Archive for category Leadership

Memorial Day 2010 – For our right to live free

I didn’t get to visit the local military cemeteries in San Francisco this year, so I made a short tribute to those who have served for a higher purpose in service to our country and our freedom. The photos were all taken by myself over the years at the Presidio, in Washington D.C. and down at the Golden Gate National Cemetery.

Thank you for protecting our freedom, and for reminding us how precious and invaluable it is.

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On a personal note…

Chris and Kristie and the Cabo ArchIt’s been a while since I blogged once again. Since pointing out how little I could trust American Airlines communications last month in talking about its broken promises I have been busy in mind if not on socnets (and they never did reply again to my follow-on communications, nor did the guy who worked on their Twitter account @aairwaves stay on top of it, or get back to me). But I digress and I give those airline people too many pixels as it is…

Since I haven’t been out and about a lot, I am getting the same questions over and over, so I thought I should at least take a few moments and lay out a quick personal update about life, health, work and the near future. The vacation with Kristie to Cabo (and the brief visit to Miami for my grandad’s 94th birthday and a few business meetings) was a great trip, but did not afford the time for reflection and plan development I hoped to find. No, instead I returned needing a vacation from my vacation. 12 days on the road is really way too easy for me now, but my body still feels the consequences. Regardless, I am here back in San Francisco for 2 weeks before heading to Montreal for Webcom where I will finally deliver my keynote on Serve the Market and run a session on community management with my wife and Social Media Club co-founder Kristie Wells.

My Health

So it looks like the health scare I had in Sweden was a result of a lot of bad things, but thankfully not an indicator of a bigger problem with my heart. While there is not specific diagnosis once again (UgggghhhhhH!) the trouble that seemed to be a minor heart attack was probably closer to a panic attack, caused by sleep deprivation, exhaustion, stress, not taking my blood pressure medication and perhaps an inflamation of my chest/rib cage known as costochondritis. Of course, I can always blame SxSW and the craziness that we had with the Social Media Clubhouse and particularly late night on that party bus 🙂

At this point, I haven’t had any chest pains in weeks, though it did last after my return for a bit. My blood pressure is now down to a more manageable 145/85 or thereabouts and getting better every day with the meds and workouts leading the way.  While traveling last month I lost almost 20 pounds which I managed to gain back after only a few weeks back in the states. Now I have to get all the way back down again, but I am working on it.  Chief strategy being curtailing drinking beyond wine with meals and one or two social drinks. That should go a long way to better health just in itself.


I have a brilliant business idea I hit upon while in Sweden that I really want to pursue. Everyone, including angel investors I have pitched thinks its a brilliant idea, and I have a college buddy waiting for the plan who would likely fund it fully and many other friends in the venture business I could get behind it, but its still risky and I need to start making real money soon after postponing income for too long this past year and not picking up as many clients as I would have liked. I also still have a lot of commitments which aren’t making me any money at all right now, which I need to 1) finish with and 2) stop taking on.

Social Media Club is at a crucial point right now and the pieces are falling into place for a major change to how it operates that for too long has been waiting in the wings. In order to fully accomplish our mission, we need to generate more income for the organization, become more structured with our network of chapters and empower more people to address the core activities on a full time basis.  Hiring Justin Herman has been an incredible good fortune for us and the community as a whole, but we need more paid staff and that means its time to shore up our ‘business model’ and get to work. Which is what we are doing with the new site, but even that is a risk as I am sure the new model, despite its necessity and obviousness won’t be well received by all. Which means we have a real challenge in front of us that we will begin to address more formally on our local chapter leaders call next MON and thereafter with the launch of a real membership drive. (it was supposed to all happen at SxSW but our development team really screwed us over so we have to get a new team up and running right now and fix all the crap they left half finished and broken).

The bottom line though is we can’t keep doing this on a volunteer basis any longer. We need a real professional organization that is looking out for the community, not these psuedo efforts by people with for-personal-profit and self-aggrandizing motives. As I said during the Business Wire panel last month in San Francisco, the problem with Social Media douchebags is not going away, and someone needs to address it properly. I intend Social Media Club to serve this important role of community standards bearer. A compass holder if you will. Its more complicated of course, and its deserving of a longer post which I am indeed writing this month…

Then yesterday, GigaOm wrote about this executive search for a ‘Head of Social’ at Google and all the current thinking/planning was thrown into a kerfuffle. I mean, where else could I get a chance to make a real impact using all the intellectual tools and talents at my disposal. With a background not only in virtual community, but general web strategy, software development, organizational change, user experience, marketing, evangelism and community leadership, it would seem a perfect fit. More so when you consider that my vision in 2002 for The Noble Pursuit included an element I called ‘The Global Anthropologist Project” as an effort to harness what is now called the wisdom of crowds and has been manifested not only by Wikipedia but also by many of the social search functions Google has already adopted but which widely has not been realized as I had envisioned it yet. It would really be fabulous to take on the challenge, working with Bradley Horowitz, Chris Messina, Joseph Smarr and the rest of the Google team do social right. Completely right for the full golden triangle of user-service-advertiser (or the real USA as its also known 😉 The opportunity is huge and very enticing – it could also potentially mean a huge lift for Social Media Club… but most importantly, it would be a chance for many of the ideas of Insytes to see the light of day. I almost wish I wrote about them more often.

Life, the near future.

At the moment, I have my hands full fixing all the problems with the Social Media Club site and getting it relaunched, getting the Social Media Club business model ramped up properly, organizing about 10-20 events between now and the end of the year, wrapping up a client engagement, looking after my health/losing weight, investing in my relationship with Kristie and finding a way to do a lot of writing.  This post is a step in the right direction for all of it actually. So the near future looks pretty good.

I just need to keep finding my way to the keyboard, the gym and the conversations that matter most, which means being more proactive then reactive and focusing on the important stuff more and the urgent stuff less.  Life is really pretty good right now, just putting one foot in front of the other and not getting overwhelmed by all the big ideas about how things should be in the world in the face of how things actually are… it feels good to make the world the place of our dreams, especially if I get to play the role of George Bernard Shaw’s unreasonable man.

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The Broken Promises of American Airlines

Broken Promises from what airlines and mobile phone carriers have in common? They both exploit customers.  Well, to be fair, I really just think they are both in the same class of companies. Companies that often exploit you unfairly for their own benefit, extracting as much money from your wallet as possible without genuine concern for the bad experiences they are creating. This is what I was talking about in my Social Cash keynote last week in Stockholm.

But let me recap what I experienced with American Airlines flight 177 from JFK to SFO last night. (yes, I know I should be relaxing and not writing with my recent health issues, but this may be the biggest benefit of slowing down for me, that I find time and willingness to write, so please let me)

I was flying back from Stockholm yesterday morning, which means I started out to the airport from my hotel around midnight PST, 7am CET. First flight was simple, short hop on Finnair to Helsinki on a newish Airbus 319. It was fabulous. They offered up the standard nordic breakfast sandwich and orange juice and coffee. They didn’t charge for my bag. There was a problem getting my tickets printed in Stockholm for some reason, but the desk agent went ahead and did everything she could, but could not, for some reason, print my JFK-SFO boarding pass, so I had to leave without it afraid I would not be able to board in JFK or transfer easily. Whatever.

I got to Helsinki where they promise to be the easiest airport for transfers, and I have to agree, it was actually pleasant. Because of my platinum status with American Airlines (Sapphire in One World) I was able to enter the Via Lounge in Helsinki, which was just terrific. One of the best airline lounges I have ever seen, it even had a spa, though I had no time there to use it. Had an incredible bowl of minestrone soup and a short glass of white white, which in European lounges are provided to guests for free. Oh yes, of course, in the European (and most Canadian) airports, the small baggage rolling carts are also free, making the travel experience much easier on everyone, particularly people traveling in ill health like me. They care about the experience and the customers.

On board the brand new Airbus 330 from Helsinki to JFK, I really had a great experience, though I ate some chocolate sugary thing and some lasagna which may have induced a minor attack later (sorry for weaving stories/issues here but its important). I struck up a conversation with my seat mate, JJ whose best man in his wedding was actually flying the plane. The new seats were comfortable and the nice family who was traveling around us with their baby were kind enough to not lean back into us, so I actually had plenty of room despite my sarcastic tweet about it. During the flight I started sweating and having chest pains, so I told JJ of my experience in Sweden and said “I just want someone to know, I forgot to tell the gate attendant during boarding”. He suggested I needed to stay hydrated and had a conversation with the flight attendant in Finnish a short while later.  When she came back through to pick up garbage she also brought a water bottle and kept bringing water throughout the flight. It was a smooth crossing and when we landed, something incredible happened.

I had the most amazing experience in JFK airport. Seriously.

First, there was a woman standing at the exit of the jetway holding a sign with several names on it, including mine. Since we were about 95 minutes to departure of my flight, I briefly hoped it was a lift through the customs area and to the gate or something really cool like that. Instead, it was my boarding pass for the next flight which I thought I was going to have to fight to get. Instead, without checking my identification, I told her who I was, what flight and she handed it to me and I was on my way racing to beat the queue of over 500 people from other planes that got to the gate in front of me. Not necessarily smart for my condition, but I was feeling ok and I really didn’t want to miss my flight (knowing that it could take 2 hours to clear customs, border control and recheck my bags).

Somehow, the US Citizens queue was wide open and I literally walked right up to a border control agent who scanned my passport and sent me through to baggage claim. At the baggage claim I sat down to rest, prepared for a long wait. But no, the belt began to move in just a few minutes, surprising myself and another American on board the same flight. Within a few more minutes, my bag was off the plane and I was headed to the customs agent with my pass. After being screwed around with for a minute because I didn’t put the flight number on the document (my bad) I went to recheck, where I explained why the bag wasn’t checked through and checked my bag. I then went upstairs and got through the security line in just a few minutes for a grand total transfer time of just about 20-25 minutes from exiting my plane to getting through security again.

Incredible luck. This was definitely going to be my day.

I then got to the Admirals Club near my gate, walked around to see if there was anyone I knew and lo and behold, found a free drink ticket laying on one of the tables. Score. After getting a glass of red wine (help’s blood flow if drank in moderation I hear) I sat down and started making calls. Then I noticed, that I was sitting near Danielle Staub from Real Housewives of New Jersey, who was just as sweet as can be (sorry no gossip from me, just a nice woman and really friendly). We were both commenting on how incredible the woman who ran the bar there was in looking after passengers, going to them and offering them water, snacks or bar drinks or whatever.  She reminded us of Delores who ran the best coffee sales 7-11 store on the Undercover Boss show.

Back to the Airlines Story.

So it was getting closer to boarding time and I decided to check Flightview to see if the plane was still leaving on time and if I needed to go. It wasn’t. New estimated take off time was now 625pm, so I called Kristie and told her the plane was going to be late. After hanging up with her, I looked back at the screen and saw that it said the plane was a 757, not the 767 I had expected. Huh, that’s odd. So I went to the Admirals Club desk just to see if the 625pm time was even accurate, and she said, “oh, so you got the news about the equipment change” and I said, no I hadn’t but wanted to just check in. She told me, you are in luck, you still have your business seat and she booked me into 4F. Whew, I thought, that would have sucked big time. All I wanted was that nearly lay flat business seat in the 767, but I would settle for a warm meal and a business class seat anywhere as long as I could get home after 16 hours of traveling by that point.

So I went back to my seat in the lounge happy that I didn’t have to go get dinner in the airport. I also went back to the web site where the plane info was still showing the 767 as the plane we were on and there were no notices in my reservations, or calls to my phone about this very major change.  As I found out later at the gate, there was little to no notice given to the rest of the passengers either as one after another tried to board with their old tickets only to be told it wasn’t valid any longer.

After a few more phone calls, it got to be 6pm, so I packed up and headed to the gate thinking we were boarding. Well, it was more then thinking we were boarding, the signs said in the lounge NOW BOARDING. But it really wasn’t. It was pandemonium as the gate agents struggled to deal with all these last minutes changes. The crew hadnt even been allowed on board by this point and the departure time was updated to 650pm. I simply asked at this point of the gate agent, are we really leaving at 650pm and do we still have dinner in first class on this flight, to which she replied yes. So I was standing around relaxed, ignoring the chaos and just waiting to sit in my first class seat, which I was promised by the folks in the Admirals Club when they rebooked me and handed it to me for 4F.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. When they finally opened the gates and I handed my ticket to the check in agent, she said, wait, “You are not Mr. XXXXX” and I said of course not, see my ticket says Heuer, 4F. To which she replied, “Oh, well we aren’t able to process upgrades. You know we changed the equipment right?” Of course, that is why you are at a different gate and have all these angry folks around. So I was instructed that they would have to find me a new seat and she would do her best to get me to one that had no one sitting next to me in the middle. Very nice I thought, but how could they do that going from a 767 to a 757? Whatever, I said what are you doing about food, my travel plans were based on getting a meal. She very kindly said, I will get the ticket, you can go get something now from the airport if you like. So I had to run down to the deli and pick up a crappy chicken wrap which in the end was probably best from a health standpoint.

When I returned with my sandwich, the chaos had grown even worse, with priority access members trying to board and being told not to by one woman, and then being told to do so by another. To be fair, the gate agents were just as screwed as the passengers here, it was probably a middle management decision and a pretty poor one at that, but more about this towards the end of the post. They were doing the best they could in the face of the dilemma and the atrocious behaviour of some other passengers who were just berating and cussing at them non-stop. Eventually, the gate agent handed me a new ticket with a 12a seat assignment. At least I was going home I thought, “I will deal with it”.

I wish the story ended here, with just the few promises made broken, but it doesn’t. And it may be even an even more insisidious problem beneath the thin veil of this horrible experience. Which of course is nothing compared to people stranded overnight or left on planes for hours, but for me, being told one thing, then another, then another with no one having the full truth available, it was bad enough. At this point, after one mild ‘attack’ during the day and over 17 hours into my travel day, it was bad enough.

Before being told to turn off our cell phones, at 710pm I got a call from American Airlines who said in that great computer generated voice of theirs that the plane was now scheduled to depart at 715pm. I thought to myself, no way, they aren’t going to make that timeline, so I tweeted and turned off my phone. After sitting at the gate for about 30 more minutes and being told then by the pilot that they were still loading bags AND CARGO, I turned my phone back on to #twitch about it some more (my new word for bitching on Twitter, surely I didn’t coin the phrase, but I like it). Wouldn’t you know, while I was writing my tweet, I got another phone call from American Airlines telling me the flight was taking off at 750pm (about 5 minutes). Again, I thought this couldn’t be true. But in fact it finally pushed back from the gate just around there if not a few minutes after.

So the problem here is that none of the front line people want to tell us anything about what is going on in the back of the house because none of them can say so with confidence whether it is really accurate or true. There are so many dependencies on things like this, it is understandable. And with airline customer rage at an all time high, who wants to say I think we are taking off at 750pm when in fact they may be called out later for lying to us. Or who would want to tell an angry mob of passengers that the real takeoff would be 750pm when they can perhaps get them handed to another employee to deal with directly. So I understand why they dont disclose enough information often, but it creates a horrible relationship between company and customer. If we could only trust the employees and therby the airlines a bit more it would all be different. If we could only trust them and like them for their earnest attempts to provide us with great service and as much honest information as they could, we might be a bit more forgiving. But they can’t and we won’t.

Flying an Old Bird

So whatever the reasons American Airlines provides later on this equipment change, one thing is sure, they are flying some old airplanes. I got in my seat, and there was in fact no one sitting next to me. I usually fly aisle seats forward so I can get up and stretch and move around without bothering other passengers, so at least I was forward if not in the aisle. But my seat would not recline properly – if I put pressure against the window side armrest and leaned back with all my weight it would go back, but not if I just sat there. Weird. The real problem is that it felt like it was 32 dewgrees farenheit up against the window. I had to use 2 blankets just to shield me from the bone chilling cold of this way too thin membrane between me and the cold upper atmosphere. Thankfully, at least there were blankets, if there werent, I might have caused an incident. No pillows though of course, and no comfort in those overly worn seats with way too little cushion for my overweight body.

In looking at the seats that passed for first class in the early 1970’s plane they pulled from retirement, I was somewhat thankful that I didn’t waste my upgrade tickets (worth $180usd for JFK-SFO) but at the same time, still upset I was stuck where I was. At least I made it to SFO by 11pm PST and to my house before midnight (before heading into the hospital for another visit due to the stress that had started causing my chest pains again). But let’s not worry about me anymore, lets talk about American Airlines and allow me to share my opinion on what I think may have happened before this to create this bad situation. (Am sure they will respond here, as they said on Twitter last night, they are “listening” and the guy running the late shift twitter account (good process to run 24/7 shifts btw) promised a followup to see what happened on their end)

In Conclusion

From my perspective, I feel lied to and I trust American Airlines even less then I did before. As you may recall, I am a proponent for something I call a Net Trust Score to replace the aging Net Promoter Score as a system for measuring how well a company is doing in the market, with trust as the ultimate barometer, more important then promoting. If the company is trusted, they will be promoted, whereas with Apple I promote the iPhone (or rather I did) even though I didn’t trust or promote AT&T.

I have been loyal to American Airlins for the past decade plus because they fly to all the major cities I frequent most and usually have competitive rates on those flights. I have had gold and platinum status for years. After experiencing how they treat regular customers (how all airlines treat non-loyalty customers in fact), I never want to deal with that level of service again, so I stay loyal, because I have to or get even shittier service from other carriers (though I often choose to fly Virgin now if I can because they really do rock and JetBlue occasionally and then Southwest). The problem is I can’t trust American Airlines like I used to after this experience and many others I have had over the past year. In fact, when I upgraded my flight from DFW to LHR on my way to Europe about 10 days ago paying $450 and 25,000 miles for one segment, there was a miscommunication that almost cost me my seat on the plane if it were not for a good mannered well meaning gate manager, but I will let that story slide for now.

How can I be given a seat from one point in the system and then have it taken away in another? You promised me at this point that I had a seat in business class. I made all my planning at the airport on this promise, and it caused me undue stress as a result. Then there are the multiple changing promises about take off time. I know you can’t control when things go wrong all the time, but how odd is it that your phone system calls people to tell them of delays even when they are supposed to have their phones turned off and are sitting on the plane. Perhaps just an unfortunate system design in an edge case, but it was striking to me and furthered my distrust of your company.

I will spare you what I think about making us wait for CARGO to get loaded on the plane so you can make a few extra bucks. OK, so I didn’t. I guess I lied too, just like you did to me.

As for bringing an old ass plane like that out to fly us across the country (and my friend Bryan Thatcher on one from Paris to NYC), well I know the economics of maintaining an older fleet and the huge cost for modernizing it so I understand why you HAVE to do it, but I don’t like it and I may leave you if I get stuck on too many more of these when I could be flying in comfort on Virgin or Jetblue instead. In fact, if I see equipment on any flight I am considering is a 757, I will not complete the reservation and instead will go somewhere else, regardless of what it costs.

Now for the part that American Airlines will be happy I saved for last, but will get quoted by the most number of people. I think this whole situation may have been part of a decision management tree and may have been a middle management move to squeeze the most profit out of the situation that deserves a real investigation. Perhaps I dont have all the story here on why the gate agents were overheard using the phrase “downgraded equipment” by several people, including my very relaxed and uber smart seat mate in 12c. But when I looked at the seating chart last week in Europe to see if I was going to have a chance of getting the upgrade, there were only about 8-10 seats showing available in economy. So I thought my chances were slim. When I got the upgrade notification 72 hours in advance, I was shocked but delighted. (part of the broken promise thing again, I was looking forward to this leg of the flight for 3 days!)

It turns out, that the woman sitting next to me, also saw there were no seats available on the seating chart last week. But instead, the smaller 757 we flew had plenty of open seats on it. Meaning the original 767 was way underbooked, else there would have been a huge problem trying to get them all in.  While many people like me were denied their upgraded seat assignments (some of who received extra snacks and drinks for the trouble though I didnt get such an offer), everyone it seemed got on the plane easily enough. Or maybe they didnt and people were screwed over in economy so people like me could have more room which if true would be even worse.

So given this information, that their were few seats to choose from on the bigger plane, but plenty left open on the smaller plane, could they have been deliberately presenting false information about available supply in order to get a higher price per available seat without anyone noticing? I know the car rental industry has recently been managing its available supply of cars in order to change pricing points on the demand curve (can’t find the article on this, but someone sent it to me in response to a twitter inquiry into high rental car prices in the fall). Could the airline be presenting false information about available seats in order to get a higher price on the seats it was selling?

While this is all conjecture and there is little but my anecdotal experience as proof, given how little trust we have left for companies who make so many broken promises, I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like this.

As I can imagine it might work if someone were to be so aggressive in the marketing of their services, if you aren’t selling enough seats on a plan at a price that makes the flight profitable, you present false information about there being fewer available seats in order to create a perception that the last seats on a particular flight are more valuable and worth paying the higher price. If you as the airline hit your profitability mark, you fly the plane as planned. If you don’t hit that revenue figure for the flight, you change the equipment at the last minute, as may have been done with my flight AA 177 on March 31, 2010 and force all the humans behind the shadows on the cave wall, otherwise known as the spreadsheet, to suffer through the very difficult human experience we all had.

If it is happening, I am sure there will be someone out there who can speak to this, because it would be so wrongheaded they probably couldn’t live with the lie, even if it meant their job. I have seen enough flights cancelled where there were clearly not more then a dozen or two people affected by it to know that such things have been handled by airlines in similar ways before, but who knows for sure? Only the managers making such decisions and a few of their colleagues in other departments who they have told about it.

As far as I can see this wouldn’t necessarily be an illegal thing to do, just an unfair and non-transparent trade practice that would cause such a PR nightmare, it would really hurt everyone from employees to stockholders to customers. Which is why again, I must point out this is only an imagined scenario at this point, based on conjecture, my experience, my imagination and my knowledge of business decision making processes. Still, I hope someone can look into this and I hope that American Airlines can tell us the full real story of what happened on this flight and how we all ended up in this crazy experience.

UPDATE 6April2010 10:30am: American Airlines sent me a form letter (customized of course) that basically said it was an equipment/maintenance issue that made them change the plane and offered 3 electronic upgrade coupons (value=$90) for my troubles and 73 minute delay. My reply was, thats great to know, why didnt you tell me that last week because that is a really simple thing to find out. What about the other issues like the freezing 757 and why the system allowed me to get rebooked in the first place, then denied. The form letter thing was quaint, but expected I guess, including this wonderful gem “eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have developed to date”.

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Lunch For Good Sparks Critical Thoughts

The Lunch For Good event format has really proven to be magical after a fountain of insights erupted during last month’s event discussing critical thinking. In San Francisco on Thursday October 23, 2009 we asked participants “How can online contribution evolve to encourage more critical thought?”

Apparently, it was a powerful question as you can see from the videos we captured summarizing the conversations happening at each of the tables.

I also spoke with Ravit Lichtenberg about the importance of critical thinking and she ended up turning the camera on me. For me personally, having a society in which a greater number of people apply critical thinking to what they are being told by others is essential for the well being and prosperity of everyone. Critical thinking skills are a foundational element of a media literate society, which means it is very important part of Social Media Club’s mission.

So today, as part of my ‘social work’ coming out of last month’s Lunch For Good event, I am seeking support on a project to assemble, organize and if necessary develop an educational program focused on critical thinking for digital citizens. It would seem this project would fit best under the SMC EDU program, but we can discuss details together.  If you are interested in participating, please let us know by commenting below or emailing socialmediaclub at gmail dot com.

So today work begins in earnest on our final Lunch For Good event of this series where we will be focused on how online contribution can evolve to help more people find common ground.  This event speaks directly to what I believe to be one of the biggest problems we face in the world today. The problem of “us vs. them” is something I have been speaking about for a long time as even Apple’s TV ads are further propagating a sense of elitism and social division.

We must transcend looking at the world as a matter of ‘these people are like me and they are ok, but these people over there are not like me so they must be bad’. It is not only based on race, sexual orientation, religion, politics and appearances any longer – today it extends to what brands you wear, what music you like, what social tools you use and even even what your job title is. So today more then ever, its important for us to explore the issue of how do we work to ensure more people can find common ground with one another instead of demonizing others for not being completely homogeneously alike…

The invites are going out over the next few days but if you havent been previously and have not received an invite, you can stillrequest an invitation on the Lunch blog and if we have room as the event approaches, we would be happy to have you participate.

On a closing personal note, I just cant thank JR Johnson, Melissa Cunningham and the whole team enough for sponsoring this great event series and Myles Weissleder for co-producing it with me.  Myles and I are truly blessed to be able to do the work we love and have a client who really wants to contribute to the greater good.

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The End of Marketing, The Return to Markets

Every time I travel to another city for another conference, the need for deep, broad, real, systemic change in our approach to marketing becomes more and more clear. This weekend at IzeaFest was no exception. Having the IzeaFest advertisers together with their bloggers along with social media professionals, SEO experts, affiliate marketers and some big brands was a real eye opener on many levels. Mostly though, what I saw was a lot of people trying to figure out how to do the right thing and a small few who were just focused on the money.

As more people come to realize that we are all in this market WITH one another instead of AGAINST one another, the tolerance for traditional advertising, publc relations and automated customer support phone systems will eventually reach zero. We have already lost our tolerance for not being able to get an answer from the company representatives assigned with that task, how much more efficiency can be squeezed in pursuit of profits over brand prosperity?

Marketing is not real.

Its what we design to seem real, to seem believable, to create a sense of desire, to tap into a need, to increase awareness, to communicate value propositions, to drive a call to action, to create a sense of comfort and familiarity with the brand and to create a sense of urgency. But let’s be honest, its carefully crafted, tested, refined and carefully controlled as its being deployed. It’s not real, and often times, its not really nice or considerate either.

Or as David Weinberger has infamously said, “Somewhere along the way, markets, what we did WITH each other, became marketing… what we do TO one another.”

Or as the Cluetrain Manifesto so brilliantly stated “Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.” But the best ads are the ones that transcend the chains of its innately false nature, to either really be genuine or too fake it so well as to seemingly create no doubt.

There is a very serious need for us to fully return to an emphasis on markets and get away from marketing altogether. Once and for all.

But where does it begin?

I had thought this was very clear over five (5) years ago in the time leading up to the first BarCamp. Going beyond interactive marketing, required genuine ENGAGEMENT. Or as I saw so clearly at that BarCamp in the summer of 2005, participation is marketing. But it’s more then participating, it’s contributing value, it’s respecting market participants, it’s having integrity and embracing transparency.

Since then, all segments of the communications industry has struggled with defining it, as the competing qualitative and quantitative camps argue about what is really most important with it. Engagement is dialog. Engagement is empathetic. Engagement is human. Engagement is mutually beneficial. Engagement can be measured by how it feels. Engagement can be measured by how the new philosophy starts to shift the bottom line.

Serve the Market

If markets are conversations as the Cluetrain posits, then what are executives supposed to do about it? The more we converse with each other, and the more we do so openly, leaving a trail of thoughts on our experiences and insights upon which others may stumble, the greater the importance of serving the market for mutual benefit.

This realization came to me during Community 2.0 in 2006 when Craig Newmark remarked that “all organizations used to be community service organizations”. It’s what was lost as we focused on scaling our ability to create profit during the industrial era and as profit above all else was so enthusiastically pursued without concern by just a few too many ‘leaders’. Then modern marketing evolved in certain corners of the profession with the goal of separating as much money as possible from as many customers as possible.

Of course, this wasn’t everyone, its just a few bad apples, but they certainly make the rest of the barrel full look unattractive.

Over time, the focus shifted for many companies to serving the stock market and the shareholder as opposed to serving the market itself. Research shifted to finding ways to tug at heart strings and wanting to be hip with trendsetters. Market researchers put people into “fish bowls” to observe their behaviour under fake conditions measuring their responses as if they were real and pure.

In short, and putting it bluntly, the science of marketing has for too long been focused on manipulation, not value creation.

The shift away from traditional marketing is finally gaining steam as a few brave souls lift their heads from our economic situation to once again think more optimistically instead of defensively. As the pilot projects of competitors become long running programs even though we never seemingly have enough B2B case studies, the increase in activity across multiple sectors is clearly evident. It is also seemingly proof enough for many in what Geoffrey Moore would call the early majority phase of adoption in “Crossing the Chasm“.

Serving the market requires you to have real relationships with the people within that market, just as you did if you were trading in the original souqs. Your reputation both preceded and followed you… everywhere. It requires the development of trust, that only comes with time and experience and that can never be created competely in a 30 second commercial.

As social media continues to make more information visible and the increasing market transparency shows us the little man behind the grand curtain working the controls isn’t all that he claims to be, the number of organizations not operating from a place of integrity will diminish. Of course there will be those that obfuscate, that wear their masks well and that pull the wool over our collective eyes, but they will hopefully be fewer in number.

Perhaps if we are successful at getting more companies to serve the market, the end of marketing as we know it won’t be as far away as it still seems today. Or perhaps, I am just overly optimistic about the level of change we can really have on this very well entrenched industry.

Let me know what you think, share your thoughts below.

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My 1999 View on Holistic Business Strategy Services

Forgot about this page, but just seeing all the talk about the need for executives to take a more holistic approach to business made me look. This old static html page described the services I was offering in 1999 for my now closed consulting and software development firm called Conversal. It was a bit ahead of its time, and I really never connected with big brands to do this the way I wanted to… but of course this was also inhibited by the crash and my great time working with Palm, Inc.

I have been ahead of my time a few times too often. It seems like now with the rise of social media and the emergence of social business design, many of these ideas need to be dusted off and rewritten. For now, I will just quote it in its old entirety and add to it this weekend…

Holistic Business Strategy Consulting

Holistic – (adj) – taking
a view of the whole rather than focusing on the components;
the fundamental approach executives should take in setting strategy;
also used in holistic medicine, where a practicioner looks at
the whole body to diagnose a health problem and provide the
best solution.

Don’t get us confused with some new
age group wearing purple Nike’s and bringing a bunch of crystals
into the board room though – holistic business strategy is serious
business that will revolutionize your company. The foundation
of each engagement is based on a holistic approach, looking at
the whole of your situation, not just one part of it. For example,
while engaged on a simple web site redesign project with limited
budget, we were able to discuss and radically improve the company’s
positioning strategy and corporate voice. This has lead to a clearer
and more consistent line of communications with customers and
partners that is being affirmed anecdotally and measurably.

With Holistic Business Strategy consulting, Conversal is focused
on helping you to see your entire business in an entirely different
light. While many consultants may offer
you "out of the box" thinking, it is our deeply held
belief that there is no box! Adopting this powerful belief is
the first step in making dramatic improvements in the way you
work, and most importantly, how you feel about the work you do.
This isnt some ra-ra jedi mind trick with a turn of a phrase and
a pumping of the fist. At Conversal, we firmly believe it is fundamental
to operating a successfull organization in the world of today
for you and all of your fellow team members to change your approach
and broaden your situational world view.

Conversal’s ability to contribute dramatically to your bottom
line with a Holistic Business Strategy engagements originates
from these core beliefs:

  1. A successfull business begins with an understanding
    of the value your organization creates today and establishing
    a simply understood set of brand values which define your potential
    offerings and purpose for existence.
  2. Trust must be built between employees, managers,
    partners and customers and constantly nurtured.
  3. Communication across all of the channels must
    be in an authentic voice while remaining consistent, accurate
    and most importantly, honest.
  4. Things don’t always have to be the way they are
    today, change can happen in an instant if the situation can
    be seen clearly.
  5. Management does not equal leadership. Leaders
    earn the respect of their peers and those they lead through
    courage, honesty, right action and through a genuine love for
    everyone with whom they interact.
  6. In order to be effective, leaders need to see
    the forest as well as the trees. The only path to long term
    success is through a holistic understanding of your organization’s
    strategy, its values and its operations.
  7. Technology for the sake of technology is worthless
    – all key initiatives should primarily focus on value creation
    for the stakeholders, which means getting them involved in the
    decisionmaking process before technology is bought or developed.
  8. The knowledge exists within your organization
    today to take you where you need to be tomorrow – you just need
    to find a way to listen and respond better.
  9. We are now living in the knowledge economy, where
    your assetts walk out the door every night, or at the end of
    every shift. Ensuring this knowledge and the people employing
    it constantly grow in their ability to innovate, learn new knowledge
    and constantly improve must be your primary goal.
  10. There is no box. Whether inside or outside
    of a box, people remain to focused on the box itself and what
    it looks like, feels like and is. Without a box, your best assetts
    will be utilized for your best benefit.

If you are curious about what a holistic business
strategy engagement might look like for your company, let’s
and see if we both have a good fit for our mutual success.
If you just have some ideas you would like to share on this topic,
we would be glad to hear from you as well. Regardless, we hope
these thoughts may have contributed in some small way to your
knowledge and ultimately your success.

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Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Doubt, Confidence, Life.

If you know me publicly, you may be a bit shocked by this quick post, but if you know me personally, you probably already know this. (it was supposed to be short, but when I am on a roll…)

I have a tremendous personal battle I wage each day to get beyond my fears, to stop worrying and to take even the smallest action. In fact, this post is only coming after what must be a bottle of champagne on my flight to Phoenix… This is in despite what many perceive as my overt confidence, arrogance and occasional intellectually based rudeness.

But its important for you, yes, I do mean you not the other person reading this, to understand that this is normal, its ok, youre ok, Im ok. The thing is, most leaders won’t admit this is what they face, because they also carry the burden of managing perceptions and casting a long powerful shadow so that others who may seek to exploit such traits as weakness will not know where to shoot their slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In fact, I did have this personally happen to me once when engaged in a negotiation with a former colleague who deliberately exploited my emotional vulnerabilities and my beliefs in fairness and doing the right thing. Good thing is, even he couldn’t change who I was, despite the pain he forced me to endure through the tumultuous process.

But I am hear to oppose this, and to end this for me and hopefully you too.

This all just kinda popped in my head, so I don’t know where I am really going with this, but early today I tweeted that I was proud of my buddy Alan Silberberg from You2Gov for all that he has been accomplishing. Shortly thereafter I was in tears, which has happened all too often on this trip during deeply personal moments when I have been alone, as I am doing once again now.

My mother, used to say this all the time to me. That she was so proud of me. That I could do anything. That I was her miracle baby (both my parents had Cerebral Palsy).

For a long time, no one said that to me, or if they did, I felt it was insincere. Many wonderful women who I have loved (and still do) told me this, and I dismissed such reinforcement as their own shortcomings for not recognizing how fucked up I am, inside and out.

They weren’t of course, in fact, they were and still are perfect, just as they are. We all are, we just don’t often feel that way because we measure ourselves and others against an unrealistic ideal instead of the practical global reality that we are all one, we all suffer through the same psycho/emotional conditions but yet inside us all is the potential for greatness. However, with the burden of needing to realize this potential and not wanting to disappoint, I have all too often run from it to the bottom of a bottle or the escape of a video game…

A fear of failure as much as a fear of success. It’s a miracle I am even still here on this earth and able to do even a tenth of what I do in my life.

Facing Reality

The other day, I came face to face with one of my own deepest fears, when I met Julie Vessigault, aka @potentiallee when she shared with me her own personal story of life’s biggest challenges. In her face though, I saw not the despair or the challenge or the thing I feared most, I saw love, I saw life, I saw a human soul who could see beyond her condition and recognize her own loveliness and her own humanity and her own potential. Her attitude, as I came to know in her tweets and brief interactions online was the same in real life as it was online.

Yet in her face, I also saw my mother. She is not completely what mainstream media or advertising would call normal, she is different, like us all a snowflake to be admired for her differences and her alikeness.

As I explained in my keynote at Drupalcon last week, we have a real problem today with what Shel Israel explained to me as ‘the other’ and what I have been talking about as the “Us vs. Them” problem. If you don’t look like, act like, talk like, believe like, smell like, think like or seem like me, you are the other. As soon as we see other people as separate of ourselves, instead of like ourselves, we all too often immediately shun them, cast them aside and dismiss them as having little to no value to our lives. It may often be expedient to do so, but its not right and it’s the same thing that is feeding the current political upheaval in our country over healthcare (well that and some greedy old white men trying to manipulate others and public opnion for their own personal and financial benefit – see even I do it, but I think it is with good reason here)

It is worsened by the fact that we have transcended (in many parts of the first world at least) our basic needs for shelter and are moving to a higher plane of our existence, where we can be more aspriational in nature, seizing economic opportunities, achieving self realization and also changing the things we don’t like in ourselves through plastic surgery and fashionista accoutrements.

What I saw in Julie was not the other, but myself, or rather what could happen to me, and what almost happened to my mother. If it weren’t for my grandparents taking myself and my mother in, her situation could have easily been mine… and I don’t know that I would still be on this earth much less being able to share this story with you had it not been for them and their love. (and of course my mom’s amazing attitude and ruthless persistence and belief in herself… and me)

Julie loves planes. As a child she dreamt of being a ‘stewardess’, still does. But she doesn’t look like a flight attendant and I don’t honestly think an airline would hire her for that job. She does however love people, and despite what some may see as her quirky social skills, I know she could be a tremendous asset to an airline, especially one like Southwest or Jetblue, which have fully embraced our humanity bringing levity and satisfaction to so many.

So I am going to make a public request to Paula Berg, and whoever is running JetBlue’s social strategy, you should hire her to help with your twitter and other social connections online. At least interview her. This is something I would normally never do and in a sense I feel wary even of telling her story, so I hope no one gets mad at me, but other people needed to know this story too and in my stream of consciousness on this subject, here I am.

But back to the main story and reason for this post.

I’m imperfect, wouldn’t you like to be imperfect too?

I am so far from perfect, its not funny. I have physical problems and pains in my body everyday now, I never could throw a baseball and still cant, I can barely complete a sentence before thinking about something else, my ADD, while not as bad as some, has caused me to suffer deep depressions resulting from my frustrations with not being able to do what others do so easily, I drink too much sometimes, I interrupt people when I should be politely paying attention, I am wrong headed and stubborn in my ideas, I raise my voice in anger too easily, I react without thinking, I have a hard time being present in any moment, I speak in absolutes when I believe the world is grey and mushy and worst of all, over the past several years I have been disrespectful to my loving wife on all too many occasions, often without cause.

Its not that I am short tempered, its that I am often frustrated with trying to explain how I see something, or how I feel and trying to be linear in explaining it gives me a headache sometimes. I am trying to overcome this every day, being aware of it is the first step, and certainly I have mitigated much of this over the last few years to become a lot better at being in the world then when I was younger. I am mad mostly at myself and unfortunately Kristie often bears the brunt of it, yet she keeps on keeping on, forgives me (if only I could forgive myself) and she still loves me.

For this, I want to tell her and you that I am truly sorry. I am moving to a better place personally, emotionally, physically and professionally. I have to. I cant keep living this way.

Kristie Wells is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She makes me proud everyday in every way. She is not book smart and she is occasionally not as eloquent as she would like, but her heart and her soul make up for this in ways to innumerous to mention here. She runs Social Media Club locally and internationally, an idea I had several years ago and which she has been saddled with ‘in order to protect our reputation’ and to fulfill our commitment we have made to you. She is making good money from her job as Community Manger / Social Media Girl with Ribbit and she is putting that money as much into supporting me and trips like this one I have been on as she has put into her own happiness and well being. Then she sends out a DM like this that make me cry again and again:

“I love you very much and bathe in your passion to bring people together. You are inspiring.”

Too often don’t feel that way myself, but do try so hard to do my part to heal the world, to make things right and to contribute whatever value my voice may convey.

She deserves to be treated better. She deserves to be honored. She doesn’t deserve to be yelled at for misspeaking or for forgetting to complete a task I asked her to do to support me. I am sorry I have not been able to transcend my own insecurities, my own fears, my own doubts and my own fears to embrace all of her in the warming cocoon of love and respect she deserves.

Most of all though, I am sorry I have not gotten past these shortcomings to be more effective, that I have not believed in myself enough, nor had enough courage to take the actions I needed to take care of myself, to serve the community and to be bold when the moments have arisen. While many people may see me as a serial entrepreneur, and technically I am, its not because I am a bold risk taker, its because I see no other way and I am driven by the passion of my ideas and my belief that the world can be a better place… and of course by my ego which needs to have external approval in order to feel loved and accepted rather than a love of self which I more often then not am missing in my day to day.

I have another personal post I will share with you in the coming days that speaks to this more directly, along with a plan for manifesting that and changing my life, our lives, but for now, I just need the catharsis of publishing this and coming clean with my higher self despite whatever professional consequences may exist.

The Point

Finally, I am writing this to let my wife know how proud I am of her, how grateful I am that she puts up with my bullshit, how much I appreciate her support, how lucky I know I am to have her in my life and how much I look forward to living the next 50 years with her by my side.

The title of this post has very simple origins – its everything that went into the above, in contrast and in connection with each other, the words that motivate us or prevent us from being all we can be. Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Doubt, Confidence, Life.

For me, my biggest problem is clear – its fear. Fear of publishing, of being wrong, of being right, of becoming famous – of having demands placed on me that would showcase my weaknesses (despite my belief that Marcus Buckingham is right in “Now Discover Your Strengths”) and a fear that I am simply not good enough, smart enough, loving enough, caring enough or doing enough.

Yes indeed, this is life. Deal with it and keep on keeping on despite it all, just do so with respect for everyone else suffering through the same, worse or better conditions. We are all one. One species with a fate that is not distinct from each other, but intimately tied to our mutual success or failure.

Be bold, be not afraid, I am here with you, struggling just as you are, and yet here I lay my soul bare for all to see and critique. Fuck it. Its me, and I am so much more then a collection of words about my challenges in life. That’s serious.

The time for change is now, and YES WE CAN do it.

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Conflict of Interest, Perceived Imprecisely From Afar

I randomly caught this post from Leah Jones talking about Chris Brogan working with Sony on a project after meeting them during a Panasonic ‘junket’ to CES earlier this year. I was going to leave this as a comment but I exceeded the character limit by over 50%, so here is my reply to “Is this trust

Its an interesting conversation but haphazardly pointed at Chris (a long time colleague and friend, but I am writing here not for him, but for the broader conversation as a whole) While I can understand where there might be some hurt feelings, it should be about an opportunity lost to develop more then a passing relationship. But its not like Chris is Brett Farve and a one and only fleeting opportunity to have loyally fighting for the Panasonic team!

This was a Blogger, being given the VIP treatment at CES. Happens all the time.

Have any of the folks commenting and thinking this is unheard of and rude and insulting been there? If you have then you would know that no company paying for anyone’s way (and I know the Intel Insiders pretty well personally and professionally) would expect they could keep those people from meeting and talking with competitors.

In fact, seeing other competing equipment is a comparison that Chairman Yoshi Yamada is hoping for people to make – because he believes in the quality of his company’s products against those of rivals. From speaking with many other people who were engaged in different aspects of Panasonics CES work, I understand that the Panasonic Chairman is a wise man and do not believe he would fret over such concerns as this.

Chris was not hired to be a consultant by Panasonic, he did not steal their trade secrets to give to the competition, and most importantly he did not harm anyone, not even the PR people behind the CES program. Chris was flown out to CES for his credibility and reach (lets face it, most blogger relations as Chris alludes to is only about reach). Sony hired him to manage a project and for that project to benefit from his credibility and reach.

What’s the common thread? he was compensated for his time… Panasonic got some coverage, some WOM from Chris at CES and a chance to make sure he was considering and trying Panasonic equipment. Sony is paying for his time to run a program, which already by your post has been a bit more successful in getting attention.

For a moment, lets just look at the practical situation one more time. Had this been an invite out to the Panasonic corporate headquarters, and while on that trip that Panasonic paid for, he met with and started selling his services to Sony, that would be something to merit a discussion on trust and loyalty and good judgment… but it wasnt a private meeting, it was the biggest event in the industry with every competitor in the same 2 square mile (or so) area.

I do not even believe this is a question of trust or loyalty, unless you think you owe everyone who gives you something (which is totally so messed up for so many reasons) a debt for the rest of your life. It’s just a matter of business…

And this post titled “Is this Trust” is honestly just an observation that turned into an implied accusation perceived imprecisely from afar that IMHO has no real merit – in fact, I think in re-reading the blog post that an inflamatory, headling grabbing word was chosen for the title merely because it is so prominent now with Chris’ recently published book… I do really think the rightly focused topic is loyalty.

As for whether Chris Brogan is less trustworthy as a result of his working with Sony, bollocks. Trust is about honesty and character demonstrated over time, and there is nothing here or anywhere to indicate that Chris was dishonest…. nor was he disloyal in that he owes no loyalty to Panasonic except respect and perhaps the friendships he might have with various people involved there.

There are plenty of people out there who are not trustworthy and who are disloyal, it would really be great to see more people telling those stories.

Is This Trust as a post title certainly works at getting attention, but it also serves to potentially harm Chris’ credibility.

To illustrate, just on WED someone asked me what I thought of Vivek Kundra being a phony? I heard the allegations, but didnt know any more about the story, so I expressed my optimism about Vivek based on the perceptions of people I trust who know him and went home to find out the latest news… even I was shocked to see that Om Malik had shot down the false accusations within hours of the story first surfacing. Point being, this person was spreading false information caught in a fleeting moment through the stream because he trusted the stream and formed a negative opinion of Vivek that may never be corrected as a result.

The better question here that other’s alluded to rightly is the matter as to what are the potential conflicts of interest we could get into when individuals can be a journalist, a celebrity and a consultant for hire all at the same time.

As for broader lessons learned, its important for brands to not think they are going to own a blogger’s stories if they treat them to a nice time.  If a PR firm was selling them that, then there is something to really be upset about.

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Social London Week?

London_Misc_Sep2006 - 06.jpg
Well its not an official event like InternetWeek NY was, but for me it is a great Social Media Week in London.  While I still have a few open appointment slots on Monday morning, the week is pretty booked up.  I hope you will be able to join me at some point and say hello and we get a chance to talk about all the ways in which social media is creating growth opportunities and changing the way we work.

    Thursday 25 June – 1700-1930pm
    Open to everyone
    The International Bar (near Charing Cross and Leicester Sq) 
  • Gov2Gov UK
    Friday 26 June 1600-1900
    Registration Required (sold out, but contact me if you really need to be there)
    Canadian High Commission Office
  • Tweetcamp
    Saturday 27 June 1000-1800
    Waiting list only now
    Richmond, Surrey
  • Geek Field Trip – Tate Modern
    Sunday 28 June 1100-1400
    Open to Anyone – Show Up at Main Entrance, Look For Me
    Bankside (on the Thames) 

So it is pretty much a Social London Week for me and I hope it will be for some of you who join me as well.

The reason I am coming over is for the Gov2GovUK event and all the other opportunities to get together and talk present themselves when you think differently about how to connect with a community.  We are really hoping to see Social Media Club take off again in London (Lloyd Davis was organizing Social Media Club events before starting Tuttle).

We are really excited about Gov2Gov as I think it will be the start of something very big, where we are bringing together an array of events to facilitate international knowledge exchange on social media between governments and amongst their citizens.  This is one stone that kills about 20 birds, as the outcomes from these sorts of meetings are filled with amazing potential.  Not only does it improve international relations and facilitate cross border knowledge exchanges, it creates opportunities for entrepreneurship, business development, new ways towards civic engagement and so much more.  Pay attention to the conversation around this as the next announcements coming later in the month are going to be very big… in fact, we will start talking about it on Friday evening, at the Gov2Gov UK event.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give out a lot of credit for this event to Lovisa Williams from the U.S. State Department who helped in so many ways from introductions to organizational support and Dominic Campbell of FutureGov Consultancy who (very humbly) has contributed his expertise, his network and so much more.  These are the sort of people that get me excited and make the work we do so much more fun. Am so glad I can call them both friends.

Of course, huge thanks to the High Commission of Canada’s office for hosting the event.  Of course, we have always known how great our friends to the north are (particularly Our Vancouver Crew) – I have now found that their representatives in Ottawa and in London are just as wonderful.

So I hope to see you in London sometime this week, if not at our Tweetup on THUR at The International Bar, or The Gov2Gov UK Event on Friday at the High Commission in London, or at Tweetcamp on Saturday, then you better come out on Sunday for our Geek Field Trip to The Tate Modern.

Or, if you want to meet with me independently, I have some time for business meetings on MON morning 29 June and would be happy to book appointments with you while I am in the UK.


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Time’s 100 Most Influential People

forget the debate, forget the hype, finally a journalist gets influence absolutely right:

Christakis’ studies are right: the people who influence us most aren’t our leaders, titans or heroes. The people who most affect us are the ones we spend the most time with. When a friend of a friend of a friend gets happy, it increases your happiness more than a $5,000 raise would

from “And No. 1 is…” by Joel Stein

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