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Finding Your Calling, In Kickstarter & Life

"Hand Raised In Worship" by KOREphotos via Flickr

Imagine you want to start a business for customers who aren't buying anything except satisfaction. That is exactly the model for creative project crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which just reached the $1 billion mark in pledges.

Cofounder Yancey Strickler explained the motivation for participating in an interview with Charlie Rose for Bloomberg Businessweek. It's not about money, he said: "There is no financial upside to these things. It’s not an investment."

Well then what is it? In short, a calling:

"From the very beginning we decided—my co-founders and I—that we would never sell, never go public. We viewed Kickstarter as a public trust....a living, breathing cultural institution that’s there to represent the interests of everybody."

Any activity can be a calling. It can be your family, your job, your weekend hobby. It it is what gives your life meaning.

This week I took a project management class on a seemingly mundane topic: risk management. The instructor the most seemingly boring job in the world - risk management for petroleum companies.

The way he talked about his job, it was clear that excellence in project management was his calling. And he said as much. He viewed it as an act of leadership, and:

"Leadership is learning. Leadership is life."

In our day-to-day work lives it is easy to separate mentally from what we read on LinkedIn and Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company.

It's just a job, right?

But it is not just a job - it does not have to be one.

Whatever you do, you can elevate. Your calling is yours, and you make the call.

* All opinions my own. No endorsement or non-endorsement expressed or implied.

The Distraction

By Tognopop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a new baby in town. He cries day and night.

Somebody stays with that baby to feed him, rock him and sing him lullabies. To watch the sun dance across the lawn. To walk to the park and sit in the grass, just sitting.

In school there is a child that can't sit still in class. Lectures are boring - she's rather play video games and build rocket ships. A teacher adjusts her other lessons accordingly. "Suddenly" a scientist is born.

A couple moves in together, and there are all these little things to decide. Who will do which errand and when? How long can friends stay over? What are the limits of my money and yours? Where do we go on vacation? It's a dialogue over takes time.

A new employee shows up for orientation. She pulls up to the front door alongside a veteran of the company. She is greeted with balloons and brochures. 

He is greeted with...well, nothing.

It is 9:00 sharp as he sits down at his desk. What is to look forward to? What is new to do, that hasn't already been done a million times?

It is just at that moment that he glances as his boss's door. Is that door open or closed? Is someone waiting there to talk to him, to find out what's going on, to serve as a sounding board or to provide a new and more challenging assignment?

Or would it be considered rude to knock?

* All opinions my own.

The Hottest Content On The Web

A kid asks, "What Is My Teacher's Problem With Me," and there are dozens of answers on Quora already.

Many of us are saying the same thing - she's an abusive person, stay away - but there is more to it than that.

The genuineness of the question, the detailed nature of its context, the story and the drama - this is real life and the audience is hooked.

It matters because the future of advertising is not advertising at all. It is community.

Community is very hard to infiltrate. It is by nature suspicious of outsiders.

But if you can somehow make your way through, the payback is huge.

What keeps this scenario from being mercenary is that the rules of social media are known.

That is, we go online to give and to get.

Sometimes the transaction is commercial. Sometimes it's social. Sometimes it's just a shoulder to cry on.

Often it's a mix of all three, or more.

But the fact that such incredibly compelling content exists in one place, makes any boring, cliche-ridden stuff alongside it pale in comparison.

* All opinions my own

Text & Context In The Struggle To Own Cultural Heritage Narrative

Meme via Buzzfeed (I could not locate the original meme at the location cited in BF)

I'm not as smart as I'd like to be. Often it's like I can see a glimmer of the meaning of a thing, but I can't figure it out all the way to the bottom.

That's the way it is with postcolonial theory, or with any kind of theory or 'ism. I don't understand all the details, the jargon and the arguments between the players. 

But I do see the big picture. I "get" that Whiteness is a "situated thing." And that Caucasian is not the default stance but rather one among many. 

I am so glad that in this generation we finally turn "normal" on its head. We find out that it's a spectrum, a fracturing, a rainbow carnival parade where each of us is a wholly valid representation of something singular and yes, Divine.

Situatedness is the idea of text and context. It's your picture inside a frame. Whoever makes the frame, in a sense makes the picture. 

If I look at your photo through a sepia Photoshop, I get a way different impression than through the boosted color setting.

Diversity Studies (feminism, for example) are a way of critically analyzing the text by looking at the context. There is no such thing as "how women lived" unless you understand the historically imbalanced power relationships between women and men over time.

Same for countries like India, which were essentially invaded and their identities "turned" as a form of social experiment. And then the post-colonial withdrawal, and the struggle to parse out which is "us" and what was "them," and have they changed us forever.

Working in an archive you get a very clear picture very quickly that there is no text without context. You see that there is effectively a water-hose on the one side, a pressure to make as much as possible available to the public as quickly as possible to facilitate the access to history that rightfully belongs to them.

At the same time there is an equally powerful cautionary mindset that is intrinsic to the archival professional. They understand that the order in which the records were received, their place and organization among the other records, is inseparable from the items themselves. There is great concern that the images and documents not be stripped of description and identity and simply dumped into the maelstrom.

It is against that backdrop that I read "Digital Culture Is Mass Culture" with interest. One day soon this debate may well become academic as we cannot stop the artifacts from flying around unhinged, from being mixed and matched without proper context.

* All opinions my own.

President Obama On Quora: Oy Vey

Screenshot of President Barack Obama's Quora profile accessed March 25, 2014

You can agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act. (I personally think that few of us understand it.)

But there is little doubt that the President's incredibly powerful social media machine is pushing government-to-public engagement tactics to new heights of the stratosphere. Even when he makes some serious mistakes, as I will talk about in the case of Quora, he pushes the envelope for the rest of us.

But first a look at risk-taking and success. I think it was completely brilliant that the President took to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. It is so insane to do that, to be part of that incredibly rude, disrespectful and popular show. Phenomenal virality. Fearlessness.

But then the President went on Quora. He made a mistake not in using it, but in the way he did it. I've been on there for awhile and know the culture a little bit. Propaganda is a matter of disgust there, and the President's communication methods tend toward the slick, commercial and propagandistic.

Consider this excerpt from his wooden, scripted-sounded language on one question. We know damn well he didn't write it. And the commenters are all over him:

Q. "How will ACA affect career and job choices of young people, and their lives in general?"

A. "Today, thanks to the health care law, young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26....In fact, seven in ten single young adults without insurance now may get covered for under $100 a month through the Marketplace." 

Here is an excerpt from the President's answer to another one:

Q. "Why has ACA enrollment accelerated so much over the past few months?"

A. "Now, it's no secret to anyone that we had some issues with the website at launch. But that was months ago. Thanks to a team of experts who worked around the clock to get the site working back then, response times on Health Insurance Marketplace, Affordable Care Act are faster than ever....And more than 5 million people have already signed up for coverage -- with tens of thousands more signing up every day."

As they said in the movie Valley Girl, "Barf me with a spoon" at the false familiarity and inflated-sounding numbers.

Not everything the President has done on Quora is badly executed. Consider his response to a basketball question, which does in the end tie back to ACA. Everyone knows he loves it, and I'll bet you ten dollars he wrote the first part himself or at least edited it very carefully:

"What's it like to play basketball with President Obama?"

"My hair's getting grayer, but I'd like to think I've still got a decent jump shot. And whenever I play pickup games with my staff or friends and family, I make sure they know not to go easy on me. A couple of years ago, I got elbowed in the lip pretty hard and needed 12 stitches, so even the President isn't immune to injuries."

Here's another great thing about the President's participation in Quora - his professional "headline." It reads:

"Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States."

Smart. Human. Real. (When I did this on my LinkedIn headline I was actually terrified of sounding unprofessional. Now I can say the President did it.)

The point here is not really to discuss the ACA at all. Rather it's about communication tactics. Be extremely careful in social media. You can trip easily and there are a million ways to trip in front of an unforgiving spotlight.

Think geography: Beverly Hills is not San Francisco. Queens, NY is not Brooklyn. South Beach, Miami is not Jacksonville. Know where you tread and tread lightly until you get your feet wet. It's embarrassing to be so high-profile and not look like you know what you're doing.

* All opinions my own.

First Find The Trends, Then Inject The Content

Today's Wall Street Journal has an incredibly important article, "Advertisers Use Social Media to Promote Brands in Real Time; Advertisers Watch What's Trending—and Craft Content to Match." 

Essentially, advertisers first go where the people are, i.e. they watch for what's trending. Then they produce content placing their brands in the center of the action.

This builds on already-established best practice:

1. Go where your customers are (don't force them to your website)
2. Declare who you are
3. Speak in their language
4. Follow cultural norms
5. Actually contribute something to the community 

This strategy is so smart and it's very much like how you network at a party. Go up to a group, find out what they're talking about, and then say something about that, working a mention of your brand in.

The analogy for me is sports. I will never understand the Super Bowl or March Madness, but I know enough to know that they could come in handy every now and then.

* All opinions my own.

How 10 Mass-Market Brands Form A Personal Relationship With You

Screenshot of TV character "Barney" via

Here are 10 mass-market brands that grew over the past 10-20 years to communicate to a mass audience in a very personal way. They include:
  1. Barney, the '90s children's TV character
  2. Disney, an entertainment empire
  3. The Kardashians, the stars of a reality series currently on TV
  4. Eminem, a rap singer
  5. Miley Cyrus, a singer
  6. Apple, a consumer electronics vendor
  7. Amazon, an online vendor
  8. Starbucks, a coffee and related foods purveyor
  9. McDonald's, a fast food seller
  10. Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle gear seller
As a general rule, these brands have employed the following kinds of tactics:
  1. Communicate using visual media
  2. Go for an authentic-seeming, even intimate, emotional connection
  3. Speak to a customer who is clearly envisioned
  4. Dominate a single channel, e.g. in-store, on TV, or Instagram
  5. Tell a story that evolves
  6. Keep the elements simple, basic, and dramatic - for global appeal
  7. Reach the customer during formative years or during times of vulnerability
  8. Offer multiple channels of customer response
  9. In responding to the customer, talk
  10. Create a community in which the story is knowable to all, but "insider knowledge" to the loyal
New brands can appear and become powerful personas almost overnight. The key to creating them is to understand that ultimately it's all about reaching out to the lonely in a frequently friendless world.

* All opinions my own.