Friday, October 29, 2010

Wandering the Web

I've been wandering the web this week.

For where I have been and what I have been writing check out these two links.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Things They Are A Changing

While many like to argue that things aren't changing fast enough there are those who think things are changing too much and pushing hard and loud against it. I'm not talking politics today, although this certainly holds true for that as well, but the way we do business.

As the economy struggles to rebuild, the old rules don't necessarily apply, although many will tell you just the opposite, hanging on to my most favorite of laments,"But this is always the way we've done things." Those who are brave enough to think out of the box are not always supported. In fact they are often chided, told their way will never work and their doom is predicted before they go up to bat, especially by those who find it safer to hold on to the old ways.

But the fact is that change is a happening. Just because things have always been done a certain way does not mean it's still going to work. And just because someone or some new business enterprise decides to defy the laws of convention does not mean they are doomed. In fact it might be just the opposite.

Case in point is an interesting article by David Carr in The New York Times on The Awl. The Awl calls themselves a "web based" concern with the intention of encouraging "a daily discussion of the issues of the day."  They focus on the stuff everyone else doesn't pay much attention to but is still interesting and newsworthy.

The Awl did not skyrocket to over night success.  But two years later things are turning a corner. I  invite you to read the article in entirety for the details and to visit their site. But my point is they went against convention and it worked.

We live in a world of over analyzing, with too many claiming to be experts.  Too many more saying this is the way, the only way and if you don't follow that way, you're wrong, not to mention doomed to fail. We look for the problems instead of the solutions. We fail to pay enough attention to our instincts.

But things are a changing. Morphing. Evolving. It's one of those times in history where we can take the best of what we know and have learned and apply it in new and innovative ways.

I like what the founders of The Awl did. They created something based on what they knew their circle of friends would read. There were no high priced focus groups or infamous polling. No five year business plan.

They went with what I am sure was their instincts whether they realized it at the time or not.  They created a viable business doing what they like best. They could have failed and perhaps at another point in time they would have.  But not now.  'Cause things, they are a changing.

Maybe they were lucky. But as a boss I had early in my career used to say, there is no  luck. If you are in the right place at the right time,  doing what you are supposed to be doing you have created your own luck. These days that might mean going against convention.

Do you justify what you do by saying this is the way we've always done it?
Or do you defy convention?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Political

One of the great things about having your own blog is that you can do whatever you want with it. And if some days that means going a little off course from what you usually write about you can. So today with just a week away from the mid term elections that is what I am going to do. I am going to get political.

I'm not one of the ragers. I am not a doomsday predictor. I have said more than once here I am  the girl who looks at the glass as half full and I believe change is good, even if at times it is hard to get your arms around.

But the one thing that really does incite me is when I hear the predictions that people are just not going to vote this election. That they are going to sit this one out for a variety of pundit inspired reasons, from those who are just too disillusioned there hasn't been enough change to some who are being encouraged not to vote because they are told that will make a statement to those they might be angry at. And of course there are those who think their vote doesn't count. That no matter who they vote for things will stay the same.

In most corporate organizations, those mentalities would get you fired. Can you imagine telling your boss that you weren't even going to try and sell a client because you knew already they weren't going to buy?  Or that you weren't going to make any more cold calls because the economy is awful and no one is biting anyway? Or sitting around a conference table and when it came time for your opinion you said you were passing? That you didn't have any?

Or how about those Texas Rangers? The ones who are going to their first World Series? What if they had told their managers that they should just sit out the playoffs  because they always lost  and the Yankees were going to win anyway? That there wasn't any use in even getting up to bat?

I get especially incensed when I hear it is mostly women who are going to sit this election out.  In Gloria Feldt's new book, the #1 power tool she suggests for women is to know your history. With that let me remind the women reading this that the Declaration of Independence stated that "all men are created equal", The Constitution, which so many believe we need to enforce by the letter within which it was written, was the creation  of a bunch of white men and that women had to fight to earn the right to vote in 1920, less than one hundred years ago!

You can see how that enrages me for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I don't believe in all the predictions of low voter turnout.

What I do believe is that it is media hype. Something else to fill the 24/7 endless repetition of nothing that fills most cable news networks.  (Check out Seth Godin's blog for a non politically directed spin on what I am referring to.)

The majority of us are not political pundits with a blog or show to fill. We are not answering our phones when the pollsters call. And if we are under thirty chances are our only phone is a cell phone which completely eliminates us from the process.

Pardon me if this sounds too optimistic for many of you, but I am sensing that all that rage being spewed by the few with the microphones attached to their paychecks, has now spawned the anti-rage. Enthusiasm without the anger. Enthusiasm with sanity. Sort of along the lines of what Jon Stewart is organizing this Saturday. A Rally to Restore Sanity.

I don't profess to have all the answers to all the ills we are facing at the moment. But I do believe we are moving forward, albeit slowly. And I also believe everyone has a responsibility in that.  EVERYONE as in you and me.

Voting is one small action that lets your voice be heard. (If the pundits have turned you off so completely that you are uncertain the views of the candidates in your area check out this very cool non-partisan site, Project Vote Smart.)

I worked in advertising sales through more than one recession. We couldn't wait for someone else to do the work to make our budget. No matter how tough and unrealistic, EVERYONE had to do their part. No order was ever considered too small, which meant if you were a rookie with no list or a heavy hitter with a host of clients to cajole, you were expected to do your part and contribute. A $1000 order was as important as a $10,000 order in getting the team closer to the goal. No one got to sit out.

I've chosen to use my blog as my platform today because I am not sitting this election out. If I have convinced even one of you to vote that wasn't planning on it, I'll consider this a blog worth writing.  I'll be rallying on Saturday in Washington, DC because I want to support more sanity and get on with the job of getting things moving forward.  I'll be making calls encouraging others to do their part on Election Day, so if it's me who you hear on the phone, don't hang up!  Most importantly,  I'm  choosing to vote. The question is, will you?

This blog is being syndicated on Blogher

Friday, October 22, 2010

You're Never Too Old

The first time I saw Elton John perform live was circa 1970 at Carnegie Hall. It never occurred to me that I was witnessing a legend in the making, one whose music I would follow for years to come.  It probably never dawned on him. He was just a man following his passion with an extraordinary talent that would provide the soundtrack for many lives along the way, mine being one of them.

That passion evolved from  my very favorite album of all time "Elton John"

to his pop days to the present. He has just released a new collaboration with the man who was his music idol, Leon Russell. That's what happens when you follow your passion. You just never want to stop working! Because it doesn't feel like work. It's fun! It's exhilarating! It always feels new!  It's the only way you can breathe!

I caught the two, both men over 60 on  The View singing this song off their new album  The Union. It's appropriately called "You're Never Too Old."

Do you think there are things you're too old for anymore?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Advertising Of Experts

Advertising is about creating an illusion. The illusion that if you try this new product not only will you have beautiful shiny hair, sparkling clean floors, or whiter teeth but your whole world will shift. Your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, colleagues will be more in love, envious, charmed with you than ever before.

In that illusion is the notion that the creators of the product know some secret thing you don't have access to.  They are experts. That is their claim. Their competition disagrees. They try to convince you they are the real experts by pointing out the other's flaws instead of their attributes. They confuse things.

So who really is the expert? And what exactly does being an expert mean?

By definition it is a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge or skill in a particular area.

My question is who determines that? Today there seems to be a proliferation of individuals who call themselves experts. But are they really? Or is it just another advertising illusion?

I sit here writing this in front of a 21.5 inch Mac with access to information once reserved for offices. I can interface with a variety of social media  that allows me to"advertise" and "promote" globally whatever I want without paying for a copywriter, a graphic designer or advertising time. I can deem myself an expert on whatever I choose. And if I create the right illusion it doesn't matter if I can back it up with fact.

We all seem to be seeking the experts for that secret piece of information that is life altering, that they know and we don't. We don't question the title of expert. We just want the information, that secret elixir.

In these last days before the midterm election we see the airwaves clogged with individuals who claim to be "experts" in government. Some have the credentials, the education and the experience to back it up. Some are creating the illusion as though it was some great magic trick trying to convince you that if elected they will be able to solve all the problems of Washington that no one else before them has ever been able to.

They all promise that our world will be better with them in it, leading the way. I like to believe that some are right. I'm also wise enough to know that some might fool us and until we see them standing with an empty hat and no rabbit we won't know until then the illusion they created.

Having spent  many years in advertising I am more skeptical than most. So I try to do my homework. To read past the ads, and the slanted editorial posing as news reporting before I make my decisions. Whether it is a new toothpaste or a new governor. I search for authenticity. But then I'm no expert.

What do you think makes an expert?
Are you an expert?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Make No Mistake

I used to believe in mistakes. I used to make myself wrong for every decision I made that did not turn out the way I wanted it to or thought it should. I can still in weak moments go down the path of wondering how different things would be if I had taken the left fork instead of the right one, if I had chosen A instead of C from the menu. I have spent hours agonizing and second guessing myself after the fact. I have learned that is nothing but a waste of energy. I have learned not to believe in mistakes.

Don't get me wrong. I am not without error. I have been known when not paying attention to get on an uptown train when I was supposed to be going downtown. I make "mistakes." But I've stopped believing in mistakes as a wrong.  I've chosen instead to view them as part of my learning, part of who I am, of what makes me the person I am at this very moment and of what I need to learn as part of my journey.

I've been thinking how in our glass half empty culture we seem consumed with the idea of making mistakes. The headlines are filled with articles that are  lists of  mistakes to avoid, from marketing mistakes to investment mistakes to dating mistakes. We seem obsessed with this idea of doing something "wrong". I recently read a blog post entitled My 52 Mistakes. I know the woman who wrote it. She is bright, successful and like me a corporate expatriate. Yet, I was troubled by the subject. Mostly because of that word.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines mistake as "an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong." My question is who determines what is wrong?  My "wrong" could be someone else's "right" and if that is so than can we really learn from another's mistakes?  No matter how many times we might be told that is not the way to go, will we really ever get it if  we don't experience it ourselves?  And isn't is so that often we never get to our "right" unless we fall a few times first?  Isn't that part of what we are supposed to be here to do? To learn our individual path even if someone else says it is not the way to go? That what we are doing is "wrong"?

I would argue that as women we are inherently more afraid of making mistakes. The patriarchy that has existed for the last two thousand years  subjugated women in fear. If we did something wrong, made a mistake according to the rules someone else made up we might be physically hurt or made to suffer. We live with more of a fear of making "mistakes" than men do, sometimes to the point that it freezes us in our actions.

I've taken to viewing my "mistakes" as perfection. If I wind up on that uptown train when I should be going downtown I have a choice. I can get all twisted and mad at myself, worrying that I'll be late for wherever I was going or I can laugh  and rest that perhaps there is a reason that happened. Perhaps I am supposed to be going uptown, that there is something I need to see in that direction, someone I need to meet, something I need to learn that would not have happened going the opposite way Even if it doesn't seem clear at that moment I am going exactly where I am supposed to. Make no mistake about it.

Do you believe in "mistakes"?
Do you think women are more concerned with making "mistakes" than men are?
Does the fear of making a "mistake" keep you frozen in your tracks?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I have been scattered. Unable to sit and write anything that is blogworthy. This morning I set my alarm so I would get started early. One of my most favorite times for new ideas is in those dark hours before dawn when the world is quiet and I can hear my muse better.

But my muse, it seems is also scattered. She pops in, leaves me a few words and ideas and is off again. If I knew where she was going I would follow her. But as I said she has been quiet.

Scattered. That is how I have been.  Like the leaves falling off the trees. My ideas, my thoughts, my words, sentences are all strewn about in piles of yellow and orange and red.

I don't know what to do with the piles. Do I burn them, sweep them away, do I separate them by color, make sure they don't clog any gutters? Or do I just admire them for their beauty, their individuality and their uniqueness? How do I remember that there is a story in each one? That they are all just part of the process?

The leaves are falling now. The trees will grow bare and rest for a bit, until they are ready. And then just like that they will sprout new growth again. They'll burst tiny green buds that will blossom seemingly overnight. It is the rhythm and cycle of nature.

How do I remember this is all just part of the process?
Ahh. I know. I make myself write and not worry if it is blogworthy.

Are you scattered today?
What do you do when you are scattered?
How do you focus?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Power Tool #9: Tell Your Story

I've been in absentia from my blog. There is always more than one reason that happens, but for today suffice it to say, one of those reasons was that I've been reading Gloria Feldt's new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.

This is not the sort of book you are going to race through. This is the kind of book you have to put down and digest before taking more in.  To think about. To reflect. To discuss.  And if Gloria's passion for what she has made her life's work has any effect on you, will make you want to do at least one little something differently than you have been.

So that's what I've been doing for the last week. Letting it all sink in. Being reminded of all the work that was done, all the paths that were paved to make me lucky enough to be able to write and publish my own blog from the privacy of my home and say whatever I damn well please without fear of my life in question.

If you think that sounds extreme, you don't as Gloria points out in Power Tool #1, Know Your History. If you are like me, you remember how it was starting out.

I graduated high school the year Title IX was passed. Girls took Home Economics and boys took Wood Shop. They changed the dress code sometime in Sophomore year which meant we could ditch the dresses and wear pants to school. I have always liked to say that the world I was raised to live in ( think Donna Reed and Father Knows Best) was not the one I stepped into as a college graduate.  I am considered to be of the group of baby boomers that rode into the work force on the end of the second wave of feminism in the seventies.  Doors had been opened for us and we were given the heady task of walking through them.

I wore those horrid suits with shoulder pads that made me look like a line backer. With a silk bow tied  securely around high collars the message was loud and clear that if we were about to make serious inroads in business, we better look and act like the guys and throw the feminine part of feminism out the window.

In fact as I recall, we started to keep our feminist roots quiet. The patriarchal culture we were edging our way into put a negative spin on the movement. It meant you were one of those angry women and might not be a team player. The further entrenched I got in the corporate landscape the more clear it became. If I wanted to get ahead, I had to buy into the program or at least appear to. In other words be seen and not heard unless it was what they wanted to hear. And don't go bonding with the other women. No girl's club allowed, because really, there might be room for one female on the rise, but more than one? Not a chance.

A lot has changed since then. Including me. But I agree with Gloria that it's not nearly enough.

We need to strengthen what was not there when I was on the way up, a sisterhood. (Power Tool #7: Create a Movement) There were very few women I could look to as a role model or mentor when I started out. If you were lucky, you crossed paths with a man willing to be your sponsor. But their perspective would always be to play by their rules. Not yours.

Now there are women in powerful positions who can help the younger ones forge their path. As Gloria points out it is incumbent for hands to extend in both directions.

While many like to predict the end of the world is on the horizon, I align myself with those who believe all the chaos ( Tool # 5: Carpe the Chaos)  and change we are experiencing now is part of a seismic shift, one in which women and the power of the feminine will balance out the patriarchal culture we have been living in for the last two thousand years. The thing is if we are going to get this planet on the right track, we as women need to tap into our power. Gloria refers to it as the power to as opposed to the power over. I like to think of it as the power within each of us as women, the power we were told to keep turned to dim, the power that can create positive change.

Gloria's message is clear. She is a passionate activist and former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood. She speaks from her convictions. She wants to call you to action to do your part and to seize this moment in time. She offers 9 Power Tools from which to choose. Whether you lean left, right or in between, if you are a woman you should read this book. If it sparks controversy for you, (It did for me. I did not agree with every point she makes.) well than use Power Tool# 4 and Embrace it. Then you can head on over to her website and engage in the conversation. That's how change starts.

As for me, I've been reminded of how quiet I have kept my voice for most of my life. That it has taken me this long to own that I am a writer and a coach and that I have something worthwhile to say to the world. Gloria reminded me of the reasons things unfolded as they did and the choice I had in it. She would say I took the safe path and I would agree. But now I'm on another path, one not so safe but much more fun.  It uses Power Tool #9: Tell Your Story.

You can follow Gloria on Twitter or Facebook 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing Without A Keyboard

I've taken notes for as long as I can remember. It was ingrained in my NYC public school education to take notes. Even when my short term memory was much sharper and not flooded with today's information overload, I never trusted what I might remember. I was told if I took notes I would learn more. I listened and it has always proven true.

I had one boss who questioned me on my note taking. In reflection I suppose he wondered what he was saying that was of that much interest that I would take notes. But take notes I continued to do, because that is how I absorb. Or in the case of those meetings, probably how I stayed awake and focused.

As a writer, for a long time I could not think creatively on a keyboard. For me, writing on paper first was the best way to get a good story going. While I have trained my creativity to type on a keyboard  some days only a pen will do. And always, always, always, if I want a good edit, I have to print out and write my notes in the margins.

The problem now is that I don't always understand what I write. My thoughts often flow much quicker than my hand. I try to compensate for that by transcribing to my computer sooner than later.

It wasn't always like that. I used to get As in penmanship. You see when I went to school it was considered a subject and there were samples of each letter of the alphabet, capital and small, in cursive and print, bordering the top of the chalkboard.

Penmanship involved a lot of copying. It took time. I saw it as an easy A. Keep it neat and take some pride and it helped my grade point average.

Plus I was learning. I learned what a sentence was supposed to look like. I absorbed whatever silly information we were given to copy.

And I never forgot what I was taught. That I would learn more by taking notes than just listening to a lecture. That it was a useful exercise to discern what I thought most important from the lesson by writing it down.

The cover section of the WSJ today has a feature entitled, How Handwriting Trains The Brain. They discuss all this and some more as if it is all brand new information, that for the first time we are just understanding that writing helps learning.

They referred to handwriting as an "ancient skill." I was distressed to learn that penmanship, while still taught in "most" schools amounts to just over an hour a week. Mmm. And we are wondering why our schools are failing.

We rely on technology to write for us, think for us, and  assume it will give us all the research possible in a Google search. And apparently we are teaching this over reliance on technology to our children. Why learn the mechanics of penmanship when you have a keyboard? No matter that you might learn more and think more creatively through the simple act of pen to paper.

The other thing ingrained in my public school education was not to believe everything you read. With all due respect to the reporter, while I am certain much of the research the article cites is new, the correlation between learning, the brain and the pen is not.

I'd like to tell her my original source, but I never wrote it down.

Do you take notes?
Do you absorb more information when you do?
Are you horrified that just over an hour a week is devoted to teaching children penmanship?

This blog is being syndicated on BlogHer

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tales of Reinvention: Shauna Mei

Shauna Mei is the CEO and Founder of ahalife, a  new and innovative on line shopping concept. I had the pleasure of hearing Shauna speak at a recent 85Broads breakfast held at The 21 Club.

Shauna Mei's story caught me off guard. My first glimpse had me writing my own version. She was strikingly attractive, well dressed with what I consider enviable glossy and straight Asian hair. Her poise walking to the podium in the upstairs dining room of the 21 Club suggested she had been raised by affluent and caring parents in a well provided for environment. Since she was speaking to a group of 85Broads women there was no doubt in my mind that she was also smart so learning she was a MIT graduate was hardly a surprise.  It never occurred to me that her journey had any challenges or that at the young age of 26 she was already a seasoned reinventor. Seriously, at 26, how much reinvention has there been time for yet ?

It turns out I was completely wrong. Shauna has been reinventing herself and the way things are done since birth.

She was born in Inner Mongolia in China to a culture that believes it is better to give birth to boys than girls. Her mother was advised to terminate the pregnancy for two reasons. Shauna was a girl and she had a hole in her heart. Fortunately for all of us, her mother stood up to the social convention and community telling her otherwise and brought Shauna into the world.

A series of circumstances allowed the family to immigrate to the United States around the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 1990 at the age of 6, Shauna was on her second reinvention.

Shauna's first job after graduating MIT was at Goldman Sachs where she quickly became a rising star. Her work in the retail sector introduced her to many influential people in the fashion industry, one of whom was Jeffry Aronsson who she would later launch the Aronsson Group with. Three years later she was Stockholm bound as CEO of the Casall group. For many the lack of daylight in Sweden might not prove inspirational. Yet it was during this time that the light first sparked for Ahalife.

Now as I said Shauna is smart. She is also wise. She believes in women supporting women and is savvy enough to know to ask for that support when needed. Once back in the states, the first person she went to with the idea was Janet Hanson, founder of 85Broads. Not only did she get advice and encouragement, she also got one of her investors.

Ahalife combines on line shopping with social networking. They look for unique products that inspire and feature one each day to its members along with the story behind it. They also invite their members to participate in the selection as a curator. I for one, find this refreshing.

I am, always have been and always will be a shopper. I've made a sport out of searching for what you don't see a lot of. Which used to be much easier before every store known to peoplekind had a location in every city imaginable. I miss the days when you could find those little shops that did not carry a lot of any one thing but a little of something that really stood out and could purchase not just an item, but something with a story behind it. Ahalife brings that joy right to your desktop.

And about that hole in her heart? It disappeared. When in the United States and finally able to get the medical care to repair it, Shauna's parents were able to schedule the surgery she needed. But once on the operating table the doctors were no longer able to find it.

Shauna told us her life has always been about believing. Her advice to others launching new ideas?
Ignore the market. If you believe in it. Go for it. Identify your failures quickly and move on. Momentum is everything. There is no time to not believe in yourself. Fake it until you make it.

A lot of wisdom for one so young. A lot to take in at a breakfast meeting. I was both moved and inspired and yes  brought to tears many times. But as a good friend of mine always says, tears mean you are on to something good. And I do believe Shauna Mei and ahalife are on to something very good.

For more about ahalife or to request an invitation to join please visit