfollow or block you. But I won't unfollow you if you disagree with me--even if your position is strident. I will only unfollow you if you are disrespectful. 

Ultimately, what I want from my social networks is not more liberal or more conservative content. It's more civility.

You?

 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536727 2012-06-12T03:55:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Time Constraints An odd phenomenon this week: I am currently in Dubai (my 8th trip here) and Internet access is as miserly and usuriously priced as ever. I have one hour in the morning to get everything I need to get done on the Interwebz, and then it shuts off. Bang.

Interestingly, though, I think this has had a positive effect on my productivity. I know I'm not saying anything new here, but with one hour to get all of my email processing, responding and posting done, I've been ruthlessly efficient. As I type this now, I have 4:10 left on my Internet clock. I'm reminded of the last scene in Blade Runner, as Roy Batty's time runs out. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

And so ends my Internet time. A furiously productive hour. I might try this when I get home.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536726 2012-06-12T03:55:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Time Constraints An odd phenomenon this week: I am currently in Dubai (my 8th trip here) and Internet access is as miserly and usuriously priced as ever. I have one hour in the morning to get everything I need to get done on the Interwebz, and then it shuts off. Bang.

Interestingly, though, I think this has had a positive effect on my productivity. I know I'm not saying anything new here, but with one hour to get all of my email processing, responding and posting done, I've been ruthlessly efficient. As I type this now, I have 4:10 left on my Internet clock. I'm reminded of the last scene in Blade Runner, as Roy Batty's time runs out. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

And so ends my Internet time. A furiously productive hour. I might try this when I get home.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536729 2012-03-23T01:41:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Godin, Goading, and Guts I used to read Seth Godin, back when he wrote about marketing. In recent years, though, he's become a scold, and I don't much cotton to scolds. My aversion to his scolding started a couple of years ago, when he obliquely derided my profession by proclaiming that "too much data crowds out faith" and that data killed innovation. I responded to that with a sentence I am still proud of to this day: "...it's wrong to say that 'data crowds out faith.' Data is a crutch for the faithless."

We love the myth of the "golden gut". It's a populist rant, and when you are in the business of pushing books, populism is just a sales strategy. Yesterday, Godin beat the drum on another populist myth, the "inadequacy" of MBA graduates to take risks. I'll quote his opening, verbatim:

Too many MBAs are sent into the world with bravado and enthusiasm and confidence. The problem is that they also lack guts.

Make no mistake, this is just another calculated populist rant. The vast majority of Godin's readers won't have MBA's, and to hear Godin denigrate them as--let's face it--gutless, is meant more to validate the life choices of his mainstream readers than to reform the educational system.

It saddens me to see a smart man attack people, and not ideas.

See, the gist of Godin's post is this: MBA students get all that book learnin', but no *wisdom.* They are crippled by data; too reliant on "proof" to take the risks that others might. People like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who didn't even need undergraduate degrees. Because, you know, they have "guts."

Know this: using Gates, or Zuckerberg, or any other extreme outlier as an "example" is intellectual chicanery. Gates and Zuckerberg are once-in-a-generation outliers. Proclaiming, as some populists do, that you don't need an education, all you need is the "entrepreneurial spirit" and some "street smarts," is a false choice. The outliers make do with one, or the other. For the rest of us--myself included--having both is a better strategy.

I know plenty of people who didn't get undergraduate degrees, let alone MBA's, who are successful. But when those people make the leap to say that you don't need a degree to be successful, they are offering unqualified advice--a dangerously undiagnosed prescription. My other half has something to say about "advice;" needess to say, it's typically more about the advisor than the advisee. What those people would say is that they don't need an MBA or a college degree, because they attended the school of hard knocks. Again, that's a false choice, and a dangerously prescriptive one. At some point, we all get to attend the school of hard knocks. And some of us get to do it with the added benefit of an education. Why would anyone bash that?

Most MBA-bashers don't have an MBA. I have one, and let me tell you why I have it. In 1999, I took a BIG risk. I showed some guts. I was the youngest VP in the largest pure-play radio company in the world, and I quit my job, moved to London, and became a partner in a startup. I made this move purely on a vision. I put in long hours, made decisions based upon imperfect information, and took that great leap of entrepreneurial faith.

The company ended up folding 18 months later. We had a poor revenue model, and our operational reach exceeded our grasp. When I returned to the US, I made up my mind that even though marketing was my discipline, I was never again going to be put in a position of ignorance about the operational and financial aspects of my business(es), whatever the future might hold. I already had two degrees, but decided in my mid-thirties to return to school--full time--and earn my MBA. I'll never regret that decision, nor would I ever presume to advise anyone that they should get an MBA. It was the right decision for me.

When people tell you that you don't need an MBA, they are presuming to tell you what the right decision is for you. Those people are spectacularly misguided, if not arrogant. Only you can make that call. Anecdotes and outliers are fine, but ask yourself this: why would anyone try to talk you out of furthering your education, except for their own personal reasons?

When I got my MBA, I already had guts. I think a lot of MBA's do. Re-examine the Seth Godin quote I printed above, and replace the word "MBAs" with the word "people." See it differently now?

We all must make our own choices. I wouldn't presume to advise you on yours. The choice to get ANY degree must come from within you, not from gurus trying to sell books or drive traffic.

I think commiting to continued education shows its own kind of guts. Vilifiying advanced education is gutless.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536739 2012-03-05T02:01:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Default Thinking. Lately, to be honest, I've gotten a bit of blog fatigue. So I'm spending much less time reading blogs, and much more time returning to books and the New York Times, both of which have admittedly suffered lately due to the time I've devoted to social media. I spent some time thinking this weekend about why I've been seeing less value in blogs, and--of course--it's on me, not you. It's not "blogs" that I've cooled on, it's the blogs I've been reading. Filter failure, in other words, not a failure of the medium.

Here's where my filters are failing: I've noticed lately that I've been reading too many scolds. It's easy to write a post about what is wrong, and harder to write about what is right. For many of the bloggers I read, scolding is a stylistic choice with two variants. Some disassociate with their readers, and write about what *others* are doing wrong with their strategy, their tactics, or their personal lives. Others drop the veil and simply scold their readers about what they are writing or doing. All of these posts fall under the same broad umbrella: either you, or "others," are doing it wrong.

In the course of my education in business--both formally, through my MBA, and informally, in my 15 years as a consultant--I've been fortunate to learn from some of the best through their writings. When I look back at the great writers who have shaped my business thinking--writers like Tom Peters, Ries and Trout, Treacy and Weirsema, Hammer and Champy, Michael Raynor, Jim Collins, and Michael Porter--I'm struck by the fact that none of them were "scolds." They did the hard work - and it is work - of finding what is right and writing about that, instead of harping on what we are doing wrong. I missed that nuance for a long time, and spent too much time in the land of the scolds.

But I've never read a truly great business book by a scold. 

Before this turns into an entirely meta-hypocritical scold about scolds, let me hasten to add that the "blame" here, such as it is, lies entirely with me. It's filter failure, as I noted in the opening paragraph. Scolding is a style, and I do not sit in judgment of that style. It's just a style that is remarkably ineffective with me, and after a bit of introspection, a style I've been spending too much time with. And I'll continue to read what I see as truly great business blogging, from people like Jay BaerMark Schaefer and Jason Falls. But my time with the scolds is at an end.

It's easy to be a scold. Scolding is "default thinking," as the late David Foster Wallace would have put it. It's neither right, nor wrong. But it is judgmental. And (as DFW so eloquently stated in the remarkable--and short--"This Is Water") the only thing we can control in this life is what we think about. So I'm making a choice both in my personal content consumption and in my own business writing to eschew scolding. It won't be easy. It will be work.

That is what makes it worthwhile.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536743 2012-01-31T00:23:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Beginner's Mind. I've been reading a lot lately about "Beginner's Mind," one of the core concepts of Zen Buddhism. In essence, it means to enter into a situation without any preconceived notions, perceiving each new situation through fresh eyes.

I rather like this notion. Obliquely, it reminds me of a book on Chess I once read called The Amateur's Mind, by Jeremy Silman. Of course, they are not the same thing at all. While the former is an admirable trait, the latter refers to "average" thinking - default thinking, if you will - which the improving player should seek to expunge.

The Beginner's Mind is advantageous; The Amateur's Mind rarely so. In fact, it can even be dangerous.

I think there is a fine line between the Beginner's Mind and the Amateur's Mind. I reflected on that line tonight, on a quiet night in the skies between North Carolina and Massachussetts. At first, I wondered if there were not some kind of interplay between confidence and competence that suggested this line. Ultimately, while my ride was bumpily descending through 6,000 feet, I rejected that thought as too judgmental.

Instead, I think it's this: The Beginner's Mind knows what it does not know. 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536749 2012-01-06T13:10:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z My Three Words For 2012 I love Chris Brogan's "three words" concept - rather than picking "resolutions," he chooses three words as guideposts. I see them as navigation points for your moral compass. If a choice, action or decision veers from the concepts these three words represent, you don't make it. In that sense, knowing your "three words" can help you decide what not to do as much as what to do, which is, frankly, more valuable.

Here are my three words for 2012, with nothing in the way of exposition. They are personal, and all the more powerful for being so:

1. Impatience 

2. Beacon

3. Keen

What are yours? Share them over on chrisbrogan.com. And good luck.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536754 2011-12-19T20:22:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z My Ten Favorite Albums of 2011 Those who know me (that's you by now, right?) know that I am a huge music fan, with an enormous library of music of all styles. 2011 was a *great* year for music, and though I rarely make lists like this, I thought I'd share the ten albums that I ended up listening to the most from the past year. Omissions may be deliberate, or accidental - there are loads of 2011 released I haven't heard - but I stand by these 10 regardless. The list is in no particular order (though the M83 stands as my best of the year), and I've provided no affiliate links, because I'm not smart enough to make a buck off the Internet. I've also included a link to a Spotify playlist with the whole sheband. Buy, download and enjoy!

 

Tom's Best of 2011:

Washed Out - "Within and Without"

The Civil Wars - "Barton Hollow"

M83 - "Hurry Up We're Dreaming"

Bon Iver - "Bon Iver"

James Blake - "James Blake"

The Antlers - "Burst Apart"

The Head and the Heart - "The Head and the Heart"

Elbow - "build a rocket, boys!"

Apparat - "The Devil's Walk"

Tycho - "Dive"

 

Here's the Spotify link: Toms Best of 2011

What were your favorites?

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536761 2011-12-09T14:05:07Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Why I Hate Self-Help Books

It isn't because they are a way for you to think about doing things rather than actually doing things, as my friend Matt Ridings suggested to me, though that's as valid a reason as any. And it isn't because I think the authors are in any way disingenuous about their prescriptions; to the contrary, I know the author of this particular book and believe me - he walks the talk he preaches.

No, I dislike them for two reasons. The 30 minutes I devoted to this book drove home the first: it took me a long time to become the person I am - over four decades of continuous service. If each of us is made up of a tally of successes and failures, as the songwriter Frank Turner noted, then my tally sheets are richly packed in either column. It took me 40+ years to get screwed up. You don't unscrew that in 30 minutes, or an hour, or however long it takes you to read one of these things. You don't, despite what these authors preach, flip a switch and Get To Yes or Get Things Done or Unleash The Giant. If you were the sort who could flip that switch, you'd have done it already.

The fact that you haven't doesn't mean you are a failure. It just means you aren't hardwired to flip that switch. There isn't a switch to flip. If you've ever read one of these books and felt like a failure because it didn't "take," don't feel bad. You didn't fail; the book did. The book underestimated you, and the process you require to right your ship. This is why we have therapists. (I'm serious about that.)

The second reason I hate these books is more nuanced. Some people truly *can* flip that switch, and plot a direct path to figuring out what they want and exactly how to get it. I call those people "self-help book authors." Not only do I not doubt the sincerity of these people, I truly believe that their prescriptions work...for them. People who discover the 12 steps or the 8-fold path to success write books. People who plot paths to success that don't work, don't write books (or at least, they don't write books people buy.)

In other words, there's a built-in, and substantial, survivor bias baked into this genre. History is written by the victors, and so too is the story of success written by the successful. Does this mean we have nothing to learn from their examples? Obviously not, and people surely do find inspiration in these templates of success. But these are anecdotal treatment plans without a proper diagnosis. In medicine, the fables (true or false) about people who "cured" their cancer through diet and herbs are amongst the most dangerous anecdotes in the universe, as Steve Jobs himself would later come to realize near the tragic end of his short life. The self-help fable is dangerous not because it is false; but rather, because it is true - for the author. When we search for "symptoms" in common with the author, and use our own confirmation bias to follow their prescriptions, we run the very real risk of screwing ourselves up even worse.

It is this aspect of the self-help genre - the undiagnosed prescription - that puts the lie to the very term "self-help." When you buy one of these books, you aren't getting "self-help." You're getting Robbins help, Tracy help, or Covey help. These people don't know you. They can't diagnose you, nor can they treat you--without meeting you. I do not doubt their sincerity; nor do I doubt that for some, their long-distance prescriptions are accurate. For others, they simply aren't. When we try to follow these generic prescriptions and find that they don't work for us, we tend to beat ourselves up about it - to see this "failure" as evidence that we just can't stick to anything. This is inductive reasoning at its worst. You might have chosen the wrong treatment plan for your condition, but that's a mistake quickly rectified. You didn't "fall off the wagon," you simply picked the wrong wagon.

So, where do we turn for help, then? Again, if it took you as long as it took me to screw yourself up, you probably don't need self-help. You need help. As in, someone else to help you. This is why people go to therapists for years - exorcising your demons is a practice, and it takes time. But even a good friend, or a mentor who cares, is vastly preferable to an impersonal prescription. Your relationship with an author ends when you put down the book. They might truly care about their readers in the aggregate, but they can't be there for you when you eventually discard their process. Having someone in your life at either a personal or professional level ensures that you stay on track. If you have an inflamed appendix, you don't read a book about appendixes (not "appendices," word nerds!) You see a doctor and get the thing taken out. And if you need help, you need help. Put the damn book down and go ask for it.

I hope, ironically, that helped.]]>
tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536766 2011-11-15T14:25:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z What I Learned From "The Captains" I started watching William Shatner's documentary "The Captains" the other night, and found myself sucked into it until the end. What I thought was going to be about Star Trek was really a series of meditations about life and work from six actors - six people who have mortgages and kids and wants and desires, just like the rest of us.

Two aspects of these interviews affected me deeply. The first was the personal price these actors all paid to crank out episode after episode of the various incarnations of the Star Trek television series. Hearing William Shatner, Scott Bakula and Patrick Stewart all say, one right after the other, that their marriages ended while filming a TV series was sobering, to say the least. Episodic television often requires 12-15 hour days. At that point, there is no "work-life balance." There's work, and little else - and all of these actors paid steep prices to pursue that work. 

There was a time when I'd have paid that price myself, and very nearly did. I don't know that I would, today. 

The second thing that struck me stemmed from a truly remarkable exchange between Shatner and Stewart about the perception of their work. Both Shatner and Stewart had careers on stage and screen prior to Star Trek, including prominent lead roles in a number of Shakespeare plays. Shatner lamented the derisiveness that others displayed towards his choices as an actor - and that he would forever be remembered as something...less than serious. Stewart, too, took his lumps from the British press: why, after all, would so venerable a stage actor as Stewart move to Hollywood for seven years and play the role of a starship captain on TV (and in the shadow of Shatner's iconic portrayal, to boot?) Wasn't he "slumming," as Stewart himself put it?

Stewart's answer affected me, and also clearly affected Shatner - who called it a "great gift." Stewart acknowedged that yes, he had played Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth, and was now dressing up in skin-tight polyester to sit in a fake captain's chair on a fake spaceship. But what he told himself - and Shatner - was that all of those Shakespearean leads were not "better" than the role of Jean-Luc Picard; rather, they had prepared him to play the role of the Captain of the Enterprise. He didn't view the move as a step down, but as a natural progression, calling upon what he had learned from the stage to fully inhabit and create the role of Captain Picard as we now know it. His point: the gravitas, charisma and presence of Picard were products of his entire body of work to date - the culmination of his art - and that by treating his Shakespearian years as preparation, not as "the good ole' days," he managed to create one of the truly memorable and iconic characters in television history.

He's right, of course - both Shatner and Stewart will forever be known as Star Trek captains. And while Shatner initially lamented being typecast, he seemed to genuinely come around to Stewart's mindset - after all, how many actors are truly remembered for something so lasting as Kirk or Picard? Or cheered at conventions for over 40 years on the strength of a single role? Not many. 

I think there are two lessons here - a career lesson, and a more personal lesson. The career lesson is this: there is no such thing as "grunt work." The modern trend towards "personal branding" began in my mind with a book by the great Tom Peters called The Brand You 50, written in the late 90's. This little book was given to me as a gift by a wise friend, who recognized that I was struggling in work that I felt was "beneath me." What I learned from this slim, invaluable little book, was that the "unglamorous" work often held the greatest potential for career advancement. Finding the things that others won't do - the grunt work, the behind-the-scenes work - and transforming them into "Wow! projects" is the key to building your personal brand and standing out.

The workplace parallels between Stewart's choice and our choices at work are obvious. We've all been given work that appears to be "beneath us." A step down in responsibility, visibility or importance. Yet, if we take all that we have done previously, all that we have learned from our work to date, and bring it to bear upon these less-than-glamorous roles, we might very well find a better way, and create something far greater than we or others could have imagined. Often, these jobs and roles are discarded not because they are inherently not worth doing, but because others before us have deemed them to be inherently not worth doing, and have thus not brought their full powers to the task. So, if you've been asked to do some filing after already having demonstrated your abilities as a project manager, you can either grudgingly do the work, pining after more "important" tasks, or you can bring all of your experience as a project manager to the seemingly mundane task of filing, and find a better way. You might become a company legend.

Of course, sometimes grunt work is just grunt work, and no amount of reframing will polish a turd, so to speak. Here, though, lies the second and more important lesson I took from Stewart (and have recently been drilling back into my head through repeated readings of "This Is Water," by David Foster Wallace): the only thing we are truly in control of is what we choose to think about. What Stewart is suggesting (and DFW adamantly declares) is that the greatest danger we face is our "default thinking."

Stewart's default thinking could very well have been that the role of Picard is no Lear, and episodic TV isn't exactly the RSC. Instead, he chose what to think. We can all choose what to think. He chose to think that Picard represented the culmination of his career, and thus (to paraphrase his legendary catchphrase) he made it so. This isn't "the power of positive thinking." Nor is it acting the pollyana. It's choosing what to think amongst a range of choices. It's choosing the way of thinking that brings strength, not weakness. And it's choosing to accept things as they are.

Accepting things as they are is not passive. No, I see the opposite choice - pining for things to be other than the way they are - as passive. It's genuinely default thinking. But to accept - no, embrace - things the way they are is an active state. It's choosing what to think. It's rejecting what Stewart could have thought - "What am I doing here?" - and choosing to do more than just "get through it." 

It's really the only sane path. When I am the best me I can be, I choose what to think. It's a practice, not a switch you flip. I don't always succeed. But I'm working on it.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536771 2011-11-08T15:11:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Things I No Longer Need. This morning, I was flipping through a Keel's Simple Diary in search of a little inspiration, and I came across an excellent question: "Name Five Things You No Longer Need." Having spent the last year shedding many of those things, the question actually stumped me for a few minutes - but I managed to come up with a few choice items. I also thought it was an interesting exercise (not in Keel's) to name five things I don't need, but also can't seem to get rid of, for various reasons. Turns out, the "various reasons" were more interesting than the list itself.

Five Things I No Longer Need:

  1. Vests. What the f@ck was I thinking.
  2. Old "all-access," "VIP" and assorted concert/event passes. Turns out, I'm not so sentimental.
  3. Old laptops/computers/Mylos/Palms and other discarded gadgets. Sunk costs.
  4. A dizzying array of unused domain names I've been mindlessly renewing for a decade.
  5. A giant box of my MBA, grad school and undergrad papers/reports. Yes, I got lots of A's. That and $4.00 will get me a salted caramel mocha.

Five Things I Don't Need But Can't Bring Myself To Discard:

  1. Suits that no longer fit me (they are too large.) My reluctance to part with these reflects my unspoken fear that I will put on weight as I glide into my middle years. Yes, I know the best thing I could do would be to donate them to Goodwill, but the thought of how much I spent on them over the years makes me crave a donut.
  2. A collection of three Sony MiniDisc players and dozens of blank Minidiscs. The exception to rule 3 above. People who accuse Sony of merely copying other products never experienced the joy of the MiniDisc. I have a shrine to these in my closet. No, I haven't turned one on in months.
  3. Cholesterol.
  4. A collection of albums (the vinyl kind) and a vintage Acoustic Research turntable. I know I'm supposed to pine for the old days of vinyl, so I retain these relics. But the TSA gives me funny looks when I try to take them on my travels. So (sigh) the iPod it is. 
  5. Books. Many leather-bound books. When my wife and I separated, I moved thousands of books, by myself, from my house and into storage. There they sit. I have steadfastly kept a vow to only buy digital books from that point on, but I cannot bring myself to let go of the books I've already read. But as I lugged box after box after box of the damn things on a 105 degree day (seriously) in Chapel Hill, I invented many colorful words for them that I cannot pass along in this space.

I'm still working on letting things go - those I listed, and some I haven't. What can you let go? What should you let go? Do share.

 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536776 2011-10-02T14:06:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z At The Tops Of The Clouds I fly a lot, but truth be told, I don't much care for it. Most of my premature grey hairs can be traced ultimately back to a flight I shouldn't have taken, and I've learned to trust my instincts on that over the years. I am a champion flight-changer and the best amateur meteorologist you've ever met. :)

It's always bumpy flying through clouds. I've gotten used to that, really, and it rarely bothers me unless I'm flying through actual storm clouds. But even then, there is this one moment, when the ride is at its shakiest, that is always worth the show: that one, brief instant when you poke through the clouds on a gloomy, rainy day, and first glimpse blue sky. It can be super bumpy on a day like this, because cloud tops are always the worst, but you get to see a landscape, if only for a minute or two, that you'll literally never see again. 

The contrast can be startling. After flying through 10,000 feet of featureless murk, you suddenly see not only the sun, but a strange, craggy landscape of clouds as dramatic in relief as any mountain range. Though the skies are suddenly much bluer, the air around the plane becomes more unstable; the serenity of the view in sharp contrast to the violence of the ride.

But it's this view, just at the tops of the clouds, where you see their ponderous bulk. Their grace. The shafts of sunlight fighting through their edges. Occasionally, the tiny shadow of your own plane against the massive, ragged side wall of a cumulus cloud. The smaller, proto-storm clouds that aren't trouble yet, but will grow ever larger and denser as the day goes on, forming somebody else's storm. Not mine.

Within a minute or two, as the plane quickly ascends to its cruising altitude, this view is lost. The clouds lose focus, and the landscape is reduced to a homogenous white blanket, devoid of detail. The ride smooths out, of course. I begin to relax, and think about those I've left behind, and those I'm flying to see. I might drift off to sleep, or watch a movie. Calmer, yes - but less present. 

It is that presence that makes the air at 10,000 feet something magical.  You are exactly where you are. You are not thinking about the past, or worrying about future problems that haven't happened yet. You are in the moment, gripping the armrests in a mix of fear and wonder, as you barrel through the roiling cloud tops in what turns out to be a very tiny plane, indeed. Magic.

This morning, I'm flying away from someone I love, and today's 10,000-foot moment was just what I needed to direct my focus, ever so briefly, from not being somewhere I want to be, to being exactly where I *am.* Where I am is pretty good. Where you are is pretty good, too. Though I'm writing this from the plane (JetBlue 1223, from Boston to RDU), you're reading this because I've landed. In the past seven days, I've flown the angry skies five times. I've landed every time.


And oh, the things I've seen.

Enjoy this, shot this morning from my iPhone at the tops of the clouds. 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536784 2011-09-18T23:47:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z I'll Be There For You. I've been thinking - a LOT - about this post from Jay Baer: Social Media, Pretend Friends, and the Lie of False Intimacy. Social Media has literally changed my life. Some of the relationships I have made through social media will be with me for the rest of my days, and for that I am extraordinarily grateful. Finding those true friends - or your other half - is not about quantity. It's about quality. Is social media rife with shallow connections? Surely. But if it helps me find a handful of people who know what I'm like and and don't mind, or the person with whom I'll spend the rest of my life, I'll not fault social media for encouraging weak ties. Life is full of weak ties.

Still, recent events in my life have me challenging the strength of some of those ties online...and offline. It is true that the asymmetrical nature of networks like Twitter means that more people "follow" me online than I could possibly know in real life. Sometimes, people I've never met assume a familiarity with me from my previous tweets or posts that I don't much cotton to. I can't, however, control that. I can only control how I react.

2011 has been an incredibly challenging year for me. Some of the friends I have made through social media will be friends for the rest of my life - I know that. Others, not so much. Here is what this year HAS taught me, however: social media might generate a larger quantity of those weak ties, but I'm not sure that social media ties are by definition any weaker than the ones we assume we have in real life, frankly. How many of your high school or college friends are you still close with? Geography doesn't necessarily make for any stronger bond than being in someone's Google+ circle. 

In my case, I'm going through a separation and an inevitable divorce from someone I've known for over 20 years. When you are with someone for that long, you collect a lot of "joint" friends. Since the separation, I've learned just how "strong" some of those ties are. Some remain friends. Some are "cordial." Others - well, I've seen one formerly "close" friend *physically* keep his back turned to me at an event. It's tempting to treat your online "friendz" as lower quality relationships than the ones you've made in real life. When you poke those models with a sharp stick, however, you might be surprised to learn that many of your "real life" relationships are little better.

I've had any number of people tell me in my life that they'll "be there for me." An interesting thought exercise: imagine you are in a time of crisis - it could be illness, financial ruin, or anything that would cause you to legimately need the help of others. Now imagine the persons in your life that would actually hop on a plane and physically *be there* for you. Those people are gold.

Some might be real life friends; some might be online friends. But that exercise will absolutely be a powerful reminder to you that our circles - our true, actual circles - have always been small. Social Media affords us the opportunity to make more "weak" acquaintances, yes - but a quality relationship is a quality relationship, whether online or off. My online relationships are no better or worse than my offline relationships merely by dint of the fact that they occur mainly on Twitter, as opposed to at my local Applebees. Relationships are work, period. Physical proximity, as it turns out, is just as weak a tie as a "like" on Facebook.

For me, my biggest fear is this - that I'll become cynical of those ties, whether online or off. I've been disappointed, after all. I've not known people as well as I thought. That realization could easily make me more guarded or withdrawn - and potentially closed to a relationship with someone who might, in fact, be the sort of person who actually would physically be there for me. I hope I don't do that. 

I know that a far greater percentage of my online friendships are superficial than are my offline friendships - but that, again, is part of the asymmetrical nature of social media. I also know this - when I imagine the people who really would be there for me -really there - when I needed them, at least half would be people I met online first. What I hope I never do is to judge the quality of a relationship by where it first originated. And I hope I never become cynical about future relationships - online or off. For me, though, 2012 is going to be the year of strong ties. I've learned that saying you will "be there" and actually being there are two different things. I'm getting clarity about who would be there for me, and who I'd go to the mat for myself. I don't know that social media is a correlative variable in that equation. 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536807 2011-09-11T15:46:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:14Z Active, Passive In my 20's, I worked for a man named Frank Cody. Frank has influenced my life in ways I can't even begin to repay, not the least of which was how he chooses to make meaning in his life. We often had a jokey "call and refrain" between the two of us that remains in my active lexicon (my friends will have heard me say this innumerable times): one of us would say "It'll be what it's going to be!" and the other would quickly reply "It's not going to be anything else!"

Life hands you things that you cannot control. "It'll be what it's going to be" is a handy refrain for those times - and the fact that I am writing this from an airplane at JFK on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a poignant reminder. Recent events in my own personal life, however, prompt me to remember that "it'll be what it's going to be" is not a passive lament. Admitting that certain things are out of your control reflects a certain wisdom in accepting the cards you are dealt - but it doesn't mean you don't try to improve your hand, when you can.

I don't talk much about my personal life, but I'm currently going through a divorce. I have a young boy. Friends tell me over and over that he'll be ok. Millions of kids go through divorce. They are ok. I know this. But yesterday I got a sharp reminder that you don't merely wait for things to be "ok." Things "turn out" the way they turn out, but they turn out a lot better when you have done all you can to increase the odds.

And anyway, I don't want him to be "ok."  I want him to be spectacular. I want that for me, too. For today, I am unutterably sad. Tomorrow, though, I process this. I do a little reading. I talk to some friends. I figure this out. I do the work to give me - and my son - the best possible odds. Only when you know in your heart that you have done this, can you then say with a clear conscience that "it'll be what it's going to be." Acceptance of the present doesn't preclude planning for the future.

I'm going to be more than ok. So will he. It's not going to be anything else.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536744 2011-04-22T13:26:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Two Pretty Good Months.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536753 2011-04-21T18:11:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z On Snark "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

-Theodore Roosevelt

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536760 2011-04-20T12:45:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z One True Thing There's a consultant I've known for many years, and have always had a great working relationship with, who has over time become something of a quasi-competitor. Of late, he has taken to promoting his work on his blog by disparaging our own, either through backhanded compliments or subtle swipes, and this has been a personal disappointment to me, if nothing else. Surely, the world is big enough for both of us. 

I shared this disappointment with someone whose opinion I respect enormously: one of my greatest mentors in life, and someone who also knows this consultant/blogger. His response actually shook me a little. He said, "what is so strange is that he never says these things [in person]. It's like the blogger and the man are two different people. You should be proud that you seem the same."

God, I hope so. Unless you are a shut-in, eventually people meet both the blogger and the man (or woman). If those two identities don't square, its hard to see how you can truly be happy, or comfortable in your own skin. For me, that was one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me - and if that is my "one true thing," I need little else.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536764 2011-04-12T13:55:03Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z What's The Point?

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536770 2011-04-11T23:39:33Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z The Risk Of Flight I don't like to fly. Friends know two things about me (and hey, you're here - so you're a friend): I fly a lot, and I don't enjoy it. I have my reasons (I don't need therapy.) It's a part of my job, though I suppose I could always get a different line of work. I don't want to, though. No, I've never been through the worst possible scenario, but I'd wager I've been through the second-worst possible scenario a couple of times in my life. Where I've settled is this: the tradeoff is acceptable. I take a slight risk, and I get a reward (furthering my career, seeing someone special, etc.)

Everyone has a different risk point, though. If I told you that 2 out of every 100 planes crashed, most of you wouldn't fly. Yet those are pretty much the historical odds of a space shuttle crash. History is filled with people who didn't really know those odds (the early shuttle crews), and those who did - but didn't flinch (the later crews). 

For the shuttle pilots, the worst case scenario was pretty clear, and the odds pretty poor, at least compared to commercial aviation. So why would they fly?  Simple - a clear visualization of the best case scenario. Even not knowing the real odds, like the early shuttle pilots, or the first explorers, is no impediment if the upside is a clear and compelling vision, like a view of the Big Blue Marble you and I will never see.

When the best case scenario is a vivid manifestation, I think we humans will accept all kinds of risk, even the risk of not knowing the risk. It's the opposite scenario that is more troublesome. Let's stipulate that you know the odds (they aren't good) and you know the worst that can happen (a crater). Would you take the risk if you didn't have a clear vision of the upside? 

The real risk is this: if you wait to get on that plane, you might miss the flight of your life. But it's a different kind of risk - not the risk of a negative outcome, but the risk of missing a positive outcome, which frames the problem in a completely different way

If you had no clear picture of what the destination looked like, would you get on that plane?

How much would you need to know?

I don't have the answer to this.

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536779 2011-04-07T16:57:29Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z Persistent Bird along Boston waterfront, enjoying a Radian6 boxed lunch #social2011

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536783 2011-03-29T01:01:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:13Z My Annual Spring Ritual Every March, I dig out my winter coat, hop on a plane, and head for northern Maine, to participate in a fantasy baseball draft in what has to be one of the longest-running leagues anywhere - 27 years and counting. These guys are hard-core, the league is tough and the baseball knowledge runs high. We track 8 categories: HR, RBI, AVG and STL for hitters; ERA, WHIP, Wins and Saves for pitchers. It's an auction league, and you can retain players from the previous year if you ended up getting a good bargain out of them. We draft National League ONLY, thank you very much, with 11 teams each filling their rosters with 15 hitters and 10 pitchers for a budget of $280.

The ability to retain players from last year with low contracts often creates "inflation" early in the draft, and those dollars get spent like crazy (Pujols went for $58) Fantasy baseball auctions are serious clinics in not only sports knowledge, but bluffing, human behavior and economics. They never turn out how you plan them. Some of you might be interested in this sort of thing, so here is how I did (names in italics were retained from the previous year):

 

C: Miguel Montero $15

C: George Kottaras $1

1B: Joey Votto $40

3B: David Wright: $35

CI: Freddie Freeman $10

SS: Jimmy Rollins $25

2B: Bill Hall $10

MI: Ian Desmond $8

OF: Carlos Beltran $16

OF: Tyler Colvin $1

OF: Alfonso Soriano $16

OF: Nate McLouth $10

OF: Kosuke Fukudome $5

UT: Brandon Allen $1

UT: Matt Diaz $1

P: Chad Billingsly $21

P: Aaron Harang $3

P: Tim Stauffer $3

P: Hiroki Kuroda $14

P: Travis Wood $10

P: Wade LeBlanc $1

RP: Kenley Jansen 3$

RP: Brandon Lyon $9

RP: Jason Motte $3

RP: Francisco "The Domestic Violator" Rodriguez $21

 

Too many Padres starters (though there are worse parks to pitch in) and an outfield that relies on Soriano, Beltran and McLouth to deliver more than what I paid them, but aIl in all I'm pretty pleased. Super cheap pieces like 1$ Tyler Colvin or one of the $3 closers-in-waiting I have can later be traded to teams out of contention, who are building for next year, for current stars.

There, that was therapeutic. 

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tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536789 2011-03-16T06:59:14Z 2013-10-08T17:16:14Z The Big Silver Can tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536793 2011-03-03T18:04:00Z 2013-10-08T17:16:14Z 10 Lessons In Entrepreneurialism From American Idol tag:tomwebster.org,2013:Post/536797 2010-12-26T12:45:38Z 2013-10-08T17:16:14Z Snowpocalypse!

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