Escape Mediocrity

manifesto-image1 We live in a time where apathy has become a way of life. Where near enough is good enough. And where we only open our mouths to receive another spoon-fed morsel.

We have lionised failure and hardened our hearts. We’ve lost the art of adventure and dampened our curiosity, and cocooned ourselves in the safety of our own beliefs.

It’s a shame.

In fact, it’s a travesty.

Don’t you think it’s time we reignite and live by the daily miracles that make life worth living? Sarah Robinson does – and has produced an Escaping Mediocrity Manifesto. Check it out – and share what you believe.

It’s Time to Stop Killing the Heroine

I’ve never been a fan of film. While my friends studied film and communications, dreaming of becoming directors, journalists and documentary film-makers, my attention passed over the latest blockbuster, the must-see arthouse flick or the searing naval-gazing documentary as if it was already speaking in a dead language to me.

I studied theatre at university – completed a masters degree and even commenced a PhD on the subject of writing and performance. There was more breath – more life – in a dozen stanzas of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine or Shakespeare’s Macbeth than in almost any movie I had seen. Not that this always translated to live theatre – which seemed to want to replicate the shallow conventions of the silver screen. In my impatience for something more authentic, I’d often leave performances at interval, disillusioned between the promise and the delivery.

And so I’d return time and again to the text. That’s what fascinated me. But not just reading – I was drawn to writing as well. I wanted to understand what made great writing great. I wanted to follow the journey of writing to its end – or at least as close to its end as I could stand. And it was while starting this journey (that never ends) that I encountered one of my greatest teachers. And it all began with a single letter – H.

Helene Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing has been my constant companion for almost 20 years. She starts the book with the letter H – a ladder, but also her starting point – the first letter of her name. For me, it was the first letter of a surname that I had yet to come to grips with. Descending that ladder would take time and experience.

But something that struck me about Cixous’ thinking and writing was the way that she would expose the secrets of writing to the glare of the sun. To the scrutiny of the ever watchful reader. She points out that one of literature’s constant and recurring themes is the death of the woman. We see it time and time again – but the “death of the woman” that Cixous writes of is not the literal, ultimate disempowerment of death, visually and poetically reduced. It is something more visceral:

To begin (writing, living) we must have death … We must have death, but young, present, ferocious, fresh death, the death of the day, today’s death. The one that comes right up to us so suddenly that we don’t have time to avoid it, I mean to avoid feeling its breath touching us. Ha!

But so many writers avoid coming close to the face of death. They shy away from it’s sweet, pungent breath and they serve up the corpse, the lost girl, the fallen angel. These writers serve up death on a platter and name it “accomplishment” – and never once challenge us in our own complicity.We see it every day in crime drama on TV. It’s presented there – in the news – and in the streets where we live. But just because we see it, live it, breathe it – it does not make it art. By all rights, it should make it outrage.

And that’s exactly what I was left with at the end of a recent night’s viewing. It’s not that the writing wasn’t good. It’s not that the performances weren’t great. And it’s not that the twists and turns, the characterisation or the cinematography didn’t result in quality drama. Indeed, Black Swan, was far more than adequate in all these areas.

When Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, was challenged by director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), to “be” the black swan, we knew that death was on the cards. To find, to share, to become dangerous with her performance, Nina would need to open the door which would lead to the other side – to that ferocious death that Cixous speaks of.

But for a movie that deals intensely with the creative process – and with the life of an artist on the ascendency – I was bitterly disappointed that when the fork in the road was reached, that the lesser road was taken. Not only did the narrative fail to become its own “Black Swan” in the choice of ending, it did so by betraying its audience. We became witnesses to a crime in which we ourselves played a part – the lights come up, we all applaud and go home.

Well, I for one, am sick and tired of seeing heroines killed for our entertainment. These lazy metaphors numb our senses and inure us to the daily atrocities that grace our screens. We need to ask more of our writers. Our artists. Our news readers. Our politicians. We need to ask more of ourselves.

And we should do this not just for ourselves, but also for the beautiful, complex, challenging and fragile women in our lives – friends, mothers, daughters, wives and lovers.

When I studied theatre, I did so because it was the art form that brought us, moment by moment, closest to life. And if you have been privileged to see such a performance – say Nick Cave, dangerously leering over the edge of the stage, or Norman Kaye in Swimming in the Light – then you will know that there are indeed, moments where the divisions between theatre and life disappear. It’s these moments that I love and why I am also drawn to social media in all its chaos and fresh ferocity – for in our own performance, in our own perpetual storytelling, we speak ourselves into existence one blog post, tweet or twitpic at a time.

If you are going to speak. Speak truth.

Five Reasons NOT to Renovate Your Bathroom with Harvey Norman

When I worked at IBM, I often heard the quote, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. I loved this as an idea – and still do. It neatly encompasses the robust, trustworthy status of the big blue brand. It provides customers with the promise that while the price may come at a premium, that delivery will be flawless; and it provides employees with a rallying point, something to live up to. And in my years with IBM, I saw this promise fulfilled by teams of talented people. Not only were these people experts in their field, sometimes they came close to genius.

Recently, I went through the exercise of having my bathroom renovated. Now, I like to build things in my shed, but I am far from professional. I was more than happy to turn this over to professionals. Sure it will cost, but I wanted the expertise and experience. I didn’t expect a genius, but I did expect flawless execution. I did expect them to deliver a superior customer experience.

This did not happen.

So if you are in the market for a bathroom renovation and are considering Harvey Norman Renovations, then closely read these five reasons NOT to renovate your bathroom with Harvey Norman:

  1. The sparkle ends when the contract is signed. Our designer was great. He guided us through the myriad choices and budget options. Nothing was a problem and his suggestions really did help. But once the contract is signed, you are in a whole other world. The charismatic designer is replaced by the grumpy, uncommunicative subcontractor who invades your house and sets up camp. There will be problems and a million reasons why something cannot be done – or done well. You’re in for an argument every day.
  2. Sales bait and switch. The designer will sell you a vision for your new bathroom. That’s the one that you sign up for. But the reality is quite different. Take a look at the table below to see the silver words and an explanation of what they mean.
  3. The design is the blueprint, unless it’s too much work for the contractor. If you’re like me, you will be relying on the expertise of “Harvey Norman” to complete your bathroom to the best of their abilities. You’ll be expecting them to work to the agreed design and promise. But there will be many things that just seem to be “not possible”. Where something is “not in the design” it will be classed as a “variation”, but where the design appears to involve substantial effort, work arounds will be the order of the day. Note, while Harvey Norman variations will cost you extra, your variations do not result in a discount. It’s amazing what can actually be done if you push hard enough, but then again, it’s another argument that you have to have. 
  4. The site supervisor is non-existent. When something doesn’t go to plan, who do you speak with? When you want to check or validate the work of the contractor, who do you turn to? As explained above, I’m not a building professional. I rely entirely on the expertise, experience and goodwill of what I thought was Harvey Norman. Our “site supervisor” was only “on site” one day – in three weeks. And then, for a grand total of about 15 minutes. The small changes, accommodations and variations accumulate each day. There’s no supervision and no second opinion on the direction your bathroom is taking.
  5. Start and end dates. There is no end date in your contract, so your contractor can drag your project on as long as it takes. Our contractor would start about 11am and work on and off for a few hours before heading home for a well-earned rest. As to start dates – we weren’t even scheduled to start with the contractor – the paperwork had to be “found” and the work had to be scheduled – but only after a series of phone calls that got us all off to a bad start. What were we thinking? We’d only given them TWO MONTHS NOTICE to start.

Table of Harvey Norman Renovation promises and what they really mean

Promise What it means
“We do everything but the painting” If you can badger the contractor enough to actually do his job, you might have walls that will only need a couple of days sanding before you can paint them.
“We strip out everything and you’ll get a completely new bathroom” We will replace the wall below 1200mm which will be covered with tiles anyway, but above that you’ll still have the same old gyprock you thought you were getting rid of.
“Patch and make good” Actually replacing gyprock and cornices is not part of our deal – even if we have to smash it to fit. We’ll cover it up with a dash of plaster and hope we can make it look at least half as good as it was before we got here.

So – how did it all turn out? I’ll let you know when it is actually finished. In the meantime, I will write up some tips for “getting what was expected from Harvey Norman Renovations” – and even share some of the work in progress pictures.

Note: the image above is from Flickr. It’s not my bathroom.

UPDATE: Kudos to the Harvey Norman social media team who contacted me via LinkedIn. Good to see. Here's hoping that this leads to others having a better renovation experience.

Top 10 Internet Filter Lies

Regular readers will know that I am against the plan to censor access to the internet here in Australia. It’s not that I don’t agree with some of the root issues – but that I think it’s far more effective and beneficial to educate not just the kids who are now beginning to access the web, but their parents as well.

As reported by Whitney Edwards recently, a number of high school students were suspended for hacking their Department of Education issued laptops. Despite what I expect would be quality system based controls and underlying technologies, these breaches demonstrate the importance of educating for BEHAVIOUR not mandating rules. After all, trying to stop people from doing something (especially those prone to pushing the envelope or experimenting with their skills/capabilities) often appears to be a red rag to a bull.

This morning Eliza Cussen shares the top 10 internet filter lies that have been pushed by filter proponents (the chief of whom is Senator Stephen Conroy). Read the whole article here. The lies, in order of appearance are:

Lie # 1: The filter will help in the fight against child pornography.

Lie # 2: The filter won’t slow connection speeds.

Lie #3: Conroy’s filter will stop your kids viewing harmful stuff online.

Lie #4: The filter has been proven in Government trials.

Lie #5: This plan is no different to what is already done with books and films.

Lie #6: The ISP filter is similar to ones in other Western democracies.

Lie #7: The filter will not make the internet more expensive.

Lie #8: If you’re anti mandatory filtering you’re pro child porn.

Lie #9: The filter would be impenetrable.

Lie #10: An ISP filter is the best option out there.

So tell me. Do you believe the lies? Do you believe the responses? Like any complex problem – there is no simple solution, but education and empowerment are the way forward.

What Motivates You?

Earlier this week I spent some time talking to a recruitment agent. It wasn’t for a new job – I was providing a reference for a friend who used to work for me. It was an interesting conversation – not the run of the mill kind of discussion, but one which delved deeper … into motivation, needs and how they manifest for us in the workplace. It made me think about success – about why some people achieve things that others don’t or can’t.

Whenever I have been in charge of teams, I instinctively seek out those who have the type of energy that I can work with. I am attracted to those who have  intrinsic motivation – a sense of drive – and tend to make a hiring decision based on the way that people walk into a room.

In this video, Dan Pink, talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose – and how they combine in an individual – and what this means for those of us who manage, direct or energise teams as part of our daily work. Sure there are times where we can take the standard managerial approach – offering rewards for good performance and disincentives for poor performance, but Dan Pink suggests a need to adjust our management styles according to the type of work being performed.

Mark McGuiness also points out, that while the carrot and stick approach works for simple working arrangements, when it comes to complex problem solving and challenging or creative industries, we need to think outside the box:

… the rules are mystifying, the solution, if it exists, is surprising and not obvious – [for this kind of problem] those ‘If… then’ rewards, the things around which we have build so many of our businesses, DON’T WORK!

This is not a feeling… this is not a philosophy… this is a FACT!

There is a double edged sword here, of course. We all like to be paid handsomely for the work that we do – but few of us are willing to prioritise our desire for autonomy, our mastery and skill and our sense of purpose above income. Or am I wrong?

What’s your motivation for doing what you do? And what would you change if you could?

A Manifesto of Social Media Blame

stay offMike Arauz is one of the most considered bloggers that I read regularly … but he has a bee in his bonnet about the term “social media”. It’s not that he doesn’t love it, it’s that he feels it’s being destroyed or desaturated of meaning. His Passionate Rant About Social Media reads, to me, like a manifesto of social media blame – and there is plenty to share:

I blame everyone who claims to be a social media expert when no one can even begin to imagine what social media is going to become.

I blame everyone who says social media when they really just mean Facebook.

I blame everyone who asks for a social media marketing strategy when they really want a mass-media strategy without having to pay for it.

I blame everyone who treats social media like a game to be won by getting more followers.

I blame the mass media journalists who write and produce story after story about the latest buzzwords without ever bothering to even attempt to understand what the hell they're even talking about.

Take the time to read through the whole post. And then, think about WHY you or your brand is considering social media and then reframe your approach. Consider HOW you might begin to walk a shared desire path with your customers – and then, maybe, you will avoid the blame game altogether.

Facebook Turns the Other Cheek

Yesterday, after writing this post suggesting that Facebook’s changes to the terms of service would adversely impact bloggers and agencies, I joined the People Against the News Terms of Service (TOS) Facebook group. This group, created by Anne Petteroe, gained the ear of the Facebook management, and submitted “Three big questions for Facebook”. These were canvassed from the rapidly growing group membership – which at this point stands at over 60,000 members (and continues to grow).

This group, along with the many blog posts and a burgeoning Twitter stream convinced the Facebook management team to revert to their previous terms of use. The above announcement will appear when you next login to Facebook – giving you the option of joining the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities group – and contributing to the discussion. Interestingly, it has taken a large scale backlash (again) for Facebook to actually listen, notify and begin to engage with the members who are the foundations on which their success is based. There are clear lessons for any business here.

So, what were the three big questions for Facebook? Anne put the following forward to the Facebook management team:

3 Big Questions for Facebook:
To Mr. Zuckerberg and the Facebook Legal Team,
After reviewing and categorizing the responses from the protest group members, please see the following 3 major issues that we would like to see addressed, by you, and resolved through modification of Facebook’s Terms of Service:
1. Advertising and Commercial Rights:
“If the TOS doesn’t mean I give Facebook the rights to use pictures of my family/friends/kids why does it give so many people that impression? Will I wind up seeing pictures of my niece staring at me from a bus stop at some point and be told I shoulda read the fine print?”
~ Rich Griffith
“Let’s say that 10 years down the road, I become famous. Let’s also say that, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s well-intentioned promise, a large multinational corporation buys out Facebook…per these new TOS, my likeness, photographs, etc, could then be used, for all eternity, to hock Sony products in any way they want.”
~ Brian (Coast Guard Academy)
2. Bands, Artists, Photographers, Writers, Filmmakers etc:
“For a [band \ artist \ photographer \ writer \ filmmaker] with a page on Facebook, there may be no privacy settings (i.e., everyone can see your page). What stops Facebook from distributing the [artistic works] posted on Facebook band pages for profit?”
~ Matteo
3. “Share” on Facebook:
“Many bloggers submit their blog content to their profiles via RSS or by third party applications – or even using Notes. In many instances, blog content is licensed under Creative Commons, however, it appears that this content would also fall under the terms of service.”
~ Gavin (Australia)
“[One could argue] in a credible sounding way that your Terms of … lay claim to content provided on a third party site if that site uses a ‘Share on Facebook’ link. Is this true? If so, how do you intend to remedy it?”
~ Jim (Raleigh / Durham, NC)
We are aware that Facebook’s CEO and its other representatives have clarified the company’s intent on the use and ownership of User Content. However, these assurances aside, Mr. Zuckerberg himself has called the legal language in the TOS “overly formal and protective.” Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker has characterized his reply as “the modern version of ‘Ignore the fine print, ma’am, just sign here.’”
Regardless of Facebook’s current intent, the legal language in the Terms of Service must be changed in order to address the above issues. As Facebook is a leader in Social Media, doing so well help to set an industry-wide standard for user content use for other online services providers. Consumers cannot be expected to rest on the assurances of the good intentions of companies without having any kind of enforceable legal recourse. As we all know, corporate strategies adjust, CEO’s change, Boards of Directors shuffle and companies get bought out. We’re just looking for some legal assurances in writing that if and when that happens, we won’t be left in the cold.
~ Facebook Users Against the New Terms of Service – 02/16/2009

Opinion or Hate Mongering?

Further to my post on the atrocious piece by Miranda Devine and the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald, the folks over at ABC TV's Media Watch weighed into the debate asking whether this type of article is opinion or hate mongering. 

I noticed a number of comments on Twitter as the program aired. But the video is now available on the ABC TV website, so you can see the segment for yourself here.

The article itself, the illustration used in the original piece and the editorial decision to place the article on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald website were discussed. Note that the image in question has now been removed from the website. Calling out the noted "hanging from lamp-posts" quote, Jonathan Holmes suggests:

That's not opinion-writing, Miranda. That's hate-mongering.
You and your paper, which saw fit to blazon your ugly piece across the front page of its website, should both be ashamed of yourselves.

Now, if only the ABC would allow their media player to be embeddable … 

Miranda Divine is the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald

change is inevitableThere are many places where the “future of newspapers” is debated. It happens in the New York Times, on Twitter, on and on blogs, broadsheets and in back rooms. For the most part, I stay out of these conversations – clearly the publishing industry is under pressure and undergoing significant structural change (as it has been for well over 20 years), and we all have vested interests somewhere here.

My media consumption these days is mostly digital. This includes a large variety of online sources of news and information – but it also includes the Sydney Morning Herald’s website – where today, I stumbled upon this piece from Miranda Devine.

I was surprised at the tone and at the argument. At a time where the forest fires are still burning in Victoria, and containment lines being threatened, it not only seems too early to begin pointing fingers, it seems astounding that anyone would absolve any arsonist from responsibility. Miranda Devine begins her article, Green ideas must take blame for deaths as follows:

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists …

And continues:

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Kieran Bennett has written a response, that is well worth reading.

Over the years I have enjoyed reading the Sydney Morning Herald, but have watched it become increasingly focused on lifestyle and opinion over the news and reportage that most interests me. I still have the weekend papers delivered to my door but find that I am leaving large sections wholly untouched every weekend. But after this article, I am cancelling my subscription. If this is where the future of newspapers is going, then they can go there without my interest or patronage.

Of course, I may end up being scornfully quoted on the Herald site in response. But by then, I will have been long disconnected from the Sydney Morning Herald and all who write for it.

UPDATE: Frank Sting writes an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald Editor. You can read it here.

Leave Your Shoes at the Door

sign for nice peopleOver the last few days I have been interested to see the many and varied reactions to David Armano’s efforts at fundraising for his friend, Daniela. You can read the original post here (and Scott Drummond’s excellent coverage here).

While there are a number of supporters, there have also been a number of detractors. David, himself, has come out and admitted that this has turned out in a way that he had not predicted:

On that note, there are all kinds of attention being drawn to this including criticism. To say I knew what I was getting into would be inaccurate. My initial concerns were for the safety of my own family, not what the pundits have to say about this … I am not a fundraiser. I'm a dad, husband and full time employee—and an imperfect one at all three. Belinda and I decided not to sit this one out. It's really that simple.

Some of the questions that have been raised go directly to the heart of social media … what does it mean to be “connected”, where does responsibility overlap “connection” and what happens to our TRUST when money is involved?

Scott Henderson, for example, writes a provocative post claiming I Gave $10 to David Armano to Help Daniela and Now I Regret It and Mark Mayhew seems to have spent some time visiting various blogs questioning the trust that been placed in the David-Daniela story. I am sure there are plenty of other articles available – both positive and negative.

David Armano simply activated his network to change a situation – he asked people to donate a small amount of money. In doing so, he put the trust of that network to the test. He put his credibility on the line. He opened his personal actions to the scrutiny of the world (or at least the several thousand connections he has created over the last few years). In doing so, he has raised over three times the amount that he had aimed for (which was $5000).

We have seen the power of social networks before. A similar approach raised over $16,000 for Variety via The Age of Conversation (and Age of Conversation 2 continues the tradition) … and I have been involved in a number of more personal projects that benefited particular individuals. And let’s face it, the job of a marketer is to encourage people to participate (in a relationship of some kind). However, this is not simply a matter of raising awareness, or even raising funds – once it takes hold, these SOCIAL projects become MOVEMENTS and grow quickly beyond our grasp.

As Spike Jones from Brains on Fire explains, a movement can begin with a single conversation:

If that conversation is filled with honesty, transparency, true interest and a LOT of listening, then the first seed is planted. The movement has begun in one mind and one heart. And that’s usually the beginning of something powerful, meaningful and full of potential that gets realized more every day.

And this is what David Armano has begun. It is what a great number of people have participated in. For many, it is their first time. Perhaps they found their participation thrilling, exciting. Perhaps, like Scott, they felt worried afterwards. But this is exactly what social media is about. It is going beyond the merely social. It is moving quickly from words to action. It is about risking your trust. It is not always strategic. It is not even always tactical. But it is ALWAYS personal (for someone) – which, again, is why businesses find it challenging to get started.

Take a look at this great post by Mack Collier and his discussion with Olivier Blanchard – “The point [of social media] is really to help people connect better”. It is through social media that we begin to not just “connect” but find the place where we BELONG.

So if you get involved in a social movement like this … remember, leave your shoes at the door. It’s not “safe” in the way that you would normally consider “safety”. It’s not controlled by an administrator. It’s not overseen by a government department. You might think, after the fact, that your participation could have been different, more tempered, focused.

But your participation marks your initiation into the tribe. You can never unlearn this experience.

The rules are different. And now, so are you.

UPDATE: Alan Wolk has a great post on this topic, and Scott Henderson follows-up yesterday's discussion after chatting with David Armano.

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