Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Social Media and the News

As someone who wrote for my high school newspaper, witnessing the decline of the newspaper in the United States has been disturbing. Chicago is one of the few major cities that still has two daily newspapers. But with all of the forced retirements and buyouts of its journalists and columnists, the quality has declined substantially. However, I still feel that newspapers are important and offer its readers (and citizens of towns everywhere) an important check against corruption in government and business.

With the recent deaths of Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays and the demonstrations in Iran, social media has quickly emerged as an important tool for news distribution. I've heard many discussions about many people first hearing of Michael Jackson's death on Twitter before it was confirmed on the news. While I learned about Michael Jackson from my local radio station, I learned about the death of Billy Mays on Twitter from an unlikely source: @michaelianblack, a comedian and former cast member of one of my favorite television shows, NBC's Ed. Here's his RT: "Now Billy Mays? Increasingly less famous celebrities are dropping like flies: I could be next!"

I really don't know what is next in the world of journalism and media, but I will continue to embrace these social media tools as best I can. One thing is certain: if you receive a Tweet from me while I am on vacation, it was from an impostor.

I wanted to conclude with a small tribute to Billy Mays. In a previous job as an account executive at a direct response television ad agency, I spent considerable time doing competitive research on other products on the market. Much of this research included watching commercials featuring Billy Mays. While I was never a big fan, I have to admire his energy and ability to sell product. Hopefully, social media won't make the pitchman obsolete. In the meantime, enjoy this You Tube video I found...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Would Your Mentor Do?

I was perusing the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly when I stumbled upon a quick writeup on actress Amy Adams who is listed as a "must sizzling star." She has a movie coming out later this summer called Julia & Julia which costars Meryl Streep. In the piece she reveals, "When I am in a hard scene, I always go, 'What would Meryl do?' Whether she's there or not, she is my invisible mentor."
This brings to mind an exercise that I first read about in Michael Michalko's Thinkertoys. This "Board of Directors" exercise involves several steps:

1. Select three to five people you admire. Although Michalko specifically mentions business movers and shakers, they could include writers, artists, athletes or even family members.

2. Get photos of your Board and pin them on your wall.

3. Research your heroes. This means reading their biography, autobiography, news clips, quotes, etc.

4. Take notes. Look for ways your heroes overcame an obstacle and anything you find interesting about their lives and how they solved problems. Keep these notes in a file that is easy to refer back to.

5. When you encounter a problem or challenge, consult your Board of Directors. Think of ways that your mentor overcame these problems and challenges and apply them to your life.

I'm sure many of us already do this exercise already, although less formally. For example, when I first joined Toastmasters nearly five years ago, there was an excellent speaker at the club who told us about the secret to his success - practice. He revealed that he practiced each speech more than 30 times before he delivered it to our club. For me, this was important to know.

As someone who took improvisation classes and often had an, "I'll wing it" attitude, I realized that I would need to put in a lot of work and preparation just to get competent as a speaker. While I am still working to become the best speaker I can be, I still remember the wisdom he shared with us even though he is no longer at the club.

Who are your Board of Directors? What have they taught you? How are you applying their wisdom to your life?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

DIY Learning, Part 2

Thanks to new blog buddy Michael Plishka at ZenStorming, I was made aware of another DIY learning opportunity...The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has posted free lecture notes, exams and videos on its MIT OpenCourseware site. Some of these courses include architecture, engineering, science and technology, management and the humanities.

I have only begun to poke through all of the courses, however one has attracted my attention: Dynamic Leadership: Using Improvisation in Business check it out here. Having taken a year's worth of improvisation classes a decade ago, I am aware of the magic of improvisational theater. In many ways, improv is not about theater or trying to make people laugh. It is a philosophy, a way to approach life. I plan to explore this topic in future posts, so stay tuned.

In any case, the key word involved in do-it-yourself learning is do. Sometimes, I am better at accumulating books than I am at reading and applying the ideas in them. I am working at this. But like anything important, learning is an ongoing process.

As much as I like the song, school is never really out...

Photo courtesy Photos8.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You Are Needed More Than Ever

A few weeks ago I went to a small, local storefront theater in my neighborhood and saw a play. For more than a year, I have passed this theater on my way to work and had been meaning to check out a show there. Personally, one of my favorite things about living in Chicago is the small storefront theaters. Yes, Wicked and Jersey Boys will attract many more tourists into the city, but my heart is with the small theaters. I've had many memorable experiences seeing small productions of some great plays. Ironically enough, I can even remember seeing Camus' The Stranger in a small church not far from Wrigley Field.

The theater in my neighborhood had two rows of seats, approximately 30 total, and wasn't more than twenty feet from the front of the stage. Unfortunately the turnout was sparse and there were only about eight of us. Before the show, I spoke with a woman selling tickets at the door and she indicated that the theater was doing fairly well, but the last two productions had been less successful. Perhaps this is due to the specific productions, but more than likely it is due to the economy.

My conversation with the woman at the door made me realize something important: we are all needed now, more than ever. If there is something you care about deeply, whether it be your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, a nearby church, the independent record store you love to visit, or that charity that you feel passionate about, your support is more important than ever.

In many cases, funding from the government is drying up. The public radio station in Chicago, WBEZ, has changed its pledge strategy. In the past it would ask listeners to pledge a dollar a day or $365 for the year. Today, it asks for $20 and indicates that if everyone could pledge that amount they would be in good shape.

Now more than ever, our support is needed.

While much of this support involves money, there are plenty of things we can do to support the organizations and causes that we feel strongly about. This includes:
  • Volunteering your time - perhaps you can lend a hand at a special event such as a fundraiser
  • Volunteering your service - do you have skills (e.g. sales, money management, leadership) that can help?
  • Your presence - money usually speaks the loudest, but sometimes your mere presence is a vote of support for the organization/cause you care about

I hope to get involved by helping promote the next play that is running at the theater. While I do have some public relations experience, I am learning about the effectiveness of social media. This volunteer opportunity can help me learn more about social media while helping promote the theater.

How about you...what places, groups and organizations do you feel passionate about? How can you help?

Photo by Anna Cervova

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend Musical Diversion: 2009 Chicago Blues Festival

Nothing says summertime in Chicago like the Chicago Blues Festival. The 2009 Festival did not feature as many big names as last year when B.B. King headlined, but delivered all the goods that blues fans were looking for. I was able to attend two days of the festival this year and here are a few highlights in pictures.

With the recent death of the Queen of the Blues, the 2009 Blues Fest started out on a somber note. A tribute board was created in her honor...

By late in the day Sunday, the board was filled up...

One of the highlights included guitar legend David Honeyboy Edwards singing "Sweet Home Chicago on the Mississippi Juke Joint stage on Sunday afternoon...

Another of the highlights included Big Jack Johnson who played the mainstage in the evening and the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage (pictured below) in the afternoon. As you can see, Big Jack Johnson wears some big yellow shoes...

Inevitably, every year I'm blown away by a blues musician that I've never heard before. On Sunday, that musician was original Fleetwood Mac guitar player Jeremy Spencer. His melodic slide playing was a nice complement to Big Jack Johnson who proceeded him on the mainstage. Spencer was followed up by headliner Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who grooved with some 1970's retro soul. Ms. Jones put on a dance clinic as her high energy performance whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

It is worth noting that the Chicago Blues Festival is wheelchair accessible and one of the more memorable moments for me was watching a gentleman in a wheelchair dancing to the music. On the side of the mainstage, interpreters provided sign language with as much feeling and emotion as some of the musicians.

All in all, summer is off to a great start thanks to the Chicago Blues Festival.

To read last year's Bluesfest review click here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

DIY Learning

As I continue on my job search, one thing that I've been seeing a lot of in job descriptions is the old "MBA preferred, but not required" line. As someone with a Bachelors Degree who is interested in furthering my education, I have wrestled with the thought of getting my Masters Degree or an MBA. I even went as far as attending an MBA fair a few years ago. But the thing that has stopped me from proceeding is not desire, but money. According to Forbes Magazine, the cost for an average two-year MBA program is approximately $100,000.

In his book Small is the New Big, Seth Godin makes a case for not attending business school and getting an MBA. Of the three reasons to go to business school, "the third (and least important reason) to go to business school is to actually learn something. And this is where traditional business schools really fail. The core curriculum at business schools is as close to irrelevant as you can imagine. If you and I were trying to create a series of courses that would all but guarantee that, upon graduating, students would have no useful knowledge about how to do business in the new economy, today's business school curriculum would be a great model for us."

Coincidentally, Seth Godin makes a few suggestions for unemployed college students wishing to attend graduate school in his blog today.

There is a great amount of debate as to whether getting an MBA is worth it. Many will swear by it, while others may have a different story or experience. There are plenty of statistics that will defend either side of the argument. For the time being, I will not be pursuing an MBA. However, I will be intensifying my own education.

One web site I admire is The Personal MBA, which was founded by Josh Kaufman. According to its manifesto, The Personal MBA (PMBA) is designed to help you educate yourself about the world of business for a minimal cost...essentially the cost of the books. It argues that, it is the knowledge contained in these business books that gives you the tools and mental models to become educated about the business world. It also admits that it is not the books alone that will make an impact. The PMBA offers its users the opportunity to discuss these books in community forums and local communities.

I was intrigued to also read the list of recommended books, many of which I have read or have purchased. I will further investigate the books that I am less familiar with.

But ultimately, this DIY education is up to each of us. It assumes that we have the motivation and commitment to make learning a priority - to sit down and actually read these books and take notes and/or underline important points. It also means taking what we have learned and actually applying it to our lives.

Personally, I am determined to not let any financial limitations stop me from learning and professional development. In other words, I may not have made a financial commitment to further my education, but I have made a personal commitment.

In the past few weeks I have spent considerable time reading some interesting business, career and self-improvement books. I will be reviewing some of these books in future posts.

What are you doing to further your education? Are you ready to do it yourself?

Photo courtesy Photos8.com

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Naked Networking

There are a lot of people out there who find networking to be a difficult and uncomfortable task. At times, it can feel like a combination of speed dating, ego stroking, auditioning and interviewing. While I have never been a master networker, I feel I am improving at this important skill. A couple weeks ago, I attended a networking seminar and attended two networking events, but I broke a big networking rule: I did not have any business cards to pass out.

While I would never recommend anyone to network without business cards (let me tell you, I felt naked without them), sometimes its better to just do it than use it as an excuse to not attend. I don’t regret attending these events without my business cards for one moment because I met some very interesting people and learned some important things.

For instance, I learned that you can order “free” business cards from VistaPrint or very professional-looking cards from Staples for a minimal price that will be ready for pickup in four hours. I was able to pick the brain of a gentleman who has created his own business that helps organizations utilize new technologies and social media. I spoke with a woman who is starting a graphic design and web design business who shared some tips about the best way to switch my blog to WordPress.

I also met other interesting people including a woman with a similar career background as mine who has transitioned into a successful financial planner. Listening to her story was inspiring and motivating for me. I met a marketing manager who worked for a company that was a client of mine at my first advertising job. We shared some ideas and challenges that are part of that business. I met a gentleman that was seeking feedback about how to market a new product that he was trying to launch. We exchanged ideas and discussed a few strategies that he could use.

Networking is a dance of give and take, but probably the best thing you can do when you network is to listen. Yes, we all may have an agenda or a reason to attend a networking event, but we are there to listen, learn and help.

In addition to listening and having business cards handy to pass out, here are a few additional tips that will make your networking more successful:

- Have a quick 30 or 60 second elevator pitch ready. Ideally this introduction of yourself will state what your reason for attending the meeting (Is it to find a job? Are you looking for information? Are you looking to hire someone?)

- Make sure your name tag hasn’t fallen off or is upside down (like mine was on several occasions). Better yet, write something memorable such as “Joe the Real Estate Guy” on your name tag if you happen to work in real estate.

- Be willing to offer help or any suggestions to people you meet. If you forget something or think of something after your conversation, you can easily shoot them an email later.

Networking can be scary and tiring at times, but whether you have business cards or you are naked (without business cards), when it is done with the right attitude it can be a rewarding experience.

What are some of your favorite networking memories?