Archive | March, 2013

Do Women Take as Many Risks as Men?

4 Mar

One week before delivering the final manuscript of my book, Taking Smart Risks, I came to a disturbing realization. There were 38 stories in the book, but only seven were about women.

Jill Logan, an employee helping me get the final product out the door, noticed it. I was stunned. My first reaction was That can’t be true. I walked over to the whiteboard listing each story and counted them myself: Seven out of 38. She was right.

I looked at Jill and said, “How in the world did this happen!?” I had run that group of stories through so many filters to ensure I was capturing everything in a balanced way — age, size of company, industry, geography. How did I not keep a closer eye on gender? Only 18% of the stories involved women. I felt embarrassed. I thought to myself, “I, of all men, should have caught that.” More than half of my leadership consulting clients over the last decade have been women. Furthermore, twenty years ago, my mother, a PhD in Organizational Psychology, had written a 454-page dissertation titled On Being a Bright and Ambitious Woman — which was, in essence, about women taking risks in business.

After berating myself for 30 minutes, I got genuinely curious. I wanted to answer the rhetorical question I had asked Jill. Really, how in the world did this happen?

I started by looking at the original network of people I had contacted to source the stories: seventy-eight successful, intelligent, forward-thinking men and women. I thought that perhaps I had introduced the bias from the start by contacting more men than women. Nope. The network actually contained more women than men, forty to thirty-eight.

Then I did my best to recreate the universe of potential stories that the network generated. I counted 129. I quickly realized that this is where the imbalance started. Only 47 of the stories (36%) contained women. When I had asked my initial question — “Who, from your personal networks, would you consider smart, successful risk takers?” — two-to-one, more men than women had come to mind, even though the responding group was more female than male.

That was an interesting data point worth further consideration. But it still didn’t account for the final outcome — only 18% of my stories involved women, not 36% or even close to that. I was the perpetrator of this further reduction. From the pool of 129 stories I had collected, eighty-two were about men and I chose thirty-one of them for inclusion — that’s 38% of the male stories. Forty-seven were about women, and I chose seven of them for inclusion — that’s only 15% of the female stories.

I was left with two questions. Why did my network share more male than female stories? And then, with both in hand, why did I still choose a larger percentage of the male stories? I’ve thought about and discussed these questions with both men and women in the six months since Jill brought the discrepancy to my attention. I’ve also pulled some research on the topic. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

Men are more inclined to take risks than women. This finding has been replicated in a variety of studies over the years with researchers pointing to economic and evolutionary reasons. A recent study by Mara Mather and
Nichole R. Lighthall found that gender differences are amplified even further under stress. Male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress. One reason is there are gender differences in brain activity involved in computing risk and preparing for action. This seems to be an important finding given the stressful nature of our work lives today. Are men potentially too reckless and women too cautious in these scenarios? What are the implications? One implication might be that, under stress, men and women working together would make smarter risk-taking decisions than either gender alone. This is a topic ripe for further exploration.

People tend to perceive that women are more risk averse than men. Stronger, taller, and more attractive people are perceived to be more risk tolerant, according to research by Sheryl Ball, Catherine C Eckel, and Maria Heracleous. Women are perceived to be more risk averse. That means that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting support for risk-taking. This perception bias further compounds the inclination differences mentioned above. I fear this is one of the factors that snagged me as I chose stories for inclusion. I perceived a larger percentage of male stories were simply more compelling than female stories. But on second look, were they really? Did I count women out too early? Maybe I just found it easier to relate to the male stories. Maybe women conceive of risk-taking differently and I just didn’t look through the right lens. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, makes some compelling points along these lines in a 2011 talk. This is another topic ripe for further study.

Risk-taking role models of both genders are important in an increasingly complex world. When facing a risky decision, leaders must weigh a lot of factors. Two of the biggest are, first, the likelihood that the risk in question will help hit strategic objectives and, second, the effect the risk will have on people involved. Accounting for one without the other is a recipe for disaster. In my consulting practice I’ve noticed a tendency for men to put a stronger emphasis on the former and women on the latter. Recent research by Seda Ertac and Mehmet Y. Gurdal supports this observation. To me, this tendency is further evidence that the most successful risk taking is a collaborative effort between men and women (and likely across other differences as well).

To go back to my opening question, “Do women take as many risks as men?” I think they do. The trouble is that historically risk-taking has been framed so narrowly that it skews our perceptions. For example, the majority of studies that point to men having a greater inclination for risk-taking define risk in physical and financial terms. They don’t point to risks like standing up for what’s right in the face of opposition, or taking the ethical path when there’s pressure to stray — important risks that I’ve found women are particularly strong at taking. If these sorts of risks were fully accounted for in our business culture, would it balance the gender perception? I think it would.

I believe that the stories I chose for my book present a thoughtful, balanced approach to risk taking. Many women who have read the book have commented that the examples resonate regardless of gender. At the same time, I realize I missed an opportunity. The only way we’ll redefine professional risk-taking more broadly is to identify and tell more stories of successful female risk takers, balancing the male stories that currently dominate.

 

A Juicy Hands-On With The Facebook Omni-Gift Card

4 Mar

Facebook Card Jamba Juice

“Uh Facebook Gift Card?”, the Jamba Juice cashier said with a twang. “I don’t even know what that is.” But that didn’t stop her from ringing up my purchase with Facebook’s invasion of brick-and-mortar commerce. Facebook announced the card last month, and today I was one of the first to try it out. Here’s how it felt to swipe Facebook’s hopeful disruptor of the $100 billion US gift card market.

With what I’d call a “material hangover” from a Saturday night of stuffy wine bars and loose dance floors, my body awoke with a forceful request for something healthy. Luckily, I’d just received a Facebook Gift Card with a $10 balance for Jamba Juice from the Director of Facebook Gifts, Lee Linden. The co-founder and CEO of mobile gifting app Karma that Facebook acquired the day of its IPO, Linden wanted me to give the card a shot.

Facebook Gift Card EnvelopeThe Facebook Gift Card is designed to be a single slice of plastic that holds credits to multiple retail stores. Friends (who’ve already received the Gift Card slow roll-out) can go to your wall or the ‘Birthdays and Celebrations’ sidebar and select to send you $3 to $100 at one of the initial partners Target, Sephora, Olive Garden, or Jamba Juice. Rather than one big balance to spend at any of the stores, your balances at each business are kept separate.

Facebook is looking to earn a revenue share by making brick-and-mortar stores’ products and services easily giftable between friends. You might not think to go to OliveGarden.com and buy someone a gift card, and getting their address would be a pain. Facebook makes discovery and delivery of gifts easier through suggestions of what to buy people. Facebook is where people spend time online, it recommends you buy Gift Card credits for friends on birthdays and other occasions, and collect their addresses for you.

A few weeks ago I got a Facebook notification informing me of the present Lee sent me. A tap on my mobile phone opened a virtual greeting card with a personal message from Lee, a glossy photo of a Jamba Juice smoothie, and mailing address entry form for where Facebook should send my card. Soon my sparkly blue, graph diagram-covered pre-paid Discover card arrived in the mail, wrapped within some surprising fine print I’ll get to later.

Now back to this morning and my aching desire for nutrition. I went to Facebook.com/fbcard to check my balance and assure the $10 Jamba Juice credit was ready. Google Maps pegged the nearest location at a whopping 0.7 sunny San Francisco miles away, so I figured I’d forgo the Lyft and feel the whiskey seep out of my pores with a short run.

Facebook Gift Card Flow

A SWIPE FROM THE FUTURE?

Once at the front of the line I asked “Do you accept Facebook Gift Cards?” and produced the sky blue sliver. Neither cashier recognized it, but once they saw the Discover card logo on the back, they realized it was just like any other gift card, swiped it, and that was it. No need to sign or show ID. Stawberries Wild® Smoothie acquired.

I got a Facebook notification that my card had been used (good for security), and what my remaining balance was. After swigging the sugar-liquid, I tried throwing the employees a bit of a curveball. I went to pay for $3.50 in snacks with just $2.98 left on my Facebook Gift Card Jamba Juice balance. Rather than decline me, they just asked for the additional $0.52 in cash. Solid.

I asked if gift cards were easier or harder to deal with than credit cards or cash. The kindly server said they actually preferred cards because there’s no change or signature to deal with. Nice to know they weren’t secretly pissed at me for paying with my newfangled commerce contraption.

Facebook Gift Card PhotoOverall, the Facebook Gift Card worked without hassle, but the omni-card structure is certainly a bit foreign. People spend $100 billion a year in the U.S. on Gift Cards, and 60 percent of those are for specific stores. That means when they open their wallets and see a Target gift card, they know they have money to spend at Target. In contrast, nothing about the physical appearance of your Facebook Gift Card tells you where to spend it. You have to look up your balance online to see where you’ve got dollars to dole out. That might lead people to forget to use theirs.

From a customer happiness perspective, that’s not great. If I buy someone a Facebook Gift Card, I want them to spend and get enjoyment out it. From Facebook’s perspective, it’s a little gray. It would keep the balance, banking on what’s called “breakage” — gift cards that are bought but never redeemed, though they never expire. If you never spend your card, you probably wouldn’t buy one for anyone else or ask to continue receiving them.

TAKING THE SHOPPING OUT OF GIFTING

The Facebook Gift Card does have a few things going for it, though. A sizable chunk of gift cards aren’t bought online or at the actual retailer. They’re bought at the gift card stands of grocers and convenience stores. There’s not enough rack space for every business, so Facebook offers them a recommendation engine-assisted way to sell their cards. If a friend Likes the Olive Garden, credit there is what Facebook will suggest you buy them for their birthday, you classy cat.

Businesses have an incentive to sign up, and Facebook has big plans for partnerships. Buried in the fine-print that came in the mail with my card was legalese priming Facebook Gifts Cards for use at gas stations, hotels, and for car rentals along with retail stores and restaurants. It’s already got around 200 partners signed up to sell through Facebook Gifts.

Facebook Buy Gift Card

There’s some convenience for customers, too. If enough merchants signed on, a single Facebook Gift Card could replace cards from multiple stores and help you avoid a George Costanza exploding wallet situation. If you lose your card, you can also have it instantly replaced for free with all your balances intact. I was actually a bit annoyed that you’re currently not allowed to give yourself Facebook Gifts. I might have topped off the Josh of next week with another hangover recovery juice voucher to guilt him out bed. Some kind of added discount would have greased the wheels and is something Facebook might consider.

Facebook needs lots of people buying Gifts and Cards frequently to turn e-commerce into a serious money-maker. My hunch right now is that Facebook Gift Cards will be a muted success in the U.S., unless Facebook.com somehow becomes a top-of-mind place to buy gift cards. Getting pre-loaded cards sold at super markets and 7-Elevens could help. There’s also a big opportunity abroad where physically shipping goods gets costly really quickly, but sending cards is cheap and people are familiar with them for buying mobile phone minutes.

If Facebook Gifts and its card blow up, it will be because the real magic is the potential to take shopping out of gifting. It might not come off quite as genuine, but it eliminates the need to remember birthdays and special occasions, rack your brain for what a friend wants, browse endless e-commerce sites, and spoil the surprise by asking for their shipping address. Facebook provides the who, what, and how so you can focus on the joy of giving.

How to Have a Year that Matters

4 Mar

Let’s cut the crap. Life is short, you have less time than you think, and there are no baby unicorns coming to save you. So rather than doling out craptastic advice to you about Making!! It!! To!! The!! Top!!™, let me humbly ask: do you want to have a year that matters — or do you want to spend another year starring-slash-wallowing in the lowest-common-denominator reality show-slash-whiny soap opera of your own inescapable mediocrity-slash-self-imposed tragedy?

If (congratulations) your unquenched desire to have better than a smoking trainwreck of a so-called life exceeds your frenzied mania for spending another 365 days wallowing in a sea of junk-food wrappers, then — don’t worry, I’ll be gentle — here are a few tiny questions.

Why are you here? I don’t mean to induce a full blown heart palpitation accompanied panic attack filled existential crisis in you (or maybe I do) — so let’s keep it simple. This coming year: why are you (really) here? There are plenty of answers to this biggest of questions — but, no: all answers aren’t created equal. There are poor ones, which will probably lead to a long, dull, dismal, rainy Sunday of a year. And there are better ones — which just might begin to explosively unfurl a life that feels fully worth living. Allow me to break it down for you.

What do you want? Here are some perfectly valid answers, if tedious mediocrity’s the limit of your horizon this year: money, sex, power, fame, keeping up with the Kardashians. Here are some better answers, if a year in a life meaningfully well lived is what you’re after. To make a difference. To transform something that sucks. To create that which transforms. To build that which counts. To experience what’s true. To do stuff that matters.

How much does it matter? Here are some pretty good answers, if a snoozer of a year in a cavernous landfill of a life is what you’re after. To your boss, her boss, his boss, or their boss. To shareholders, to the markets, to “consumers.” Here are some better answers, if you want this to be a year that one day that, in a surprisingly short time, you don’t just remember, but that you still savor: to society, to humanity, to tomorrow. To the timeless spirit of furious impossibility that characterizes the art of human excellence — not just to the zombie vampire robots that make up the bulk of our beige, big-box, yawn-inducingly banal infomercial-for-dystopia of a so-called economy.

What’s it going to take? You don’t get to a life well lived using the tired capabilities and skills built to Farmville the cubefarm. You need to “use” not just your whole mind, but to learn to employ your whole being: mind, heart, soul, and body. If nothing less than a life worth living’s your goal, you probably need to nurture not just the so-called pseudoscientific skills of a sartorially power-suited spreadsheet jockey — counting beans, pillaging the townsfolk, sweetly stabbing your peers in the back, all the while slickly glad-handing your higher-ups — but the arts of empathy, humility, passion, imagination, rebellion, to name just a few.

Who’s on your side? A life meaningfully well lived isn’t a Western, and you’re not John Wayne (although I bet you, like me, look darn good in a cowboy hat). Rugged individualism is nice in theory, but the truth is: if you’re going to make a difference, you’re probably not going to make it happen all by your lonesome. So who are your mentors and allies, friends and peers? Who’s at your back, manning your sails, crewing your boat? Here’s a hint: if you look around and your boat’s empty, learn to lead. Challenge, provoke, inspire, connect — and then, harder still, evoke the best in people. For it is the best in us that, in turn, elevates our capacity to love; the truest currency of a life well lived. And so respect is earned — and love given — not just to those who pander, but those who matter.

Where’s your true north? If you’re going to live a life that matters, you need an ethical compass: a belief system with a true north that points toward values that are in some sense enduringly, meaningfully good. Lance Armstrong’s true north seems to have been trophies — not championships; and the result, I’d bet, is a life that now feels arid, empty, wasted. So what’s your true north? In what direction do you find the stuff that makes life “good”? Does your true north point to consumption, status, transactions — instead of investment, accomplishments, relationships? If it’s the former, I’d bet: a life well lived is going to remain as elusive to you as it’s been to Lance.

What breaks your heart? Follow your passion, we’re often told. But how do you find your passion? Let me put it another way: what is it that breaks your heart about the world? It’s there that you begin to find what moves you. If you want to find your passion, surrender to your heartbreak. Your heartbreak points towards a truer north — and it’s the difficult journey towards it that is, in the truest sense, no mere passing idyllic infatuation, but enduring, tempestuous passion.

What’s it worth? A life well lived isn’t partytime with the airheads at the McClubs in Ibiza. And here’s the inconvenient truth: it’s going to take more than the tired old refrains of hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance. It’s going to take very real heartbreak, sorrow, grief, and disappointment. Only you can decide how much is too much. Is it worth it? Aaron Swartz, who packed an astonishing amount into his short 26 years, was relentlessly persecuted by an overweening prosecutor — and tragically took his own life in part for it. Van Gogh, of course, famously died for his art. A life well lived always demands one asks of one’s self: is it worth it? Is the heartache worth the breakthrough; is the desolation worth the accomplishment; is the anguish balanced by the jubilation; perhaps, even, are the moments of bitter despair, sometimes, finally, the very instants we treasure most? There’s no easy answer, no simplistic rule of thumb. The scales of life always hang before us — and always ask us to weigh the burden of our choices carefully.

Sure, you might read all the above and mutter: “Duuude? Check me Broseph. All I really want is a mega-bonus, a lifetime membership to the VIP room, and the keys to a Maserati.” Welcome, then, to bootylicious mediocrity. For mediocrity isn’t the poor, hardscrabble immigrant cleaning the bathroom at the 7-11: it’s the lucky trust fund kid who could’ve, just maybe, lived a life worth living — and thinks a life worth living is a loft, a corner office, a sports car, and a designer coffee machine instead. All that stuff’s nice — but entirely besides the point. Of life. For the simple, timeless truth is: You’ll never find the rapture of accomplishment in mere conquest, the incandescence of happiness in mere possession, or the searing wholeness of meaning in mere desire. You can find them only — only — in the exploration of the fullness of human possibility.

Hence: every moment of every day of this year, and every year that follows, what I want you to map is the uncharted shore of potential: the capacity of life to dream, wonder, imagine, create, build, transform, better, and love; the infusion of the art of living into the heart of every instant of existence.

We’ve been taught to be obedient rationalists. And the rationalists say: there’s no magic in the world. But they miss the point. There’s a kind of quiet magic that each and every one of us is condemned to have in us, every moment of our lives: the facility to exalt life beyond the mundane, and into the meaningful; beyond the generic, and into the singular; through the abstract, and into the concrete; past the individual, and towards the universal. And it’s when we reject this, the truest and worthiest gift of life, that we have squandered the fundamental significance of being human; that the soil of our lives feels arid, featureless, fallow, a desert that never came to life; because, in truth, it has been. And so this almost magical facility you and I have, potential, is something like an existential obligation that we must live up to: for it’s only when we not just accept it, but employ it at its maximum, that we can reconcile ourselves not merely to regret, but with mortality; that we can escape not merely our own lesser selves, but the all-destroying scythe of futility; and come, finally, to find, at the end of the day, not merely time’s revenge on life, but life’s revenge on time: an abiding grace for both the fragility and the fullness of life.

I don’t pretend any of the above is revolutionary, or new, or anything less than obvious. Yet, the lessons of a life well lived rarely are: they’re simple, timeless truths.

So let me ask again. Why are you here? Do you want this to be another year that flies by, half-hearted, arid, rootless, barely remembered, dull with dim glimpses of what might have been? Or do you want this to be a year that you savor, for the rest of your surprisingly short time on Planet Earth, as the year you started, finally, irreversibly, uncompromisingly, to explosively unfurl a life that felt fully worth living?

The choice is yours. And it always has been.

The Secret To Connecting With People

4 Mar
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. ~ Ernest Hemingway

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

For a long time I didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to relate to. Being shy, I didn’t find myself in a lot of conversations with people I didn’t know, and when I did, I was uncomfortable. Bonds did form, deep ones sometimes, but it was always a product of circumstance. I made friends with people I was in class with or worked with, because some interaction is bound to happen in those places. But to actually form a relationship without the help of circumstances was something I had never experienced.

I’ve shed much of my shyness through deliberately speaking up more and other forms of comfort-zone-pushing, but I eventually made a discovery that really opened the floodgates for me. I see the potential for connection in just about everyone now; I no longer feel bound by differences of age, interests, cultures, or opinions.

The secret to connecting with people is this:

Always try to understand what people really mean when they speak.

It doesn’t sound like a huge revelation. Many of you are probably thinking that you already do that anyway. But chances are you don’t, at least not very well. Certainly we know what the other person is saying, but most of the time, we don’t particularly care for the topic, or if we do, our minds are already busy forming a response. Sometimes we take the liberty of finishing the person’s sentence, or even beginning one of our own before they finish. This is fairly normal behavior, at least in my culture, and as such, it isn’t considered terribly rude in most circles.

Next time you’re out, try watching an exchange between two people. In most conversations I witness, each person appears to clearly hold his own opinions as being of primary importance, and the other’s as being worth considerably less, though each might pretend otherwise. It’s not that we’re arrogant, it’s just human nature. Each person is usually waiting for their turn to talk, perhaps tossing in some polite remarks and nods so as not to appear rude.

However, things do flow more smoothly when one person’s opinion matches the other’s. That’s when real listening happens without any effort, and conversation is unhindered. But because of this human tendency to revere our own opinions, many people find they can only really connect with people who carry similar views. With friends and family, we’ve already established some common ground, so it’s easy to really communicate with them.

But that leaves only a small segment of the population with which we have the potential to connect. Most people will hold no interest for us. I think part of the problem is that we think that the other person’s message is what they say.

What they say, in terms of what words come out of their mouth, is just a tiny fraction of what they are communicating. The real message is not what they say. The real message is whyWhere are these words coming from? That why is what tells us who they are and what they value.

The speaker is rarely just trying to relay basic information to you. Almost always, they are speaking up because there is some visceral desire to express what they are feeling right now. Speech is always triggered by a passion, a worry, a judgment, a realization, or some other internal encounter with an emotion of some kind. If your friend suddenly brings up her job, it isn’t because she wants you to be well-informed about her situation at work, it’s because her job is on her mind and she wants to get it out of her mind. Respect that need and she will not only be grateful, but suddenly she’ll be much more likely to take an interest in what’s on your mind.

If you want to connect with people, make this your social mantra:

Always let the speaker be the star.

Whatever their performance is, whether it’s a story about something their kid is doing in school, a trip to Europe they’re planning, a complaint about what so-and-so said to them earlier — be the most respectful audience you can be. The chair they are sitting in, the doorway they are standing in, wherever they are — that’s their stage, their pulpit. Let them say their piece, no matter what you think of the story, or what you would do in their place.

Really, really listen to what they say, and recognize that they are saying what they’re saying because it is important to them. In every single thing every person says, they reveal what they value. When you can get a glimpse of what people value, you can see the humanity in them. And that is how humans connect: by understanding each other’s values. You don’t have to share those values, though you’ll certainly find you share something with everyone.

I am not into hunting. I have no interest in shooting a deer or a goose for fun. But I do know some who do, and in my more conscious moments, I can genuinely appreciate everything a friend tells me about hunting. The specifics of his anecdotes are not so important; it’s the glint of excitement in his eyes, and more importantly, the enthusiasm that swells in him when he realizes somebody is actually being receptive to his story. I reserve my judgments; there’s no need to batter anyone over the head with my own stances. There would be no communication at all if I did that. Judgments just get in the way and do neither party any good.

To simply know what it feels like to hold something dear, and understand that we all know that feeling — that means you can understand anybody. But only if you genuinely make a point of seeing where they’re coming from. Our failing is that we’re usually much more concerned with being understood than with understanding. Those who reverse those two priorities are very effective communicators and will never have a shortage of friends.

The Barrier

Distraction, in some form, is what typically prevents understanding. Distraction is letting your attention wander from the other person’s performance. It could be captured by what they’re wearing, a TV screen, a book in your hands, anything around you. But the most common place for it to go is into your own (the listener’s) thoughts. Most people are distracted by what they themselves would like to say. Sometimes they want to respond before the person is finished, other times they simply have their own opinion locked and loaded to fire off as soon as there is a break in the dialogue.

Forget what you want to say, just drop all thoughts about yourself and your interests, and let them speak their mind. Think of it this way: when you are listening, the most important thing in the world is to figure out where the other person is coming from. Make it your entire purpose on earth — for the thirty-seven seconds it takes for them to tell their little story — to understand what feelings are behind what they say. If, when they stop speaking, you still don’t understand where they’re coming from, ask a question.

All it takes is putting your own interests on hold until they are able to get their point across to you.

The habit of really listening to what someone is saying is a rare one. And the people who do it can connect with anyone. I’ve understood the value of being a good listener for a long time, but I didn’t really know what it meant to be one. I know now: it means to cherish other people’s desire to express themselves more than your own desire to express yourself. Really, just completely defer your interests for as long as it takes for you to understand them.

That idea might scare some people. Surely our own opinions are important too!

Relax. You don’t have to worry about being understood, and here’s why: when you make a point of dumping your own thoughts to make room for understanding, people are so grateful that you are trying to see their perspective, they’ll be happy to listen to you afterward. By then, what they wanted to say is no longer on their mind, so then they won’t be distracted by it while you are speaking.

In other words, take turns understanding each other, but insist on going first. Let the other person have the privilege of being the first one to be understood. The biggest distraction to understanding someone else is self-importance. Needing to say something means you have to be thinking about it, and thinking about it means you have very little mental capacity left for empathy. Free up yours, and it will free up theirs.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this.

That’s all anyone wants, to be understood. Give it to them. Give the greatest of all gifts, every time you have the opportunity. Unless the building is on fire, give yourself permission to let the speaker be the center of your universe, just for a minute. It won’t hurt, I promise. Forget what you were going to say. Forget how you might wish to respond. You can do that all later. Abandon everything else in the world for the few seconds it takes to let the other person finish their thought.

 

At first, you will probably experience some angst at the thought of abandoning what you were going to say. Drop it anyway, and see if your life suffers. (It won’t.) So what if you didn’t get to make the wisecrack you had saved up? So what if you don’t get to tell them about your upcoming trip to Europe?

Once you resolve to let all that baggage go, it’s actually a tremendous relief. It’s like dropping an armload of textbooks you’ve had held against your chest. You no longer have to struggle to keep track of your thoughts. You can safely let them all go. Let them drift away, unfinished and unfollowed. 99% of them never needed to be said anyway. And don’t worry, the truly important thoughts will be persistent enough to come back to you when nobody else is speaking. You will get your chance to make yourself understood, just don’t try to be first in line.

There is such a strong compulsion to make our own opinion known, that even the most courteous among us will often practically ignore what the person says, or even interrupt them. Most of the time the hurried remarks we do make are just little indulgences, self-important grabs at approval or admiration.

I know that I personally have a history of saying things for the sole purpose of sounding clever, or arousing the fondness of others. I built my whole identity on looking smart, for years and years. I didn’t know who I was without that approval, so I was constantly digging for it. It’s really just a bad habit, to grab at the little ego boosts those self-indulgent remarks provide. I would even call it an addiction, but that’s a whole other post. For now let’s just say many of us are very strongly drawn to seeking approval by pointing out certain things or telling certain stories, and it impedes understanding others considerably.

The truth is, your opinions probably aren’t that important. And neither are the other person’s. Opinions will come and go, they speak mostly to our emotional state at the time we declare them. There is usually very little logic behind them, just feelings. And that’s okay. There is a brilliant Zen saying: Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish opinions.  This is not a prescription for dismissing what the other person is saying, only for cherishing the human being behind the words, rather than the back-and-forth play of semantics and mental positions.

I’ll be the first to say I’m really not all that good at this yet.  I’ve been getting better and better at relating to people, but old habits do indeed die hard. But I now understand clearly where I went wrong so often, and I know what to do instead. The specific concept of letting others be the star only came to me fairly recently, and I’m astounded at the results so far. My friends and family suddenly became ten times more interesting, not to mention strangers, clients, clerks and passers-by. I no longer have that bubble of angst growing inside me when someone else is speaking, because I know I can safely drop whatever I was going to say. More and more I get to witness that wonderful sense of gratitude that washes over people when someone makes a genuine effort to understand them.

And when you do get your chance to speak, their eyes will be glued to you, and you’ll probably have the best audience you ever had. 

17 Types of Content That Google Will Eat Up

4 Mar

1. Interviews

Google rewards those who publish great content for their users. An easy way to publish such content is to interview experts within your industry and publish the interviews—which needn’t be done in person.

Check out this example from BrightLocal; the interview might have done by email, over the phone, or in person:

The benefits of interviewing experts are several: The experts would likely link back to you; your users will trust you because they trust the experts; Google will trust you if you have correct coding in place for them to see co-author citation.

You will benefit most if you use rel=author tags in your site and you ask your guest bloggers to add your site in Google+ as a site they contribute to. Watch this video tutorial on how to correctly code authorship markup.

2. Lists

People like to read lists, which are easily generated. They are also unique content that Google will love. All you need to do is express your thoughts on any sort of “top 10”:

 

 

Need help thinking of types of lists to create? Here are some ideas:

 

  • Google.com: To find past lists people have created, type this into Google.com: intitle:list intitle:[KEYWORD] “top 10”
  • Google Images: To find past visual lists people have published, type this into Google Images: intitle:infographic intitle:”top 10″ [KEYWORD]
  • Google News: To find lists large media outlets have published, type this into Google News: intitle:”top 10″ [list] [KEYWORD]
  • Google Blogs: intitle:”top 10″ [list] intitle:[KEYWORD]

 

3. Resource Centers

 

Wikipedia is No. 1 for millions of keywords because it is a resource that provides the majority of what people are searching for: trusted, organized information.

 

Google does not want you to create a blog and start “blogging” about keywords that you want to rank No. 1 for. No one reads that, and Google will not rank your blog posts No. 1. Instead of writing blog posts merely to publish keyword-rich content, think about creating a resource center.

 

What is a resource center? It is an educational section on your website that displays information in a way that encourages learning; you design it to “sell” your content.

 

Here is an example of a resource center (see the Web page):

Which would be more helpful to someone who had to file for bankruptcy in the next 30 days: Browsing through years of blogs posts to see whether Betty Blogger had created a post that answered his questions, or taking a few seconds to browse over her resource center? A resource center would provide more value to users and it would benefit them more quickly.

Google eats up resource centers, because more people link to them, share them, and spend time on them than they do on blog posts. Organize what you would have wanted to blog about into an educational resource center that you constantly update. Do that, and Google will reward you.

4. Social Content

This one is a no-brainer, but it’s often missed. Are you updating your Google+, Twitter, and Facebook account when you publish any of the 16 other types of content that is in this article?

When people write “what they are doing” just for the sake of updating their social account—merely because someone told them they should update at least once a day— it’s meaningless. No one is going to follow you on social media unless what you update convinces them that they will miss something you publish in the future.

The easiest way to gain real social followers who are potential customers is to prove to them that you are an expert. So create great content, and update your accounts when you publish that content.

5. Polls and Surveys

How many polls and surveys did you see on TV about the presidential election? People digest information when it is presented to them in this format:

For best results, spend the time to (1) poll/survey 800+ people; (2) display your results visually; (3) publish the results on your site; and (4) then reach out to media outlets with additional information, data, and graphics they can use. And example is my Twitter poll that eMarketer picked up.

If you don’t have time to meet polling standards (PDF), hire a company to do the poll for you. Remember, if you don’t spend them time and money needed to accurately poll a large enough group, highly valued media sites will not pick up the story and Google will not “eat up your content.”

6. Revisions/Updates

Wikipedia wasn’t built in a day; its content has been written, revised, updated, and revised again and again. So consider: Can the content you created last year on “topic ABC” be updated? Did new research on the same topic come out? Instead of creating a new blog post, why not revise the old one?

One of the easiest ways to update/revise content is to build and update links. Re-read your old content to see whether you’ve built new pages on subjects you mentioned in the original post. In the following example, perhaps you built a page on “American rock bands” and now you can link to it. Or, perhaps Weezer produced a new song and now you add that link to the original resource.

Taking that approach will help you create great content. Google loves fresh content that updates, and users like finding one great resource that answers their questions instead of having to browse and read 20 blog posts.

Regularly (every month or year, say) go back and update/revise and even merge content for that very reason.

7. Reviews

How can a local service-based business create great content that Google will love? Find popular products that people are interested in and create reviews.

For example, remember all those Olympic beach volleyball players who had that colorful tape all over their body? If you are a chiropractor or sports therapist, why not create a video review of the most popular kinesio tape?

How do you get a link from Time.com? How do you get a video to go “viral?” Have some fun with your content! Check out this iPad parody review.

8. Comparisons

If you actually compare something in a way that teaches, you can have great success with Google. Take, for example, the many Panda vs. Penguin illustrations that were created when the Penguin update came out. The one illustrated above convinced 71 root domains to link to it. Think Google likes that?

9. News

If you are one of the first to report a story, Google may reward you with a No. 1 ranking. Doing so need not be complicated. Just report on what is going on in your industry, and you might hit the jackpot.

But if you find straight news boring, make fun of the news instead. Mashable’s “7 fake hurricane Sandy Photos” had 451 websites linking to it and 173,000 sharing it! The photos weren’t even Mashable’s, but here are the social stats on that post:

10. Case Studies/Research

Case studies on clients you represent are interesting to read and time-tested; and if you did something extraordinary, people will share it. But what really works for making a case study go viral is when you “play around” or “test” a theory and then develop a case study based on the process you went through. Look at marketingexperiments.com to learn how they present their research.

11. Rants

Everyone likes listening to a logical yet passionate argument. If you don’t see a problem worth arguing about in your industry, you probably don’t know your industry well enough. Get upset, start writing, and publish; you’ll find that your blog post will get more comments than ever before. Remember, though, that you’ll receive both positive and negative reactions to your rant.

12. Tell a Story

More than ever, companies need to build a brand and reputation online. In 2013, if no one searches your name in Google, Google will say “you must not be popular.” (What an easy way for Google to tell how large a brand is!)

What is your company doing to build your brand? One way is to tell a story. I don’t mean fables; I mean authentic stories that motivate others to take action. Here are some story ideas:

  • What lessons you have learned
  • How you grew your business
  • What your failures were

Take some risk when writing or telling your story. Show your passion, conviction, and authenticity. Have fun sharing.

13. Predictions

Whether you like them or not, predictions are made with the coming of every new year. Take my guest-blogging prediction that problogger picked up. Website owners want to be the first to publicly say that something is going to happen. People want to read “year in review,” “predictions for 2013,” “predictions I made that came true,” “predictions that other people made that never came true.”

All of those are great content ideas that users and website owners love to read.

14. What Ifs

People eat up pessimistic “what if” questions that could affect them personally. If you are a chiropractor, write an article for parents on “What Happens to Kids Who Never Get Adjusted?” If you are a landscaper, you can write about “What If you didn’t winterize your…”

Such what-if ideas are easy to come up with if you are an expert in your industry. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, just copy others. Type into Google: intitle:”what if” [KEYWORD]

15. The Stupid and the Funny

Don’t underestimate the power of humor. And some of the best viral content is, well, stupid. But people live busy and stressful lives, so sometimes the best content doesn’t even relate to your business; it is merely funny:

Sometimes, the most links come from a series of silly or fake pictures. When hurricane Sandy hit, Mashable had a series of fake photos that got to the homepage of Yahoo after 173,000 people shared it. Do you think Google trusts a site after so many real people share content from it?

16. Contests

Don’t have time to write your own content? Create a contest and have other people publish content for you… The contests that Google loves are those during which multiple users upload and share unique content, such as Under Armour’s “Show Your Pride” contest, when hundreds of high schools showed their school pride by uploading photos and videos.

Don’t just create a contest whereby people register and someone wins a prize. Plan your contest so users have to produce and upload content, and then allow other participants to comment and vote to produce even more interaction that Google will notice.

17. Pricing

Many online businesses don’t like to publish their prices, but potential customers want to understand pricing; and, one way or another, they are going to find information on how much your services cost. Give them what they want, and they don’t find it out from a competitor first.

A simple “average pricing” on projects is a compromise: It doesn’t tell customers how much you charge, but it does answer their questions. You will have published informational content that you can promote:

Watch this video or this presentation to see other examples of content you can create, and click on the following infographic for a larger version:

 

SalivEight from VANEATS.ca

4 Mar

A delicious food adventure awaits you in Mt Pleasant just off of Main Street on 8th Avenue.  The crew at VANEATS.ca have teamed up with Eight 1/2 Restaurant and Lounge to bring us SalivEight.  Eight 1/2 is nestled on the ground floor a 2 story house that has a history all it’s own-from a brothel to housing a chocolate factory and shop in the space the restaurant now occupies then a coffee roaster-if these walls could talk oh the stories they would tell!  I made this visit with fellow featured reviewer and fellow contributor for EatinginVancouver.com Alvin Lee and we ordered up a couple different of menu items that are featured in the package.  The SalivEight dining package includes a beer flight for 2 that feature a couple great local micro breweries, a choice of apply from 3 options and choice of thin crust pizza, to be exact the menu breaks down exactly like this:

  1. Flight of Stanley Park Brewery Belgian Style Beer,
    • 2 “Ambers”, subtle toasted malt, lightly hopped, exceptionally clean finish
    • 2 “Bruns”, distinctive dried fruit aromatics, complex chocolate, roasted nut and malt biscuit
  2. Your Choice of Appie:,
    • “Tortilla Soup”, chicken, black beans, corn, avocado, tortilla crisps, mozzarella (gluten free)
    • “Baked Brie”, filo wrapped brie, local honey, sambal oelek, candied apple
    • “Dungeness Crab Cakes”, served with lemony yogurt and arugula
  3. You Choice of Thin Crust Pizza,
    • “8th Avenue”, hot calabrese, chorizo, banana peppers, and sautéed mushrooms
    • “Market Place”, roasted vegetables, goat cheese, torn basil, sundried tomato base
    • “Wild Smoked Salmon”, BC smoked salmon, creamy dill, capers, red onion, craisins

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The beverages for this package are are in the darker beer family but on our visit they were out of the darker of the 2 so we were given a Winter Ale, the amber selection was a honey scented brew that was quite enjoyable but my favorite was the Winter Ale for it’s smoothness.

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The first appetizer we wet with was the Dungeness Crab Cakes served with lemony yogurt and arugula salad.  These crab cakes were the 100% no filler kind, really light on the inside and crispy on the outside these were a pleasure to eat.  The lemon yoghurt sauce was tart with just the right amount of lemon, perfect with the crab cake.

The other appetizer we had was the Baked Brie-filo wrapped brie with local honey, sambal oelek, candied apple and local black berries.  I’m not sure where to begin with this,,,IT WAS AWESOME!  When I cut into this baby the cheese oozed out like a runny egg yolk-I quickly scooped it up with some bread and stuffed it in my pie hole.  The richness of the cheese with the sweet apple and tart sambal was a delicious combination, the filo added a nice crunch to the whole thing.  This is something that I would order to share, it’s rich and indigent and quite a bit for just one person to eat-event though I did eat most of it!

DSC_6346

The Market Place pizza was my choice and caught my eye as soon as I saw the menu.  This vegetarians dream is a combination of roasted vegetables like zucchini, peppers and mushrooms with the creamy goat cheese then topped with the torn fresh basil.  Flavor wise this pizza was rich with the cheese and the roasted veggies were really nice.

DSC_6328

The other pizza option we tried was the The 8th Avenue, a meat lovers dream.  The hot calabrese, chorizo, banana peppers, and sautéed mushrooms all work well together.  With the richness of the meat and cheese combined with the tart spicy punch from the pickled banana peppers this was a alright pizza.  Crust wise I had to eat this with a fork and knife, the pizza could have used a few more minutes in the oven to crisp up the crust.

Dining passes are on sale from February 6, 2013 to May 4, 2013 and cost a mere $15, I’d totally recommend sharing one pass between 2 people and maybe trying something else from the menu for a great meal for 2-I hear the Steak Bites are the house specialty.  You can get you SalivEight dining pass in the Flavor Town Deals section on the right side of my blog.

**Disclosure-My dining package was courtesy of VANEATS.ca but my opinions and experience are completely my own**

eight 1/2 Restaurant Lounge on Urbanspoon

BLOG IS A DIRTY WORD

1 Mar

Photo by Ashley Rowe

When I read Suzy Menkes’ “The Circus of Fashion” last week in T Magazine, my initial response was mild outrage. Mild because there was a deluge of factual evidence that I couldn’t argue–fashion week is becoming a circus and street-style elicited outfits may have something to do with that. Outrage, however, because reducing an entire generation of sprouting professionals (the bloggers) to the perpetual black (well, actually neon) sheep of fashion just doesn’t seem very open minded.

On the one hand, Menkes is right. Fashion is changing and it is doing so quickly. The indusry no longer belongs to the upper echelon dwellers exclusively and has made room for the amateur groupies to carve their own gold stud-laden paths. Sometimes these paths lead to interesting, innovative movements but sometimes too, they don’t.

On the other hand, Menkes is right again. Fashion week has become something of a circus. With a myriad of photographers moonlighting as paparazzi, waiting ambitiously to catch the familiar faces of the plethora of websites that have allegedly made them famous, it seems street style stars are our generation’s newest contribution to the phenomenon of reality star culture. The photos are inspiring, the clothes are magnificent and the conversation street style has incited is vital for the fashion dialogue–but this is only when authenticity bleeds through. In the current climate, I can understand why it might seem like “getting the shot” is less about the credibility factor and more about how far along the spectrum of crazy a subject can sway. But then again, style is also a function of personality. If the girl has got the proverbial balls to strap live vertebrae to her head and loves how she looks, well, good for her.

Where my opinion differs from Menkes’ rests in her perception of bloggers, both of the personal and street style variety. She writes that “the celebrity circus of people who are famous just for being famous” are most prevalently known for their blogs. It doesn’t seem quite fair to peg the bloggers that have actually become “famous” as such just for being famous. When I think Tavi Gevinson or Susie Bubble or Emily Weiss or on the street spectrum, Tommy Ton, I think recognition based on the merit of astounding work.

Lincoln Center and The Tuilerie Gardens are also mentioned–in the context, as infested zones depriving whatever might be left of the true spirit of fashion week. Most of the supremely sought after shows and hot tickets in town don’t really take place at the allotted Fashion Week Zones, though. And the denizens of those off-site shows are presumably there with a seat assignment for good reason, aren’t they? Lincoln Center has become something of a haven for aspiring bloggers who spend their fashion weeks ardently hustling (which is too, notable and worthy of respect) through the fountains in the name of recognition. But like all writers do not write with the same pen (how would Hemingway have felt if he were shepherded into a group among the likes of, say, E.L. James?), all bloggers do not type with the same keyboard.

And even if we did, it’s impossible to deny that the world is changing. Traditional fashion jobs are far and few. Maybe Menkes just doesn’t get it, which is fine. She doesn’t have to. But the hunger and supply for editorship hasn’t dwindled in spite of more unfortunate circumstances for the demand. There is a reason, after all, that Gen. Y–which is only becoming more important as we get older and begin pushing and stimulating our economy–has been dubbed the entrepreneurial generation. Many of us couldn’t land the jobs we wanted, so we just made our own. Sure, the training isn’t traditional but my generation is brilliant; we are over-educated and often over-qualified for the jobs that we do take. Tradition and innovation have little to do with one another and in the battle of success and relevance between the former and latter, the latter has proven itself quite victorious.

Maybe too, we should gear the flack more closely toward our environment. The consequences of living in 2013 are vastly different than they were in the 80s or 90s and even early aughts because of the hyper-speed at which we consume information. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and now Vine (which has made watching runway shows from the comfort of wherever 4G functions through the vantage point of showgoers possible) are not going to disappear. They’re just going to grow, and advance, and continue obstructing the boundaries of privacy until the residual backlash starts and we’re forced to recoil, hungry for the same brand of nostalgia that Menkes recalls.

And I really do understand where she is coming from. She is the rare fashion partisan who has subsisted long enough to observe and shrewdly, unapologetically comment on the evolution of fashion week and that which occurs outside the velvet ropes. Noting the previous formula as one that worked, how could she possibly accept the democratization of something so historically exclusive with overwhelming positivity? This is my generation, my vocation, my moment that she is reprimanding, and I, too, have a sincere problem with the notion that front row squatting may be based less on excellence in trade and more on social following density.

But what upset me most about the piece wasn’t even really her fault–it is the cynicism and skepticism that has made a home for itself in the field of blogging.

Last week, because of a comment on my favorite beauty product (which I have been purchasing–not being gifted–every two months for the last three years,) and the response to it, (“we get it, you’re sponsored by X,”), I found myself wondering if we, the bloggers, have entered an era where we can’t like anything without having our motives questioned.

Yes, I concluded. Unfortunately we have.

It has always been the subjectivity of fashion blogging that resonates so well. The raw portrayal of an unedited opinion will likely always command ample attention but there are only really a handful of bloggers who have been able to canon true influence and respect. It is at the point where readers can smell the sponsorship that integrity gets lost. And in this day and age, it seems that sprouting blogs are founded on principles of self-aggrandizement.

I think that the forebears of blogging are to blame.

It’s a standard that we set. In a profession so new, where the thick is run by fresh indwellers trying to figure it out themselves, it is only the trial and error formula that can set real rules. We never should have accepted gifts in the first place. We shouldn’t have bragged about the free trips, and cool events and recognition from our industry heroes. We’ve painted a picture portraying the circumstances of blogging that is inaccurate.

But like in everything else, Darwinism will always prevail. The strong will continue to survive and the weak will eventually begin to weed off. The question is, what will make us strong? It seems like the blogging landscape must tackle some serious change. We as a collective elicit the mockery (no matter how arguable it might be) that we garner and the puddle of cynicism and skepticism that has manifested around us exists only reactively.

I thought it was important to speak to the points made in The Circus of Fashion because it isn’t evenhanded to abate our influence, but in spite of that, this question should be canvassed: how can we really assume that we will cull the respect we think we deserve if we don’t even respect our own brands?