A mllion brilliant little ones

If and when I ever grow up, I want to be like my friend Jayne.

This is something I've been promising myself for a long time, and really do think I'm making progress, but still, she continues to surprise me by seeming to raise the bar when all she's really doing is being consistently Jayne, which when all is said and done, is all she ever needs to be.

What's brought this post on is that today I checked the mail.

Back in October Jayne had paid me a weekend visit.  I took her around to all of the local places I haunt including Bookwise, one of my favorite places on earth and to most, that's a well-kept secret.  And what do you suppose was in a birthday card I got from her today but a gift certificate I didn't even know was offered.

Looking at the gift, I remembered the time I'd stayed with Jayne for a while.  She'd just moved into a new apartment and when it came time to create her alarm code, she thought to use my birthdate so that I'd be able to remember how to disarm it.

That's Jayne's secret.  Anticipation, planning, thoughtfulness, and follow-through.  She's full of the little bright ideas like these and they all roll up into the kind of person who's easy to be around, who leaves a trail of goodwill in the wake of her personal and professional successes .  As, on December 20,  I still struggle with coming up with a Big Idea for my husband's Christmas gift this year, Jayne doesn't wait for the single big idea to come to her.  She's got a million brilliant little ones.

Note to myself:  Stop waiting for the Big One.


Good Lord, it's December already and it looks as though this blog thing has been.. shall we say, sporadic?

Giving good thought to what this blog is supposed to be all about - Ideas (forget Big Ideas because those are hard to come up with, consume way too much time, and require the kind of fortitude and undivided attention I'd rather divide.), I've decided that this shall be about Littler Ideas. Manageable Ideas. Nonthreatening Ideas. Brilliant Ideas. After all, this, I claim, is the space in which they can be nurtured and grown. Besides, it's all most of us with bright dreams and full time jobs have the time or energy for.

With that being typed, I can tell you that I've also been giving lots of thought to ways in which I can bring lots of terrific Little Ideas to my personal life in order to grow a bigger and better 2010.

Whew. 2010. I think that may be the first time I've written that. (By the way, how will you pronounce that? Are you a modernist going with Twenty-ten or traditionalist sticking with Two thousand ten?)

Back to growing Little Ideas. See, I'm feeling the whole hope of a new year thing and have been inspired by various Happiness websites like, well... The Happiness Project for instance. But I'm not going to follow the project online because that probably involves more commitment than I've time for. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make one tiny resolution per day in 2010, and they're going to be the kind I can complete in a single day and therefore easily keep. They're also not going to be the kind that'll set me up with a dreaded daily task in order to fulfill empty self-improvement goals. They're just going to be the kind that'll force me outside myself and get me to to live mindfully and purposefully, if even for one resolution.

The tiny, manageable, less than earth-moving resolutions are going to look like this:

Day 1: Make (from scratch) a thank you card.

Day 2: Spend time with my spouse watching one entire televised sporting event from beginning to end.
Day 3: Do 1 nice thing for someone I really can't stand.


The challenge is to come up with 365 new little things to do in 2010. And, then, of course, write a weekly wrapup of them Right Here. See? There's the goal right there, the place where this Little Idea rolls right up into its bigger one, to regularly write throughout the coming year.

Easy, right? That's it. That's the 2010 Biggest Little Idea I could come up with.

Boca, Steal This Tweet

If you've ever wondered what really goes on in your local police department, I'd suggest you find out if your city or town sponsors a Citizen's Police Academy. Then sign up.

At the very least you'll figure out what goes on during the in-between times, the stuff they don't show on TV, and if you're my kind of lucky, you'll get an exciting ride along with an officer who helps make the 10-week program all worthwhile.

When we last left on in this blog, I posted about the last place my curious nature had taken me, and that was to a stint as a kgb_ agent, answering text questions for pennies on the dollar. What it earned me was a shiny new Palm Pre and the chance to take my recent Twitter obsession mobile. Then I began to wonder who might be tweeting right here in my neighborhood. Add to that setup the healthy dose of Cops my husband has subjected me to for years, and toss in my need for constant learning.

Enter Chief Dan Alexander (@bocachief) and the Boca Raton Police Department spokestweeter (@bocapolice). As soon as I saw a message about a Citizen's Police Academy (CPA), a ten-week course about our police department, covering Everything-I've-Always-Wanted-to-Stick-My-Nose-Into-But-Never-Had-The-Chance, I jumped, tweet first.

"Sign me up" I tweeted, wriggling my toes in juvenile excitement.

I think the poor volunteer coordinator must have heard from me three times before class began.

"Sorry. I'm like a little kid with this." I explained.

I could hear her patiently smiling on the other end of the phone. She must get that line a lot.

So back to the CPA. My class happens to be the largest they've had, with 40 of us eager citizens standing in line to become informed on the machine that is our police department. The list of topics was impressive, covering everything from the high-tech communications system, to SWAT, to Crime Scene Investigation and all things in between. I settled in the first day, wondering what new bits of information I'd learn.

Turns out that the biggest lesson I learned had nothing to do with the proper usage of a tazer or the number of patrol cars on the streets of Boca Raton, It was the fact that police officers have to be some of the most tolerant and patient people on earth. Want proof?

With a class of 40 personalities, some of us squirmed in our seats as our presenters were interrupted several times during the course of each of the evenings. Yes, we were a curious bunch, but interrupting the speakers quickly began to become a point of irritation with several in the group. And I've got to give those presenters a whole lot of credit because they handled each question with professionalism and patience, delivering brief but complete answers that completely satisfied the query.

That's when I figured it out.

One of an officer's biggest challenges is to cut through to the crux of a problem or situation and filter out what's unnecessary. In an environment where everyone wants to Tell Their Whole Story, the officer has to keep in mind that it is just that- a whole story. And we've all got a million of them. One of the biggest talents or skills comes in listening to the thousands of stories they hear a year, and filtering each one down to its essence. Each one's got to feel like a psychology lesson topped with a 10-page literary term paper. And all of it due that day, most times that moment. I also got to see that skill and talent at work in the field with the officer I had the opportunity to ride along with for four hours. She's the person who really drove home what a tremendous asset a good conversation "distiller" can be, especially because she allowed each person to walk away feeling heard while still extracting all information necessary to her investigation. Customer service professionals could take good lessons from that officer.

The second lesson I'm taking away from my 10 weeks is that social media and community relations are a match made in public relations heaven. My interest in the CPA was piqued mostly because I saw Boca Raton as a progressive department making use of new technology to reach out to the community. In Florida, that's an effort not to be taken lightly. We're a state of transplants, especially in South Florida. Many of us have left our sense of belonging to a community behind, along with our winter coats and snow shovels. We're not just Transplants, but Uproots, accountable to fewer people than ever. The communities we've left were in some sense safer ones because of a communications network of neighbors, family, and friends. Back in my home of Rhode Island, it was a pervasive belief that if you messed with someone, you could be sure his cousin, uncle, friend, or neighbor was probably going to be close by to give assistance or give you up. The network of accountability was tightly knit.

Establishing new communities in far away places means leaving a void ready to be filled with something new. Departments like the Boca Raton Police Services are re-creating that sense of a network of neighbors and friends who have a direct line to each other in times of need, whether the need is for information or assistance.

I'm not sure how much convincing it's going to take to have other police and community service professionals follow the lead of those utilizing Social Media as a community assistance tool, but I hope they're well on their way to researching what's happening here in my neighborhood. I've gotten a glimpse of an exciting model, a terrific Big Idea.

CPA graduation is tonight. I'm going to see if I can convince my family to throw me a graduation party. ;)

Ain't No River Wide Enough

Here, the personal and unexpected impact of my reading a single book. For reviews and summaries on Curious?, see Amazon.com.

I've signed myself up for kgb training.

Why? Because that's what the book, Curious?, has done for me lately. The way I figure it, (and I've used a lot of scratch paper to work out the calculations) Todd Kashdan's topic set me into a controlled spin, the result of which was my joining the ranks of the kgb, or "knowledge generation bureau". No, no. It's not as ominous or cold-warlike as it sounds. It's Directory Assistance on steroids, a text messaging service you can ask anything.

While reading Kashdan's book, I had every intention to write a post about it, but got tangled up in a lot of the personal questions it prompted. "What are my values?" was a big one. I'm still not sure I've got that one nailed down but with the help of the book's exercises, I'm closer to answering this.

Meanwhile, as a person who admires the buddhist philosophies, the chapters on being mindful and curious as a path to become a more fulfilled individual made good sense. The trouble came in the practice because I'd already considered myself extremely inquisitive and needed no encouragement to take it over the top. After working my way through those chapters, my examination about myself and surroundings went into overdrive. For the next few weeks, I walked around with more questions than answers and was at a loss as to how to wrestle my thoughts on Curious? into a decent blog post related to Big Ideas. My own new ideas were coming too fast and too big for me to organize them.

That's when it hit me: I needed to put this newly-widened scope of inquisitiveness to good use.

Well, first what hit me was a kgb commercial on television. I began to ask questions about the people who would research all of the questions being asked. Finally, I decided that what I needed to do was to work out some of the Investigative Energy I'd been accumulating and press my querying mind into service.

What I would further discover was that the flip side of the same mechanism which allows me to be creative and innovative had morphed into a horrible case of ADHD. In other words, the field of my questions became wide rather than narrow, and I realized that this hopscotching of creative pursuits is often the case with those who can't seem to work on a single project long enough to get it off the ground.

See, there, in that last sentence? I'd come full circle, back to this blog.

What I'm hoping Kashdan writes next is a piece for those of us who would like our curiosity go deep rather than wide. I'd be interested in learning how to sustain curiosity about a single subject rather than fostering a general interest in the Everyday. I ask for this because it seems that one of the keys to seeing an unwieldy or risky project through to finish, is the ability to remain intrigued and enchanted by our own Big Ideas. I'd like to learn that trick.

Because fire-breathing's a lost art

I've been away too long! Vacation's very happily chewed into my time this month and I've neglected this space.

But I've dropped in to point you to an excellent post by Sunil Sebastian (the guy who Makes Things Go) on Slaying the Creativity Dragon. You know... the beast that keeps you from developing your newest idea. Or the one that's keeping me from coming up with my own blog posts.

Meanwhile, go read Sunil's tips on the best way to kick off your battle, wrestle the dragon under your bed, and come out breathing your own Great Balls of Fire. His plan for stepping through the creative process makes coming up with new ideas seem oh-so-less-intimidating!

Next: What Curiosity has done for me lately.

Next, Next: Besides a badass pirate logo and a boatload of Great Big Ideas, what makes the folks at Brains On Fire so damned cool?

It's not Schrodinger's fault. He was just Curious

I've recently come across an odd banana-yellow book shouting a single word title from the bookstore shelf. The link is here. It's called Curious?
Aren't you?
I love the bold black font of the title, love the Curious-George feel of the dust jacket.
I'll admit that I haven't yet read the book and this is by no means a review or endorsement, but I'm going to write about it anyway. There's something about the idea that resonates.
Todd Kashdan of the really-long-and-rather-ambiguously-named, Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena, says that the missing ingredient to living a more fulfilling life is to become more curious. And then cultivate it.
Because this sounds like such an awfully simple and zen sort of premise, and because I'm already convinced that fulfillment happens to come in two convenient forms- hatching of new thought and nurturing of new ideas- it appeals.
The Curious book is next on my reading list but meanwhile, it's the bold-font title that's prompted some thinking about the role curiosity plays in snowballing Big Ideas.
Along with apophenia, one of the quirkier and sometimes even annoying traits I'd claim is a basic curiosity which causes me to ask people a lot of questions. The two traits tag team, because to make the connections that form those Big Ideas I'm always talking about, you've got to ask a lot of questions. Every new venture or adventure I've begun has come from a single query.
What if I started a blog on cultivating all those Big Ideas my friends always seem to cook up?

The energy and impetus to continue moving forward remains as long as I engage by asking more questions:
Where do those Big Ideas come from?
What are the essential qualities of a person who continually comes up with new (ad)ventures?
How can I encourage myself and others through the "idea incubation" stage?
How do we find the energy to work through stalls and setbacks ?

I've found that as the curiosity fades, the Idea begins to die. But what kills it? According to Kashdan's book, it's when the benefits of being curious no longer outweigh the risks of pursuing an unknown path.
Kashdan talks about developing the kind of person he calls "a curious explorer",and since he's volunteering to help me out, I'm up for some personal development. His promised methods sound just right for conjuring success from the genesis of a single question.
Over the next couple of weeks while on vacation, I'll be reading and taking notes. If his promised "exercises to show you how to become what he calls a curious explorer" deliver, this will become a testing ground for developing what he hopes is a "person who's comfortable with risk and challenge", and this blog will become a place where I'll examine functioning optimally in this, our "unstable, unpredictable world".
Going in, I've got a lot of questions for Kashdan. But for you, here's one: Do you know that Curious George was not a monkey?!

Hope: It's Now Available In Refillable Jars

What tools do you use to ensure that you remember your successes? Do you actively try to keep them foremost in your mind?

If not, why not?

If, as a child, you had a shelf full of trophies, you most likely understand where I'm going with this. And if that doesn't describe you at all (It certainly didn't describe me), then you need to hear this more than most.

I'm a Florida guardian ad litem, a court appointed advocate for children. So I actively look for ways to ensure that, for the case I am assigned to, my child's best interests are heard and served. On one level this can mean adequate care, but on another it means ensuring that he or she has every opportunity to succeed.

Makes sense. An adult who champions for a troubled young person.

While in court a bit ago, all of us involved in a particular case reported the progess of a teen we are charged with caring or advocating for. Our reports were universally glowing. This good news was deserved, too, because she's doing an excellent job with schoolwork and making huge strides in her path to adulthood. Our judge was so impressed with her, as a matter of fact, that she had the entire court give her a well-deserved round of applause.

Imagine you're a 16-year-old receiving applause from a judge and a roomful of people who are there to ensure your success.

At that moment, I wondered whether I could bottle that applause so that she'd have it long past that afternoon. When life got scary, she could uncork the applause. When her boyfriend broke up with her, she'd twist the top off the jar. And when she faced job layoffs or career launches, she'd be able to pop the top.

I got to thinking. I can't bottle the accolades she got that day, but I can make a journal, box, or album with the same intent. It would include every report card, record of the judge's glowing comments, and photos of those who'd encouraged her along the way. Everyone involved in her case could write letters to her future. We could tell her how much hope we have for her in the years to come, and how much we've believed in her enough to stand by her side through times bad and good.

It would be her real Hope In a Jar.

Couldn't we each make our own jar just like that one and recycle it when the contents got depleted?

Who Killed Creativity?

A lot of people I've seen come up with some really good concepts for new businesses or ventures end up not believing in their own ideas. Why? There seems to be a stopping point in the development process, one which comes with the notion that the term Creative doesn't apply to them. I've seen a few friends give up right at the point of initial concept, comfortably seated in the notion that they won't succeed in taking it any further because they're "just not very creative". The problem could be in understanding that their own definition of the word is too narrow or exotic. Maybe it seems too grand a term, one that's been shelved in favor of other skills we believe more suited to the formal corporate world. Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson would even argue that it's dead. In this Ted Talks video, he'll tell you schools killed it. Personally, I don't think the body's cold. It's merely dormant and contained.

Everyday creativity- the kind that can lead to a fulfilling business or career- can come from a mild case of apophenia, defined as "making new connections where none previously existed". It can be used as a problem solving skill, a tool to help craft your next piece of writing, or a catalyst for developing a new uses for common items. (Anyone remember the Pet Rock?) A case of apophenia is worth cultivating in helping find ways to develop and market your new ideas.

As a kid, one of my favorite games was Sesame Street's "one of these things is not like the other". It was simple enough that I was regularly rewarded with Cookie Monster growling, "yooou so smaart" at the end, but my real appreciation came because it appealed to my need to make connections in order to make sense of the world. Linking is where my own brand of "creativity" started. I'm not a creative. I'm a synergist, and that's a term I find a lot less daunting.

These days I exercise my apophenia as most of us do, as a people watcher and a hoarder of information, juxtaposing snippets of one against the other, tossing all of the pieces together against what's been gathered before. Thinking of ways to solve the problem of useable goods from foreclosures ending up in dumps is a very simple example of linking a problem to a solution. Connecting Budget Car Rentals to Harley-Davidson to rent motorcycles was how American Road Collection linked desires to fulfillment. The basic ideas aren't the least bit complex and required no more than 3 links.

1. Cars are rented.
2. People like driving motorycles but don't always own one.
3. Rent motorcycles.

This is right about the spot I've seen a lot of people stop their creative process. Once the high-level Big Idea has been generated, the same skill used to develop it isn't applied on a micro level. But the method is the same. Continued linking within each segment can lead to new ways to view each piece of the puzzle, and each step in executing a plan. If your links break, make new ones. Mindmapping is an excellent tool to help you visualize your links, and Sentinel World is an excellent place to learn how to get started on the process.

Apophenia has a flip side. For some, this thought process veers into the territory of consipiracy theories and magical thinking, but for most of us, it simply allows a true form of creativity to begin and is a first step in a path to finding and executing the next Big Idea. Besides, Big Ideas always seem like magic.

Further reading:

New York Times article
Where to Get a Good Idea:Steal It Outside Your Group

Breaking Bread with your Monster Under the Bed

To continue the thoughtstream from my last post on creativity and human potential, I'm pointing you to CNN's article:

How to Fail Your Way to Success.

The message is a simple one I'd come across with through reading and studying eastern philosophies. The buddhist view seems to be, as blogger and teller of stories Communicatrix explains, to lean right into it. Move towards it, and sit down with it. Make it a cup of coffee and a poundcake if it means you can get comfortable in its presence. List what you don't like about this monster and think through each bullet point until you can feel the emotions that come with the failure, then decide, one by one, whether you can accept it.

It's ironic that for the most part, every time I've failed spectacularly while attempting something new, I've been pleased with the resulting story I get to tell. And I actually smile hard or laugh whenever I recount each one of them. What's more, I'm nearly compelled to announce my failures. Just like this: There's the time I got stuck (impaled!) on a fence between the Daytona Airport and the Speedway during race week, poised in full view of several sports network trucks with running camera equipment.

Or maybe it was more like the occasion I moved up from riding a Honda 250 to a Sportster 1200 for the very first time and actually tried using the instructor's lessons on putting only one foot down when coming to a full stop. I survived, the bike's clutch handle and exhaust pipes didn't.

These were very small and personal failures. No fortunes were lost this time, and in the end, I'm infinitely more pleased with myself for trying than I am upset with the failure.

Does this pride-in-taking-the-dare over embarassment-for-the-defeat hold true for you as well? How can we keep this feeling in mind and use it to our advantage when we're poised to take our next leap?

We'll have a hell of a story. Do you have one to tell?

Is human potential lost, or just crippled?

The key question isn't "What fosters creativity?" But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.

- Abraham Maslow

Maslow's got a point when he asks, "Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled?" But I think he's off base in asking why everyone isn't creative. I don't buy it. Part of the reason this blog exists is because over the course of years in the corporate world, I've worked in cubicles alongside some amazingly creative people who were wellsprings of bright and big ideas, regularly churning out three or four at a time. It's possible that one or two of those hundred ideas is currently in the works, but most never made it past the point of being bounced off of a few friends. How many are abandoned only to evaporate into thin air?

The problem is not that we're not creative, but that few of us want to gather up the strength to fail. We know chances are good that a bright new concept will find itself facing a series of tall brick walls. That risk is exactly what big ideas are made of!

Risk aversion is the counterweight balancing human potential.

That statement is an obvious one, but acknowledging it is most often used to give ourselves an out. We can explain away our reasons for limiting our own potential by convincing ourselves we're just being smart. Unlike Maslow, I don't believe the potential is lost at all. Instead, it's crippled by the fact that though we know a degree of risk aversion is necessary, we have no idea how to work past that counterweight even when we'd like to try. Maybe we should try desensitizing ourselves to failure. Why not build, right from our conceptual launchpad, a clearly outlined plan for several potential areas of failure and an even stronger and more detailed plan for the steps to recovery. So what if we don't fail in the exact way we'd imagined, we will still have worked through the exercise. Why not gather a group of friends who not only pat you on the back for your bold new idea, but help you face the potential for public humiliation, then assist in formulating that plan for recovery? Put the possibility that you will make a mess out there for your friends to see and let them give you feedback.

Is a better question the one no one really wants to ask: "How do I practice my failure"?

I want to find a mentor to teach me just that. If you have a wellspring of experience in that area, you can count me in as a fan.

Brand Lessons from Tropicana: Why You are Not Your Orange Juice

Recent blog posts on orange juice have me thinking that branding and packaging humans is a horrible idea. And yes, I realize that my last post outlined a storytelling method of preparing that package, your bright and shiny face to the world, but before rushing out to nail things down it's probably best not to take Brand You too seriously. It would be much better to brand loosely. Make your story one you can weave rather than lay down flat.

And if you're promoting yourself as a Creative, get yourself a disclaimer for the times you may have to trash it altogether.

Take the recent Tropicana package redesign fiasco. I see at least two lessons to take away from the fact that when the tried and true orange juice brand tried to reinvent itself by changing its forward-face, it failed fast and hard. It's a case of failure gone viral, one where sales Titanic'd miserably.

Leave room to try out new flavors.

Since branding is designed so that people can recognize a symbol and instantly know everything it represents, are you sure you're ready, right now, to build that kind of limitation? While it's true that our skills and talents can be offered as products, unlike a juice drink, humans generally don't aim to offer such static content. By creating a neat package, tagline, or symbol, you may gain a loyal following but that also means that to keep them you may risk limiting growth. What's worse, when times and tastes change, if you've buried your heels deep into your own brand, you've left yourself with little wiggle room for reinvention and no flexibility to quickly change course.

Apples (and Oranges) don't fall far from the tree

This idea is an extension of the first. Branding can make you timid. Tropicana has had only two months to evaluate the impact of their package redesign and have already pronounced it a failure. They are wasting no time in having regrets, and their most loyal customers adamantly insist they've been betrayed. Never mind the fact that their objection is not about the contents, but the containers. They are now stuck with a symbol chosen years ago by an entirely different group of people and there's no room for putting a fresher face forward.

Before deciding on your final personal brand and advertising it all over the web, ask yourself this: Do you really want to be googled and evaluated solely on the basis of the haircut you chose at age 18? 25? 40?

Your Next Big Idea: You.

Here's a snippet from comment left on my last post on how to screw up your next Big Idea:

"How do things change if the purpose of your big idea is *you* and not *the idea*? "

What an excellent question, and my assumption is that the writer is asking about promoting their personal brand. Well, it's quite obvious from the long hair on my head and the fact that I don't have my own action figure that I'm no Seth Godin, but I don't think the rules should be changed one iota whether you are asking strangers to look favorably upon a person, place, or thing.

I'm an advocate of promoting things, Big (and small) Ideas, and even people, by the artful weaving of damned good stories. We already know that storytelling is how we most authentically connect to each other. Advertisers who spend hours crafting even the smallest tagline are attempting to condense an entire story, relying on common knowledge to fill in the rest. Do we give that same energy to our own tagline?

As an experiment, write out the story you tell yourself about yourself when no one is looking. While most of us throw a lot of negative self-talk around, why not indulge in crafting yours out in its entirety, then when you've finished your masterpiece run back through the tale and toss out every negative point you've made. Take out the part about how you always say something stupid in the meeting, trip on your high heels, or miss the error in your blog post. Remove the lens of clients, family, and friends, because if you look at yourself through their eyes, that's when you'll have the tendency to describe what you do in cliches.

Rather than: Senior Database Programmer

You are: Knowledgeable in the craft of finding meaning in random bits of information. Weaver of bytes. Restorer of order from data chaos.

You get the idea.

Take your new story from the reworked positive pieces. This is your forward-facing personal brand.

Use it to tell your new story often, and tell it consistently. Create your blog, dream up your posts, write your 140 character tweets, and pimp your LinkedIn profile with this new tale in mind. Let it go viral whether through word of mouth or your social media bio. Append as your story grows and allow everything you publicly post filter through it. That's how you live the Big Idea that is You. Now, I'm off to take my own advice.

So, what's your story? Because that's the Biggest Idea you'll ever have.

3 ways to screw up your next Really Big Idea

The last time I was involved in the comeuppance of the next Really Big Idea, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company ended up owning it. Well, that's because it involved renting out their motorcycles, so I guess it was a foregone conclusion. But we'll get back to that later.

In 1996, my husband and I became involved with a group of "regular guys" from New England who came up with the notion to get Harley talking to Budget Car Rentals about a Big Idea. Why not add Harleys to Budget's fleet of rental offerings and let us run the operation. BAM! We had an instant phenomenon that went viral. And this was before the internet went completely mainstream, when people were still asking about web pages, "What's the point?"

In technology terms, we were still light years away from social networking. News of budding Hog rental outlets went wild and people would stop us on the streets to ask how they could "get in" by buying a franchise.

It was exhilarating.

It was heady.

It was scary.

Within months of moving to Daytona, Florida to kick off the first Grand Opening, the guys from New England and their new concept would be written about in major publications like The Wall Street Journal, Playboy Magazine, USA Today, and the like. The company, American Road Collection, was even the subject of a Jeopardy question. On the night the episode aired I thought,

"Wow. For a bunch of jamokes from the littlest state in the union, this has to be a sign that we've made it!"
What was made was a lot of publicity for the Motor Company, amazing memories for riders, and introductions to the concept for many groups who would later break into the business in partnership with Harley. It's not that the concept hadn't been thought of before, but that no one thought to bring two giants together and get authorization to operate under their iconic brand umbrella.

And now if you try to google American Road Collection it'll lead you to a lot of hits, but they will no longer lead you to the company.

The following is written with a disclaimer: As an observer and participant who stood on the outside of the more top-level decisions, my observations are just that.

Notes from the field - How to screw up your Big Idea

Big Idea Screwup #1
Don't decide, right from the start, whether you want to simply be an idea generator or take the concept all the way through and then some. It's not important to think about whether you want to make your own brand or just make money by borrowing someone else's.
Sure, getting Harley talking to Budget made the business a huge attention-grabber. But once the giants began advertising the concept, forward momentum started a steamroll that ran its own course. American Road Collection gave their business a very respectable run but got caught in the dust and noise of the giants. How do you avoid this? Ensure that your own brand is carried forward in the momentum of the giant's media strategy. Make sure they take your brand name on their ride, and that you negotiate a prominent seat on their party train.

Big Idea Screwup #2:
Don't protect your idea beyond its implementation.
Sometimes a Big Idea is born and that's where a whole lot energy is expended. Thinking beyond the initial launch may have been done in the business plan, but maybe you sabotage yourself by secretly believing that the idea won't really take off. Don't be foolish. It's just as important to emotionally prepare yourself for the long haul if you want to stay in the game, and assume the idea will succeed into the next 10 years.
Plan B? Engineer your graceful exit when you're through with the launch phase and have passed it on to the next torch bearer, and determine what you'd like to take with you. Is it simply the experience? Start publicizing your Rainmaker credentials early and take advantage of opportunities to learn best practices for launching your next Big Idea.

Big Idea Screwup #3:
Don't become indispensable to those who use the idea.

Ok, so you've got a great plan that's guaranteed to go viral and have decided it's ok to borrow someone else's brand umbrella to kick it off. Start working your way into becoming indispensable to the movement you've started. Establish your voice as THE leader so that when this particular gig doesn't work out, you're still the person in the know. Start your blog now, especially for a brick and mortar business, because the internet is where people in the business will seek out the resources and knowledge. Push your personal brand to the forefront by creating accounts in your own name with a clear tie-in to the business.
Finally, and on the other hand, consider this:
Maybe you're "just" an Idea Person.
If that's the case, and you value the creative spirit more than the glory, then forget all of those suggestions and just keep churning them out and watcing them catch on. Because sometimes that's where you'll find the best fun.
Meanwhile, until my next Big Idea takes off, I get to write blog posts about "when I used to be a playah".

Twitter as Zen Practice

If you're reading this post in March of 2009, you've likely come to this spot on the web via your participation in Twitter. If that's true, then you don't need convincing from me as to how much it can add to your day. You can just skip to the mosaic below to find some new tweeters to follow, or to the link where you can build your own collage.

But if you're here and haven't experienced Twitter's form of social media, you're missing access to some of the most amazing resources you'd be hard pressed to gather without this kind of tool. Yes, I am advocating for Twitter, a service I initially laughed at and like a whole lot of people, logged in, typed a single inane tweet, sat back and watched absolutely nothing happen. My first thought was not an original one:

"What's the point?"

Months later I tried again and finally figured it out. It's about gaining access to the snippets of thoughts humans run through at any moment and the ebb and flow of ideas is as interesting as you make it, just by being selective in choosing great people, ideas, and causes to follow.

It's not about what they write; it's about where they can lead you. By the same token, you can believe that gathering "followers" means you have the responsibility of coming up with something worthwhile. I find that holding that idea forces me to constantly ask myself "how can I add value"? Even if no one reads a single one of my tweets, I'm consciously working on choosing the direction of my communication, and therefore my thoughtstream.

Or, you can do nothing but sit back and watch the ideas and thoughts scroll by, here now, but gone in an instant. From that perspective, Twitter's a networked and worldwide illustration of the philosophy of Zen.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Vera's a Natural Blue

I’d heard Vera’s distinctive voice and thought her singing style fell on the right side of a moaning wail. Though I didn't know who she was, with a single verse, I understood a lot about where she came from.

Friday night is one reserved for dinners with friends from my last job but since leaving a few years ago, the threads that connect us are wearing thinner. I’m beginning to resign myself to our drift away from each other, and there was a time I would have waved it off as inevitable. As I get older, though, I'm not so glib. I find something a little mournful in the fact that during a life we go through people. People go through us.

A few hours into this particular Friday's get-together, my sister and I left the restaurant and headed for that tiny hookah bar I keep complaining about but can’t seem to stay away from. Shisha is apparently now good stuff in my book. But it’s a trendy way to spend an evening and we’re aware of wasting idle time with yet another passing fancy. We’ll enjoy hookah bars until the next hip thing comes along and justify our visits with the fact that the establishment supports local artists, including our most talented cellist friends. It's when the artists become overrun by the late night arrival of the fashionista crowd that we’re apt to roll our eyes at their air-kiss greetings and bulky designer purses. Last Friday the scenery was no different. Except for a few minutes when Vera Hall grieved and cried.

There were only a dozen of us in a room meant to hold no more than 30 or 40. We hunkered in groups under dim red lamps and talked mostly about nothing. But when you’re in a hip bar, you feel the need to behave as if you’re engaged. Conversations about nothing aren’t just common, they become necessary to keep the ambiance.

Vera sang a Natural Blues. When Moby’s recording began, and before the sampling of her 1937 song, it was just background trance music softly pumping energy into the room. When Vera's voice rang through, at least ten of us, including the bartenders and servers, stepped outside race and class to cry our natural blues with her. We sang the tune’s repeated chorus to no one and everyone, stopping in mid conversation to become absorbed in the lyrics, letting our gaze wander to a painting on the wall, or to the front door. I watched as we all began a synchronous bob and soft wail, closing ourselves off from everyone and reaching out to no one. For a very short time, in the middle of a place we were supposed to appear guarded and fashionable, our need to sing a common song was greater.

We still hear you, Ms. Hall.

Pulling the Rug Out from Under

What struck me first was the look of resignment on their faces, the shoulder shrugs, and the dragging feet. And they weren't even the newly homeless.

South Florida is facing many more months of foreclosures, and lots more runs by Trash Out Teams whose job it is to destroy and dump the personal possessions left behind by families whose last efforts to keep their homes has failed. The companies hired by banks to clean the homes face a mounting collection of children's toys, clothing, family photographs, and even pets, and there's no clear end in sight. Everyone involved in trashouts in this video I hate to watch (yet can't turn away from) seems to feel, well, just bad and that's understandable because according to reports from USA Today and other sources, since 2003, many of us have been just one paycheck away from homelessness. How many of us can identify with the feeling of rubbing up against the threat of poverty during at least one point in our lives.

I'm not a public relations or social media guru, but I'm going to use their resources to find you. I believe that the goods left in the homes are waiting to become part of a positive outcome, and this can be facilitated through a web app which connects area charities to their local trash outs. Not only that, but the app would ideally give all area charities an equal chance to see a listing of the homes, and/or bid on the goods left behind. I'd like to see the items go to charities who redistribute them free of charge to those starting out all over again, but saving the stuff from the local dump is the higher priority.

I've got an idea, but could use some help. If you are involved in a charity, have a background in public relations/social media, and real estate or banking, I want to hear your feedback on this project. Tell me how to work to make a positive story come out of this idea.

Contact @elevenser on Twitter or elevenser@yahoo.com.

Goods Waiting, and a Call Answered.

My call to assist in efforts to place abandoned goods from foreclosed homes into the hands of those in need has been answered by Ethical Brand! They've stepped up to help bridge the gap between the supply of furniture, clothing and other household items, and charities wishing to assist in redistribution.

Who is Ethical Brand? They are about ethical consumption. EB is a branding company genuinely committed to organizations recognized for 'doing the right thing'.

In EB's own words:

...'doing the right thing' is simply a matter of making a service, product, employment or investment choice that is obviously right.

Branding with good conscious is clearly in need as increasing numbers of families turn to charities and services dedicated to keeping them on their feet.

In this article, the Sun-Sentinel reports that in South Florida foreclosure activity has risen 43 percent since February. Unfortunately this means that there will be a lot more usuable goods left waiting while area families go without. In addition to the folks at Ethical Brands, I'm certain there are plenty more people and organizations willing to help. This project will mean just a single step in the walk to close the gap.

To help, contact me at Twitter: @elevenser or via email at elevenser@yahoo.com.

If you are facing foreclosure, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has developed this guide to avoiding foreclosure.

All the best,

The Search for an Ethical Pirate

Television sets, clothing, computers, and everything else left behind when families flee imminent forclosure need to find a new home with those in need. Seems like a simple enough idea, but the exchange of goods is apparently a tough thing to coordinate.

Just take a look at this Consumerist video to see the amazing list of things left behind.

Last week while brainstorming with Sunil Sebastian and a few friends, we came up with the idea of a web app or website which would do three simple things:

. Allow charities to sign up for free goods within their area (by zip code)
. Allow companies who come in to "clean" the foreclosed homes to post their scheduled visits (by zip code)
. Allow the charities to contact the Cleaners offline to arrange a "meetup"

Anyone up for further brainstorming? Is the idea viable?

If you've got thoughts, skills, or ideas to make this happen, contact me via Twitter @elevenser or send an email to elevenser@yahoo.com

a blog without photos

is like a fish with a bicycle. And a flat tire.