Archive for December, 2010

Leadership and Education: friends & The American Scholar

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The week between holidays is a pleasant, perhaps, even a charming one for me. This sensation may have begun with one that I spent on Saipan and Guam in 1978. Probably being 26 years old had something to do with such foundation.

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Once that the bustle of Christmas is past, I reflexively consider what occurred this year and what I’d like to see occur and reoccur next year. The feeling is not about resolutions; it’s more of a sense that my life or the time of my life is being reloaded or refilled as in ‘here’s another 12 months divided into four seasons punctuated by several holidays and anniversaries including birthdays.’ I look forward to tennis season, our spring break vacation, the end of school, the July 4th picnic, my birthday, the fall and the march to the end of the year. So little of my anticipated fun and joy revolves around my profession even though I enjoy and appreciate the nature and benefits of my work. Alas, it’s called work for a reason.

Over the holidays, we’re visited by friends whom we knew as children. The pleasure of these associations is that one can be a part of their lives without the worry for their lives. Kind of like faux grandparents. Does one ever stop worrying about the future of one’s own children or the nature of the relationship that one has with our children? Through these 3 or 4 extended relationships am I able to see a little clearer myself as a person, a parent and an incomplete being. I offer like gratitude to friends a little older than these of college age. These are the ones who develop iPhone apps for Tessa or who serve in the Navy and are stationed in the area. As they prepare for their first careers after the service or adopt the pregnancy and parenting responsibilities, I observe how little choice that we genuinely have in our lives. Of course, we’re all fantastically fortunate to be born Americans and we really have a lot less choice about the course of our lives that we imagine or are led to presume. This notion can be comforting.

I was drawn to these essays recommended by David Brooks because they address the predicaments of these two groups of my friends: those in and about to finish their formal educations, including my elder son, and those who are about to conclude their naval service and are interested in how their leadership training will apply to the civilian sector that they are about to join. Some have prints in both camps as they are instructors at the large, perhaps even elite universities in our area.

I perceive an urgent need (join the club, you say) for fundamental change in how we manage our communities and environments. I am mystified as to how this could occur with any sort of pace and purpose in any frame of reference resembling a lifetime. So, I am drawn to thinking about leadership and education particularly when the examples touch on my own experiences. Mr. Deresiewicz’s essays attract me in both of these areas. Reprinted is what I told my friends about them. I recommend them to you.

Ahoy,

Hope that the holiday stand-down serves you well. Amidst the snow and calm, I read several of the essays recommended recently by David Brooks in the NY Times in his annual Sidney Awards. And the more recent essay lead me to another by the same writer, William Deresiewicz, and both relate to our own Academy educations and to the teaching responsibilities that several of you have or still enjoy.

The essay on Solitude & Leadership was delivered in a speech at West Point, aka our Military Academy, in late 2009 and reformed as a written piece in the past spring. In my work, I often speak with clients about the business value of social media and what sorts of leaders are required as technology diffuses their familiar command and control structures. For example, in 2000, the manager was the employee’s #1 source of information. In 2009, the manager fell to 6 of 10 with peer networks, internal and external, assuming the top spot. I enjoy speculating about the positive potential of new technologies as I hope that Playstation is helping our 15 year old more than it harms him and observe from my perch in the home office that way too many of my friends and colleagues have too little time for expressed needs and interests, including health, community and their professions. Some days, I wonder if a stagnant economy affording less for the group may not have positive, unintended benefit for the individual (remind me about this statement if I am laid off). I pass this along as I find atypical the conjunction of WD’s principal themes.

Being impressed with the S&L essay, I found one that WD wrote in the fall of 2008 just prior to the Bust of ’08 on the Disadvantages of an Elite Education. Living in an super-charged educationally elite community (my benchmark is that we know or are acquainted with seven couples, both spouses of which are MDs! Neither of us is a doc nor do we really revolve in such circles), I sometimes wonder how Academy grads and Duke grads – or similar – compare in their capabilities to lead our nation in whatever may be their chosen professional fields. Maybe my curiosity is the equivalent of the recurring question ‘does the nation really need academies of any sort i.e. Naval, Military or Fuqua, or do less specialized programs produce equal benefit at reduced cost?’

As you have experience with each of his essay topics, I pass along.

http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/

Hope to see you often in 2011.

Christmas Eve Cocktail Party

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Fellow Brumalians,

Regardless of the reliability of the sun, we’re hosting our recurring Christmas Eve cocktail party. It’ll be a simple, polytheistic affair and probably dark outside which might be helpful for navigating over here.

Symbols and Signs
Date: 24 December (10th month on the ancient calendar)
Location: Our home Near Blue Devil University (hmm?!)
Time: 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm. Moonrise will be 9:04pm if this helps.

Please reply if you can celebrate Yule with us.

Confidently perplexed by it all,
Christopher ‘Odin’ Perrien
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A gift to know what is your purpose.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Curious that it is called a Tease. Nonetheless, intent is clear.

Making cents of my media & entertainment bills Pt 3

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Well, well. It pays to ask. So, my cable bill is about to increase from $133.18 to $134.46 because of the munificent infrastructure improvements touted by the cable provider. Can’t wait. We have the basic cable package of 75 channels of whatever you’re not in the mood for watching or maybe you haven’t seen all of the terrific Andy Griffith re-runs these 50 years since initial broadcast. Shouldn’t there be a show combining CSI and Home Shopping? This would save broadcast bandwidth, in my opinion, by combining the these insatiable channel hoarders. Something entitled QVC: WhoBuysThisStuff!? where a team of sweet and exhausting bon-bon queens research each week what actually happens to the delivery of the packages that are purchased in a fury (inside scoop: nearly half are never opened. You can look it up). They grill the recipients about their genuine intentions (“you just like to hear your voice on air, don’t you”) and what they are plotting in case that Suzanne Somers really does come over for a pink, stirrup track pants and squirrel skin purse make-over day. We also have the 10 mega-bit of Turbo Road Runner with Power Boost (10mbRRTw/PB). Of course, any service that requires such a lengthy description means that you’re receiving just the opposite. Probably the Wile Coyote Plan is what I’m looking for.

I registered on-line to research my cable options figuring that I could do as well as the call center rep. with a keyboard and internet access. After this tribulation, I learned from the Call Me Know rep. who is required to complete my transaction is authorized to help only new subscribers and not Shelf-Life such as me. Oh well, just another useless log-in and password to forget.

I was transferred to Kevin in the local, aka Durham, NC, office who reviewed my bill. ‘What else does he know about my viewing habits and can I pin the blame on our fifteen year old?’ I wondered (I’ve never watched the Kardashians, sir). I explained my desire to reduce my info-tainment expenses.

First Offer: High Definition Cable + 10mbRRTw/PB + Internet Phone Service Anywhere for the same new price of $134.36. Not so interesting as we have too many mobile phones and a Verizon land-line required by my day job. Murmur. Negotiations not going anywhere. “While you’re looking, Kevin, I just got Apple TV,” I offered to fill the void of our conversation. “How’s that? he asked.” “Really good,” I replied, “can stream movies from iTunes or my iPhone or my iPad or Netflix.” “Netflix only costs $8 per month for unlimited streaming movies.”

Offer Two “Check this out. For an additional $1.50 per month, you can have the complete Premium Package of 500 channels and 50 HD channels plus music,” he replied. “I can program that to your cable box right now. Amazing what you can have for just $1.50 more!” “YEEES!” I shouted silently as though I had scored an Issac Mizrahi handbag just before time ran out.

OK. So, I called to reduce my cable bill and fell for the upsell to another service. What I have now, aka Offer Two, is about what I had two years ago (I downsized then and miss the Tennis Channel) and for $20 per month less. Now I can watch the Tennis Channel through the winter and observe how shopping is done in other galaxies amidst my 500 channels. This experience, of course, confirms that competition is good for the consumer. A tip of the cap to our device in the bedroom, the tiny Apple TV box, that scared the big cable monopolist.

Tomorrow, I will wean myself of the $20 per month Netflix fee and register for the streaming only service.

12/23 update: we decided not to drop the 3 NF disks per month at $19 as their Streaming Service does not have a full range of films yet, meaning the complicated and usually interesting shows that Tessa uncovers such as In Treatment and all things British.

The Time Warner Cable up-sell turned out to be a $12 reduction in my monthly bill, a result of three trips to the TWC office for the correct cable box and cables. I admit that the phone support of TWC is vastly improved over two to three years. The across-the-counter experience resembles too much the DMV & TSA dispiriting transactions. Even though TWC is a local monopoly, their revenues are constrained resulting in employees from the lower end of the pay scale. The line in the store was 20 deep at 3:15 yesterday as a foreign family tried to interpret their media options in one window (finally the gent for whom the translations were being done, spoke directly to the cable agent in English. That was a hallmark of frustration!). In the other window, a young woman negotiated with the young man across the counter about what could she afford since she cannot afford what she has. He was quite helpful amidst his inquiries of her Christmas season and related plans. The rest of us waited in resigned amusement at the absurdity of the occasion. One is so happy to get away that one does nothing to improve the matter – just like exiting the airport. Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty…… Might have even tried MLK’s patience.

Somehow, when I traded my hdmi cable for the needed five prong cable, I was informed that I was only set for 4 HD channels and not the 50 promised and when she upgraded my service to 50, I had to be put on a 12 month special- which was not mentioned to me on the phone last week. And the 12 month special reduced my bill to $122.00 per month.

Re-cap: 5 days, 3 calls to customer service, 3 trips to customer service at the mall (one due to my error) later, I increased my channels including HD service while reducing my annual cable bill by $144.00.

Conclusion: monopolies are unsatisfying for all, including the employees of the monopolist. Health care fixers beware. Health care recipients be more aware. I’d go with Apple TV and drop cable completely if I could find an alternate Internet provider. Kind of the way that I feel about my land line. If I were more confident in my cell signal, I’d drop the line-line for sure.

Dept of All’s well that ends well: first program on my new cable box was watching Federer play Nadal in an exhibition match in Switzerland.

Designed to be built, not designed to cost.

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

My mother nearly despised the garish looks of American cars in the early 1960s. After all, she traded in her green Lark, made by Studebaker, for what could have been the first FIAT sold in New Orleans (we really got to know the dealer’s repair shop on Canal Street).

Who wouldn’t prefer the statement of even an Eldorado or a Oldsmobile Rocket 88 to the homogeneous appearance of nearly all cars today which remind me of upscale Trabants.

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The demise of Detroit is well documented and particularly so in David Halberstam’s The Reckoning. John Kenneth Galbraith’s review. The essence is that the car guys, designers such as Chuck Jordan, who passed-away yesterday, lost control or stature within their companies and industries to the likes of Robert Mcnamara and his Whiz Kids, of which Les Aspen was one by the way. Quantitative Analysis and MBOs gone mad.

I’m sure that Chuck Jordan admired Steve Jobs as both share Chuck’s opinion of focus groups and brand managers etc: “A good designer doesn’t need Mr & Mrs Zilch from Kansas telling him what 2 do.” A bit harsh on the Jayhawk state and accurate in the context of asking strangers to imagine something that they’ve never seen before, ie a graphical user interface.

What will rise from the ashes of our automotive industry is yet to be determined. But let’s not put the cost-accountants and the financial wizards in control of our banking and investment industries.

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Social Media and Financial Institutions: Facts, Findings & Recommendations

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Smoke-Signals6

As compiled by a colleague at IBM Research. Offer to refer you if you are interested in source documentation. I especially agree that these communication techniques are widely ignored by established businesses; maybe because they seem to lessen traditional organizational controls. May the best methods win.

Facts
■About 30% are following their bank on a social networking site
■of those who are following 2/3rds are male, however female activity
is growing significantly faster so this will level out
■of those who are following 2/3rds earn $100K+
■significant age differential
♦18-30 years most active
♦31-49 less active
♦50+ least active
■Websites, social media and financial social networks are bringing
much greater transparency to consumers as they learn about and buy
financial products from providers. This increasing transparency
places consumers in the driver’s seat in their financial services
relationships.
■The financial services marketplace is evolving from a one-to-one
relationship between customer and bank, toward an environment where
multiple financial partners will influence customer choices.
■Understanding the workings of a community will be more about
ethnography and human behavior than about technology issues.
■For Gen Y – order of web visit volume: Facebook, Search, E-mail,
Porn (traditional distribution search then porn)

Key Findings
■Use of social networking still in its infancy and few financial
institutions use it strategically
■Social will become a key customer channel that no business can
ignore
■Early adopters focus on marketing (at the cost of reducing print
and TV add budgets)
■Slightly more than half of the firms surveyed have a Facebook
presence today, with two‐thirds of the rest planning to use the
site. Twitter was the next most popular tool, used at 44% of firms,
followed by YouTube, in use at 38% of FIs.
♦Financial Institutions use this today
♦63% Facebook
♦49% Twitter
♦44% LinkedIn
♦33% YouTube
♦32% Blog
♦21% User‐generated content
♦17% Flickr or other photo sharing site
♦15% Customer review sites
♦7% Financial services social networking sites
■Chief compliance officers (CCOs) in institutionally oriented firms
are more inclined to ban social media than permit it, as the
monitoring of employee activity alone can take a staggering amount
of time. The world of social networking is booming with various
types of general and niche‐ category platforms, and a litany of
associated applications that help individuals repost videos, share
information, and vote on content. It’s quite a lot to track,
particularly given the business, client, and operational processes
that compliance teams must already stay on top of.

Recommendations
■Use customer data more efficiently and effectively. Look externally
to retailers to learn lessons and internally to sources such as
payment data to make this work.
■Break through the hype and understand how customers really want to
use technology — for example, mobile phones — and deliver products
and services that customers will actually want to use.
■The best approach in the short term will be to focus on social
networking’s core strengths: communication, relevance, and
community.

Quotes read over the weekend

Monday, December 13th, 2010

I enjoy the well-turned phrase and copy them down whenever one appeals to me. I should include them here from time to time. Must be my yearning for a simpler and simple life.

From a NY Times “>review of a just published book of the letters shared between Julie Child and her confidante and collaborator, Avis DeVoto, entitled “As Always, Julia”.
“By the time we develop real taste in food, and begin to learn how to prepare it, digestive disorders set in and weight piles up. When I think what I could have done in my youth, when I ate like a horse with no bad results at all, with the knowledge I’m getting now, I could cry.” AD

From the bottom of an email of a Portland yoga instructor:
Show up
Pay attention
Tell the truth
Let go of the outcome

Tuck’s BTIS Series on Social Media: changes in traditional MarCom

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Precisely what I observed at the recent Internet Summit in Raleigh. Social Media is not just a new way of helping advertisers to trap clients. There has to be a legitimate value proposition via a genuine dialogue or back ‘n forth of some kind.

This from a typically excellent program at The Center for Digital Strategies at Dartmouth College (full disclosure: my wife’s design studio develops their mobile apps).

Lilies Clothing Studio: reprint from Screaming Mouth

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

This blog post reprinted from Screaming Mouth of Los Angeles. He writes, and accurately so imo, about a store and its owner, Bruce Liles, whom I’ve known for nearly 25 years. I’ll vouch for all that is written below especially laughing about the Agave jeans and sons, both are my experiences over the past weekend. Do yourself and your wardrobe budget a favor and meet Bruce Liles. Website here.

“For the holiday weekend, I have made my way to my home town of Raleigh, NC for some quality family time, food, and of course, shopping. This is the first visit since I’ve started this blog, so I made my way around the city looking for stores worth mentioning. Without a doubt, at the top of my list was Liles Clothing Studio.

Having been featured in Robb Report and Esquire’s Big Black Book (2008), Liles is one of Raleigh’s few stores for high-end, quality menswear, and upon entry, you will most likely be greeted by the store’s owner, Bruce Liles. Tall, soft-spoken, polite and extremely knowledgeable, Bruce is not only always dressed to impress, he offers great insight into the business of made-to-measure suits, haberdashery and accessories. Always the gracious host, he answered all of my questions and was even nice enough to pose for the below photo.

Located in North Hills Mall, Liles is the source for bespoke suits with a plethora of first class fabric options from Zegna and Italian powerhouse, Kiton, among others. The personal attention you’ll receive is second to none, and the merchandising is great. After noticing the pocket squares stuffed in wine glasses, Bruce told me, “Usually when you see pocket squares, they’re stacked and you can’t see them. I put them in these glasses and my sales went up.” Fantastic. Most of them are silk, so they can appear wrinkled when you take them out, though he added, “We press them in the back when someone wants to buy one.”

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According to Bruce, his customers are actually getting younger. Figuring it was due to viewers of Mad Men, the second Wall Street movie, etc., he countered with the simple fact “they’re coming to me for custom suits because they can’t find the right fit. There are a lot of people here from larger cities and other countries, from Europe mostly, where they are accustomed to slimmer-fitting suits, and can’t find them in the larger retail houses.” He also said many of his clients are tech start-up and entrepreneurs, which are prevalent here in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Bruce says he will start carrying “several new lines within the next year in order to stay fresh. Like a shark, you have to keep moving to keep breathing. The lines need to be fresh so the client doesn’t get bored, or come in thinking, ‘I already own that.’ ”

The old expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind often times in retail, but as a friend of Bruce’s recently told him, the new expression is “It’s always broke.” I’m not sure that could be more true, especially in today’s marketplace. In my opinion, to stay relevant is to keep the client interested, and always wanting more.

Agave denim is one of the denim lines carried, primarily for Liles’ older client. He feels the younger client steers more towards a more fashion-forward denim line, like Diesel, and I couldn’t agree more. The denim market is so saturated, it’s smart not to fight that beast, and funny enough, Agave is my Dad’s denim line of choice. Previously mentioned Grenson (here) and Barker Black (here) are also a part of the line-up at Liles, along with Psycho Bunny, Duchamp, and Lorenzini.

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Clearly this shop has something for everyone, as you will also see on the website. As I walked around taking photos, I actually thought, “This is somewhere I could bring my Dad, and both of us walk out with something.” If you are in the Raleigh area, make sure you stop by to see Bruce. Perhaps even take your Dad along with you.”

Making cents of my media & entertainment bills Pt 2

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Maybe the habit began when our son was an infant because it was in that era- before he grew to 6’2″ at 14- when he hit the rack at 7:30 so we would continue a TV series, usually HBO, as we had dinner. Sounds uncouth, I know, and having a child in the middle years of adulthood justifies offending the New Orleans sensibilities. We began with the X-Files, continued through the Sopranos and finished-up with Homicide unless, of course, Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on tv. Then the Brits invaded led by Foyle’s War and whatever else the cast thereof acted in next. About the only regular programs that gathered the family were The Simpsons (these days, I’m the lone man standing or sitting in this case), Mystery on Masterpiece and whenever either Tiger Woods or Roger Federer were on. Tessa can watch Tiger longer than I can! Our principal source of video entertainment were the three disks from Netflix and the PS2/3 for our son. Cable was only good for sports and as a break from PlayStation.

Katy Perry Simpsons

Spoofing The Muppets, they get way with murder. Moe not kissing KP’s naval. Joke at the end of the latest Christmas Special.

We can talk about PlayStation’s impact on US-Chinese competition some other time. Most days when his grades are good, I feel that the experience of a 60′ Hitachi screen (super deal from Circuit City) with Bose speakers from the pawn shop are way more compelling than clicking through ads to find mediocre content even for a teenager curious about the reality shows.

We tried the premium package of cable mainly for the Tennis Channel and we kind of enjoyed the improved picture quality of the added-cost cable box. Ultimately – this is circa 2007 – we returned to the basic cable package and resumed our Netflix fix.

Times change and so do the reimbursement policies for information services of the mobile employee. No longer could I ‘expense’ my office land-line and my cell number. Only one is permitted. No longer am I able to ‘expense’ my Internet service; the loss of which really makes the seemingly endless stream of shopping channels and crass reality shows difficult to ignore.

Thanks to Lost then Mad Men, we explored Hulu so we could enjoy the programming with annoying commercial interruptions. Catching-up on five years of Lost over the winter was a treat. BTW, I do not object to paying for content as you will soon read. Factually, when I signed-up for cable in its early days in the 1980s, I was promised no commercials in exchange for my monthly fee! Times change as do information and entertainment delivery systems.

I reached the point in fall, mainly as I assessed our income and expenses with the backdrop of the economic climate, that I didn’t now how much we were actually spending on these categories and whatever the sum, I never seemed to find anything on tv worth watching especially when I wanted to.

At the beginning of December, we paid for the following digital bits into the house:
1. Telephone service for the home: yesterday’s post. $65.
2a. Basic Cable service $68.
2b. Internet Access via our cable monopolist including premium class (the South Koreans are laughing)- $56.
3. Netflix – $19.
4. Mobile phone service, 3 iPhones and two basic, non-smart phone models (family & business use) – $244.
Total = $450.00 per month or $5,400.00 per year.

Having purchased an iPad in spring and observing how much our son enjoyed the streaming, at no additional cost, of Netflix, I decided to explore the recently available version of Apple TV. Now I understand even more about the future of the iPad and Apple’s consumer entertainment strategy.

As usual, the installation of this Apple product was as easy as could be- provided that one has a compatible HDMI cable lying around. Why aren’t these sold or recommended at purchase? Within only a few minutes, I viewed television episodes, photos and listened to music stored on the laptop, MacBook Pro, in my office down the hall. One can access additional content from iTunes or services across the Internet. Ironically, Hulu is not one of them (Netflix is). The Apple TV box which connects to an HD compatible tv is small and light; the remote control is small and simple to use. The system is intuitive to the point where you almost don’t trust it. Sort of like ‘is this all that I have to do?!’

Prices for programming vary from 99 cents to $6. We watched Green Zone on the spur of the moment on Saturday. Streaming was smooth except for two small interruptions at the end of the movie. Backtracking a couple of frames and resuming resolved the problem. Picture quality was excellent. Price was $5.99. Not cheap but the popcorn is better. This refers to a Thanksgiving holiday movie where we spent $40 for the three of us to see the new Harry Potter film. Nothing hurts like an unsatisfying, expensive expense at the theatre.

The next day I experimented with Apple’s Air Play and amazed the family by streaming content of every variety from both my iPhone and my iPad to our Apple-enabled HD TV. The surprisingly fun part was showing photos from the iPhone in enlarged, high quality on the Panasonic tv.

On Monday, I downloaded Facetime to my MacBook and conducted a conference call with a colleague across town. The quality of the video service was solid and I feel that the capability to see each other held our attention over the one hour discussion more than voice-only conference calls do. What are the others really doing, anyway?

With my information expense in one column and the capability to organize my own entertainment programming in the other, I intend to minimize my cable expenses to the most basic and for the needed Internet access; switch Netflix from dvds to streaming service; and explore what is the proper threshold for my mobile service. How I dislike seeing my roll-over minutes evaporate due to lack of usage.

My objectives are to reduce my bills by 20% and to increase the quality and convenience of our family’s entertainment programming. At the business end of the experiment, I want to think about how the availability of varied media and the integration of media delivery platforms can influence training and education, both business and primary education. Mobility is becoming defined well beyond having to go to where the device or player is located – think driving to the office to talk on the phone or use the copier – to having the media available where content is most useful. Maybe this was the initial wonder of books? We’ll see.