Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Honk if you're human!

I read a great short piece in Wired this month by Josh McHugh based on Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us).

The book basically argues that our traffic problems are a microcosm of the inefficiencies that rule our behavior. He suggests that, for example, data packets have little difficulty maneuvering their complex highway. Why? Because they operate out of interest for the entire system. In Vanderbilt's words, "The fundamental problem is that you've got drivers who make user-optimal rather than system-optimal decisions."

Of special interest, he says the drivers who speed down the merging lane and duck in at the last second are actually helping the overall efficiency of traffic. So next time someone cuts you off from the merging lane, give them a smile and a thumbs-up instead of the finger.

This thought made me consider the little inefficiencies that can keep me short of my best.

What do you think of Vanderbilt's metaphor?

Photo Gracias: Nrbelex.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The only object in life is to grow.

"Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow." - Margaret Fuller

Every once in a while, I come across a quote that I can't let go of. Such is the case with the above quote from Margaret Fuller, a writer from the early 1800's. It's not hard to apply this thought to your own life, as this simple thought can take on various meanings.
I think this quote is very applicable to social media in PR/Communications. When discussed, many people regard the social media phenomenon as a passing fad or worse, a trivial waste of time. The early adopters are upset because they can't exactly explain why this new world is so important for others to discover. I offer this simple plea to those who are still skeptical - social media is personal growth.
For me, every step of the way has been very challenging and very exciting. Sure, it's fun to tell your friends that you have a blog - but guess what? It's hard work. It requires a shift in your thinking and the way you process information. But, for me as a writer at heart, it has been a wonderful revelation. Also, when I worked for a newspaper, I felt very constrained by style and editors - but there's no editor in the blog world. Your readers decide if they like your style and content.
I've also ventured into other avenues, including social bookmarking(Delicious, Digg), network creation/management(Ning), microblogging(Twitter,Plurk), social media aggregation (FriendFeed) and unique animals like Jott and Mosio, to name a few. Each adventure has been just that, and each has exposed me to a world of new people and new ideas that I never would have been exposed to under normal circumstances.
So, dear reader. Why do you read books? Why do you have dinner with interesting friends? Why do you go to professional conferences? Why do you engage with the arts? You do all of these things to learn, and to grow. So, if you're not out there, get out there. If you are, you have one more reason to give those who doubt the value of this new medium.

Photo Gracias: Christopher Robin Baker.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Business, Casual, Success.

You can learn a lot from a t-shirt company - Threadless. At first glance, Threadless appears to be like any other hip t-shirt company, but look deeper. This once-small company has ridden their innovative customer strategies all the way to the bank. There's a great article in this month's Inc. going into more depth about Threadless.
Here's the business model, quick-and-dirty like: graphic designers submit t-shirt designs, users vote on designs they like, "winning" designs get produced, graphic designer makes money and gets a couple free shirts. And, oh yeah, Threadless cashes in too.
Companies are beginning to get the concept that loyal customers are as good or better than a robust R&D department. That said, many are not good at harnessing their customers innovations after asking for them. It's more about PR, and less about real innovation.
Why are everyone from corporate executives to MIT professors paying attention? Here's why Threadless is so special:
1. They pay attention to the attitudes and needs of their customers. The customers are a large part of the reason Threadless has refused to market in large department stores.
2. The experience of their site is as important as the product being sold. In other words, the active Threadless community is a world unto itself - as if t-shirt sales are secondary.
3. They took the idea of graphic designers sharing quirky, fun or artsy designs in an open environment and made it marketable. The sad truth is many talented individuals are using their skills for corporations, or worse, totally shelving their skills. Threadless has become somewhat of an "open mic night" for graphic designers.
What other great examples have you seen of customer-based R&D?

Thanks to trickyech for the photo.