Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tod Machover: Music for Everyone

Tod Machover believes in the power of music, yet laments its elusive and somewhat elitist nature. Elusive because we can't harness its power. Elitist because the years of study and practice that it takes for one to learn to make beautiful music winnow the number of people who master it to be an elite few.

Machover joined the faculty at the new Media Laboratory of MIT in 1985 as Professor of Music and Media and Director of the Experimental Media Facility. He is head of the Lab's Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group and has been Co-Director of the Things That Think (TTT) and Toys of Tomorrow (TOT) consortia since 1995. Notably, Machover was the professor working with Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos, who developed Guitar Hero while graduate students at MIT.

Simple, imaginative, sincerely expansive questions have led Tod Machover to change the possibilities of music for everyone.

What if young children could experience the joy of making music?
What if making music weren't so hard?
What if music were fun before it was drudgery?
Why can't instruments be smart?
What happens when music and composition and instruments intersect technology?
What happens when music unlocks expression?

For Machover's truly amazing answers and creative inventions that address these questions, watch him with Dan Ellsey at TED. This is amazing, enlightening, and a testament to questioning, problem-solving, and creativity.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Create A Better Story

There is a great article about Walmart is this past week's Sunday New York Times: "Green Light Specials, Now at Walmart". Walmart has been working on repositioning itself for a number of years, wanting to be more things to more people. They have also decided to aggressively go green. It takes a little adjusting to go to Walmart, the consumer's paradise, and see smart packaging, organic foods, and sensitivity to the environment. But, it is all there.

The NYT article describes the turning-point meeting for Walmart, the meeting they call The Choice. The Choice was for Walmart to bolster its market position, its consumer respect, and its profitability by going green. As CEO H. Lee Scott puts it, "It wasn't a matter of telling our story better. We had to create a better story."

I talk a lot about the importance of telling your story with the groups I work with. Two imperative components are that your story has to be authentic, and it has to be a good story. Bad stories don't attract the trust and goodwill of customers. Neither do contrived or untrue ones.

As the Walmart CEO explains, "There was a time when people in business believed all they had to do was to run their business. But, it doesn't work that way anymore. There is an accountability that goes way beyond that." What Mr. Scott realized was that Walmart's story had lost favor with its customers who wanted to do busy with a company whose values matched their own. Walmart had to understand that, in Mr. Scott's words, "As businesses, we have a responsibility to society. Let me be clear about this point. There is no conflict between delivering value to shareholders, and helping solve bigger societal problems." Wow! That is a story. For one of the largest retailers in the world to wake up and recognize what is relevant and important to its customers and retool its organization to move toward those new societal values is impressive, and it's paying off for Walmart.

If Walmart can do it, if Walmart missed the signs and clues along the way and had to have a Choice meeting, I think it calls for each of us running our businesses to ask the same questions:

What do my customers want?
What have a missed or failed to see that is right there in front of me?
What are the values of my customers that I can partner in?

Another point that Mr. Scott makes is that Walmart could not see itself all that clearly. For the first time in its history, Walmart hired outside consultants to help them see themselves as their customer did. So, another important line of questions:

How do others see us - my customers, my peers?
Is there a gap between what others see and what we see?
What can an outsider see that we can't?

Using those two big inputs of information in addition to what you know about your business can help you create a better, more sustainable future.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Embrace The Use Of New Media Tools

On Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 at 12:01 pm if you liked then you could read a blog post that begin as follows:

'Welcome to the new I'm Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House and one of the people who will be contributing to the blog.'

When the clock struck Noon, the entire site changed, a bold reminder that Barack Obama is the first President of the internet social networking age. Obama is President today because of his ability to harness the power of these 'new media' tools that we all have at our disposal. Over the weekend, I saw Nixon/Frost. There is a scene in that movie in which Nixon recounts to Frost how JFK beat him in 1960 with a better command of the new media of that time: television. Similarly, Obama first beat Hilary Clinton and then John McCain with his better command of the new media of this time: the internet. It will be interesting to see how these tools that worked so well for campaigning will be used to help govern.

While so much attention is given to the historic significance of Obama being the first African American President, the greater significance may be that of the passing of the reigns of power to a younger generation. That being a generation that is increasingly more comfortable with this new media. While born in a year that qualifies him as the third baby boomer president, Obama is fifteen years younger than both George W Bush and Bill Clinton. While that fifteen years may represent a huge gap, it is widened even more by the youthful digital natives like Macon Phillips, that Obama relies on to operate the tools of the new media.

Keven Kelley wrote that the symbol for the 21st Century is the internet. He continued, "The net has no center, no orbits, no certainty. It is an indefinite web of causes. The net is the archetype displayed to represent all circuits, all intelligence, all interdependence, all things economic, social, or ecological, all communications, all democracy, all families, all large systems, almost all that we find interesting and important. Whereas the atom (20th Century symbol) represents clean simplicity, the net channels messy complexity."

Obama's ability to navigate this 'messy complexity' is what makes him a transformative figure in American politics. Obama won a long, expensive and brutal campaign. His edge was the ability of his team to use these tools of the new media to his benefit. As with prior campaigns, this recent election offers itself as a case study of sorts with many lessons to be learned and applied. It is a case study that most of us have already put in the time to become familiar with the details. A little more time of reflection and discussion may lead to valuable lessons for the campaigns of our organizations. Questions abound about how we individually and organizationally transform with regard to this new media. Now is the best time available to ask how you can better take advantage of these new media tools.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dangerous Unselfishness

On April 3, 1968, the day before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King gave the now infamous speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” at Mason Temple in Memphis. In the beginning of this speech, Dr. King poses a powerful rhetorical question: “If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up until now, and the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?’” what would I decide?

Dr. King, slowly and melodically, takes the audience on a mental flight through time in answering this question. He goes by ancient Egypt as the slaves cross the Red Sea to the promised land; by ancient Greece where he could hang out with Socrates and Plato; by the Renaissance with its burst of aesthetic and cultural creativity; by the time of his name sake Martin Luther and the stir he was causing during the Reformation; by the time of Abraham Lincoln who struggled in concluding to sign the Emancipation Proclamation; by the time of economic strife in the 1930s.

Dr. King concludes that he would like to live now, in the 1960s, as he was, and that he would like to be in Memphis at that moment in time, despite knowing that his life was in danger as he spoke about at the end of this magnificent speech. “I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’” Dr. King cites “another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history… Survival means that we grapple with them.”

Deep in the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Dr. Kings says, “Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop,” meaning that we tend to give them a break due to their busy lives, full of position and responsibility, excusing their “compassion by proxy.” Dr. King speaks about visiting the Jericho road outside of Jerusalem with Mrs. King. He says he could easily see why Jesus chose the road from Jericho as the setting for the parable because the Jericho road is winding and curvy, perfect for ambushing thieves. It is a dangerous road. Dr. King concludes that the Levite and the Priest were more concerned about their own safety, asking “what will happen to me if I stop to help this man?” But the Good Samaritan asked out of empathy, reversing this question, “What will happen to this man if I don’t stop to help him?” Dr. King calls this empathy in action “dangerous unselfishness” and compels his audience to stand up for and by their brethren in “dangerous unselfishness” like that of the Good Samaritan.

In what ways can each one of us bring more dangerous unselfishness to our lives? This is not only the question of the day, I think it represents a shift in our consciousness as a country. I think young people are deciding in droves that building their lives around the accumulation of money, position, and power lacks soulfulness. I think we are seeing a rise in people's desire to develop a sense of purpose and a call to action to rebuild the collective health and welfare of our society that is significant. It is going to be extremely interesting to watch as President Obama strives to create and lead this new consciousness. I wish him all the best and will be vigilant and responsive to ways I can do my part.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Listening for Hope

It is a great irony and thing of import that Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in April of 1968. I was six years old and remember the Army National Guard tanks rolling down my street on the way to their posts in downtown Memphis. Of course, I was too young to know what was going on. I just remember my parents watching the TV a lot and their being extremely on edge. Forty years seem like a lot time in between the events of that I Am A Man strike and Dr. King's death and finally electing a man of color to serve as our President.

I am fascinated by the rhetorical prowess of both Dr. King and President-elect Obama. I have been reading many of Dr. King's speeches in the last few days as sort of a introspective homage to the purpose to which he dedicated his life. His ability to unite, inspire, and lead people toward a more hopeful, righteous future is amazing. And, I could make the exact same statement about President-elect Obama.

In one of his speeches entitled "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," Dr. King uses inspiration from a vision that John the Baptist had while in prison about the importance of the length, breadth, and height of God's Temple. Dr. King interpreted the length of one's life as "the inward concern for one's own welfare." He said it is that inward concern that motivates us to push forward and achieve our goals. It is one's inner-strength and courage. Dr. King says the breadth of one's life is "the outward concern for the welfare of others." It is one's sense of purpose and selflessness. It is using our gifts for the betterment of life for others. The height of life is "the upward reach for God." I would call this one's sense of gratitude and sense of The Sacred. To me this is having a sense of one's life as a gift and a sense of responsibility in making use of that sacred gift, to be called to service.

In looking at these three dimensions, I see President-elect Obama as being aware of his three dimensions and of his calling each of us to use our courage and talents to put our life in service of Goodness and Love. I think next week will be an exceptionally powerful and critical moment in the history of our country. I can't wait to witness the glory of the moment and hope that the tides of emotion wash over us collectively as a country such that hope becomes prevalent in all of our lives and our actions.

Check out past Inaugural speeches as well as MLK speeches at American Rhetoric.

photograph by Memphis Photographer Ernest C. Withers

Thursday, January 8, 2009

If you don't know about Seth Godin, you need to. He writes fun-to-read books that are poignant and practical for anyone trying to work and be happy, or in other works, anyone or any company trying to market themselves or a product and enjoy doing it. The first of his books that I read was Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. The premise being that you (an individual or a company) will not be noticed or remarked about, if you are like every other cow in the pasture. A Purple Cow - something new, different, and refreshingly authentic - now that is remarkable!

Here is a complete list of books by Seth Godin.

And, you should subscribe to his blog because he posts almost everyday short provocative ideas that help the reader get really honest about what you are doing and how. Here is his most recent post about goals.

The thing about goals

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

If you don't have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal...) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don't have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don't have a goal you don't need nearly as many excuses, either.

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.

It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact... those people have goals.

The thing about setting goals is that it starts with honest assessment and reflection. You have to critically look and honestly state where you are. This does not include defending how you got there or why you are there. Just state where you are.

Next, you have to decide where you want to go. What placement, position, and quality of service for your organization makes sense for your customers two years from now, five years from now? This step is often short changed because the people crafting the vision get mentally, intellectually, and emotionally bogged down by thinking and spreading the idea that it sure will be hard work to get there from here. It is easy to hear: that's a lot of work! Mr. Been-Here-A-Long is not going to go for this! Can't we just make a few spruce-up type fixes and call it a day? - (as if they customers are so dumb that they wouldn't notice!) When this sort of sabotage happens in the visioning process, you might as well just quit because the process is so severely tainted that it is not worth finishing because it is not true to the mission of the organization. It has been adulterated by the I might fail and it sounds like I will have to change and work harder disease.

If you get get through the honest assessment and the imagining the future parts, then your goals become clear: What do I have to do to get from point A to point B? What resources - financial, intellectual, human, mindset, etc - will I need to get there? Who shall lead this initiative and in what ways are they going to be measured and held accountable? The process has lots of components, but its an elephant you can eat, one bite at a time.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Vatican Goes Techno

In a recent post, Jeff De Cagna of the Principled Innovation blog, writes about the Vatican joining the social media revolution. He asks, simply and provocatively, "If the Vatican can do it...."

It seems that the Vatican's got its on gadget and web designer in Reverend Paolo Padrini who has written an application for the iPhone that downloads the liturgy, in seven languages. The application is called iBreviary. The daily prayers, daily mass, and other special prayers are available at a touch to catholic priests and believers around the world.

The liturgical application, iBreviary, costs $1.10 and is available in the iTunes store with free updates. The proceeds from the sale will go to charity.

MSNBC reports that the Catholic Church is using social media technologies as a means of bringing its message to the world. Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, says the Church "is learning to use the new technologies primarily as a tool or as a means of evangelizing."

Even Pope Benedict XVI is in on it. During last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, he sent out mobile phone text messages citing scripture to thousands of registered pilgrims — signed with the tagline "BXVI."

The Catholic Church is arguably one of the largest global organizations around. And, they have a stout reputation for being extremely conservative. Yet, they have a committee, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, creating and selling their message via downloads. Priests, even the Highest Priest, are texting and using iPods.

When is the next meeting of your organization"s committee on social media and when will its app be available? I guess we should pray for those with their heads still in the sand.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Transformational Experiences

In a recent post I mentioned that Think Fun was transforming the way children think. If you are interested in creating transformative experiences then you might be interested in Charles Halton's Never the Same: How to Create Transformational Experiences. Download a .pdf file via

Here is a quick summary of the 18 characteristics that are essential for creating transformational experiences:

1. Inspire Passion or Go Home
2. Create Controversy
3. Be Different
4. Be a Social Butterfly
5. Repetition is the Mother of All Learning
6. Humans are the Same
7. Humans are Different
8. Embrace Paradoxes
9. Repetition is the Mother of All Learning
10. Pass Along Methodologies
11. Don’t Be a Slave to Fashion
12. Be Inefficient
13. Produce a lot
14. Humiliate Yourself
15. Cultivate an Atmosphere of Trust and Safety
16. Stop Thinking You Know Everything
17. Be a Master of Surprise
18. Make it Clear

Thursday, January 1, 2009

7 things Meme

I’ve been tagged by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of 21st Century Learning to contribute to this meme. Many thanks to fellow Twitterer @ckyle who let me know I had been tagged. The idea is that you share 7 things about yourself that would be unknown to your readers.

  1. I grew up the middle child of 5 kids. I think it made me a natural calm and shrewd negotiator.
  2. I attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, intending to become a diplomat. My parents overruled my plans and I was too immature to realize I had the power to do it anyway.
  3. I finished all of my course work for a Masters in Creative Writing but had a three year bout with writer's block that torpedoed my thesis efforts.
  4. I wish to return to Washington, DC to live.
  5. I have twin girls who are now almost 18. People who say "I always wanted twins" are obviously naive.
  6. I have a 15 year old son whose severe dyslexia is the reason I am passionate about highly functioning and relevant schools.
  7. I believe the work I am doing is my calling

Now I am suppose to tag 7 people who will do the same thing I just did.

I tag:

J├╝rgen Fauth

Carson Baker

Tim Tyrell-Smith

Seth Godin

Dan Pink

Andrew Galasetti

Scott McLeod

Think Fun

Over the holidays, we did a little straightening up around the house and uncovered what might have been the toy of the season. Curiously, it was a set of games and puzzles that had been a Christmas gift years ago. All the puzzles were from a company called Binary Arts. A search on the net revealed that Binary Arts is now known as Think Fun. That is exactly what these games are about. Think Fun claims a mission to ignite brains. 'Think Fun games teach children to become better problem solvers, transforming the way they think.' Check out the Think Fun website or the Think Fun Education website