Friday, May 30, 2008

Crayola - elevating creativity to art

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~ Scott Adams”

I loved my visit to Crayola. The town is charming, residents friendly, the Crayola team beyond gracious, and the natural setting in the stunning Lehigh Valley. Somehow Crayola has absorbed all of this into its culture. I understand now why people stay for so long. 

My boss and I went out there to discuss innovation and the process Crayola has gone through – it has been a long and winding road. What struck me most poignantly is that about 5 years ago, Crayola was not an innovative company. They made crayons. And some washable markers and outdoor chalk. And they thought that way – with blinder on – and operated that way – in silos. 

Today, the story there is radically different. They are a company that had been on the right of peak on the trend curve and made the difficult and arduous journey to reinvent who they are and what they do. In three words, they are a company that “inspires limitless creativity.” To have a mission and reason for being that concise and powerful has such far reaching effects on product, on customers, on culture. 

At the crux of their reinvention was a commitment by their extraordinary CEO, Mark Scwab, and his ability to give team members permission to try new things, take risks, and then, even more incredible, permission to cut their losses on an idea that didn’t work in its current form. They have the support to try and fail, and because of that support, they have succeeded in not only limitless creativity, but limitless art.   

Be proud of yourself because sometimes you're all you've got. ~ Denis the Menace

On Tuesday I was exhausted from a very late flight from Nashville last night, followed by a long day at work, combined with a tough commute in each direction. But still I had to drag myself out of my apartment at 11pm. Trevin, one of my very close friends, is leaving NYC in a few days and Tuesday was my only chance to see him before he leaves. 

Whenever Trevin introduces me to a friend of his, the friend invariably asks how we met. Trevin always replies, in a very distinct voice, "Christa was my BOSS." Emphasis on the boss. And I smile, and I say, "Yeah" with a very distinct accent.  Truthfully, I don't think Trevin nor I could have done our jobs without one another. He's someone who's so comfortable in his own weirdness that he makes everyone else around him comfortable in theirs. He is committed to one thing - to being who he is. His authenticity is undeniable. We should all be so lucky to be so proud of who we are and what we stand for. 

So it is with sadness that I said good-bye to Trevin after sharing a couple of chocolate milkshakes with him at the City Diner. Trevin and I moved here about the same time last summer and we would sometimes talk about how we'd be sharing chicken noodle soup at the Edison Hotel Cafe when we were two old-timers. We'd be swapping stories that started with, "Remember back in 2007..." And maybe we'll still be that way, though for now Trevin's adventures are taking him to other cities. 

Even though New York City won't be his home, at least not for now, he knows he'll always have a place to stay as long as I make my home here. It's one of the great things about friendship - it can help you make a home in any place your friends happen to be, even if you travel many miles from it.     

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cubby Bernstein

You've got to hand it to those wacky producers over at Xanadu. They're young and fearless, and finally they are starting to crack the crusty old wheels of Broadway and the marketing of Broadway shows. My friend, Dan, pointed me to Cubby Bernstein, a fictional character who makes his bones by getting people Tony Awards. Cubby's about 10 years old though he behaves like a grown theatre promoter with an attitude problem. (Sorry - was that redundant?) While antics like his are often deplored in adults, when Cubby behaves this way, it makes for good comedy in that very Doris Roberts sort of way.

What I love about Cubby is how completely unconventional and creative the entire campaign is, and how little money it cost to produce. I follow him on Twitter, and you can friend him on Facebook. On Broadway, the use of social media is practically unheard of so to step out like this is a big change for the industry. From the creation of Cubby's character to the episodic nature of his YouTube segments, he is a little man with a plan in a class by himself. And maybe that goes for the brave producers of Xanadu as well. They may prove that being a little bit wacky can get you everywhere.

I haven't seen the show, and I haven't heard glowing reviews either, but this campaign has so piqued my interest from a business perspective, that I may just walk myself down to the Helen Hayes. After all, if I'm interested in having the theatre industry do more innovative work , I need to support new thinking. And maybe I'll get a chance to meet Cubby.

Traveling like Paulo Coelho

I'm hoping that the breezy days of summer have finally arrived. Though I don't like the heat, the summer does bring with it a sense of dreaming and imaging our lives in new places. In many ways, it's more of a renewal than spring - graduations, weddings, vacations. I find that a lot of my happiest memories happened during this season, and many of them happened when I traveled on my own.

Paulo Coelho wrote one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, and I love its celebration of the journey. Coelho seems to prize travel as the most valuable way to spend our time. It's the best way to learn, about ourselves and the world around us. In addition to his many books on the subject, he now writes several blogs: Wordpress (, Myspace ( & Facebook ( He is equally present in media sharing sites such as Youtube ( and Flickr ( He shares his thoughts with us, as well as his images.

On, he wrote recently wrote a post with some travel advice, giving us an idea of how he conducts the details of his travels. He avoids museums and hangs out in bars. He doesn't buy material things, and he invests in the people around him, knowing that he understands them and they understand him, just by virtue of being human. In his quintessential Coelho style, he remains open to the magic that happens when we travel, when we get outside any sense of a comfort zone, and just allow life to happen. More than good advice about how to travel, he provides us with good advice on how to live.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What, and who, used to be in Nashville

During my long weekend in Nashville, my friend, Dan, and I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express close to downtown. It took me a day to realize that the hotel was across the street from the Union Station Hotel, where I stayed back in 2000 during my first trip to Nashville. It was early on in my first theatre tour - a production of Sunset Boulevard. 

Dan I took a stroll over there yesterday afternoon. In the Union Station, I had my first of many meals that I would have with Petula Clark, the star of the tour. I was seated down in the lobby having breakfast and she asked if she could join me. And of course I said yes. To this day, she's the greatest person I've ever worked with. The magnificent stained glass ceiling is the same, as are the rooms around the atrium, but the breakfast bar is gone. Even though I can clearly remember that breakfast with Petula as if it happened yesterday.

Next door to Union Station is a restaurant called the Flying Saucer. In that space, I met Susan Schulman, the director of the Sunset tour, and the first well-known director I had ever met up to that point. It was also the place where I first talked to a man that I would eventually fall in love with and be involved with, off and on, for several years. 5 years ago, that man was in a motorcycle accident that would cause him to become a quadriplegic, though in truth he was lucky to survive at all. And that first conversation with him is so vivid to me that it could have just happened.  

It's a funny thing about places - they serve as the backdrop of the events that comprise our lives and yet they often don't retain any of the physical evidence that we were there or that anything significant happened to us in their walls. What's amazing about Nashville is that every place seems to house a story, or many stories. That city lives, and breathes, and of course, sings.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is experience everything?

I have been thinking about experience on a regular basis lately. I notice that every time someone mentions wanting to do something new be it a hobby, a job function, or even related to travel or choosing a new city, one of the first questions people ask them is, "Do you have any experience with that?" or "Have you ever been there or done that before?" 

I got asked this question all the time about a year ago as I was interviewing for jobs post-MBA. It seemed that experience counted for far more than my education or my interests. I actually went to one interview in which an interviewer asked me what the hell I was doing there because I had never worked in the industry the the company was in. When I mentioned that the company, in desperate need of a turnaround, needed fresh eyes to look at old problems to find new solutions, the interviewer looked at me as if I had begun speaking in an unknown language. 

And in a manner of speaking, I guess it was a new language - the language of youth and energy and passion, three things the interviewer did not possess. And I don't mean youth in terms of age, but rather in terms of attitude and thinking. The interviewer refused to believe that any problem could be solved using new methods. It was very much an "I've been there, done that" kind of deal. And then I considered the incredible success of Silicon Valley - it is an industry that was largely built by people who had no experience in the areas they were trying to master. They couldn't have experience because they, and the world for that matter, were venturing into unknown territory. It was a great blessing that no one had the ability to say, "Well, when I was at X company, we did it this way." With that attitude, we may have never been able to witness the www as we know it. 

I mentioned this concern about "old thinking" to my friend, Dan, recently, and he said that this may very much be a function of just getting older and more experienced. And that got me thinking, and then it got me worried. Am I destined to become one of those people who believes she has seen it all before, someone who will eventually discard the energy and fascination with newness that so many young people have?

No. I've decided that I just won't be that way. I can't be that way, for the sake of my own success if nothing else. So I keep challenging myself to go places and do things that I've never done before. I do things that scare me. Things that I believe are beyond the scope of my ability. And this is critical to retaining youth - because even if I fail at these new ventures, at least it will remind me that I don't everything about anything. It will remind that there is always, always something new to learn. 

Saturday, May 24, 2008

32 and single is okay

With the upcoming release of the Sex and the City movie, the idea of 30-something women in New York City pursuing successful careers, love, and happiness is being brought to the forefront of the minds of women like me. While I would never spend $1500 on a handbag or a pair of shoes, even if I had that kind of money to spend on such things, I certainly relate to some of the pursuits of the characters in that hit show. 

So it was with a little surprise that I went to a party last week and was told by another young woman that if a 32-year old found a man there's no way she'd ever move to another city just to pursue a job opportunity, no matter how incredible the job. I was a tiny bit hurt (emphasis on the "tiny"), though was more disappointed with the person. For one thing, she knew I was a 32 year old single woman, and her characterization of women my age being desperate to find a man is completely off the mark. Would it be great to find love? Sure. Am I going to pass up incredible career opportunities in the hopes that a current boyfriend is the love of my life? No way. I wouldn't want him to either, so why would I ask that of myself?

The other point that really gets me is that people who are in relationships often assume that the goal of all single people is to find a mate. It's as if we must be sitting around hoping and praying that he'll "find us". Give me a break! I love my friends, my career, my family, my creative pursuits. They're my focus. I'm not waiting for my true love to "rescue me" from my single life. Again, would it be great to meet a guy whom I connect with on a deep level whom I love and respect and admire? Yes, definitely. Does it consume my waking hours? No way - it's a passing thought from time to time. And maybe somewhere down the line it happens, and maybe it doesn't. And either way, it's all okay.      

If there's anything that Candace Bushnell's characters have taught us it's that love of self and friends and life is the greatest pursuit of all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Creating your own social network

There's lots of buzz flying around in traditional and new media channels about the proliferation of Facebook. Some people feel it's not personal enough and that there are too many people registered. They want something more akin to a niche social network. But how do you find these niche sites and and more importantly, how do you find one specifically suited to your passion whether it's hashing or Barry Manilow or Netflix? The answer: Ning.

The brainchild of Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreesen, two of those Silicon Valley smarties, Ning allows you to join any one of the many niche social networks registered on their site, or if you have an interest that doesn't yet have a network, you can create one. With the way social networking is going, combined with Ning's niche network feature and great design, there seems to be no end of Ning's value. It's one of those inventions whose value proposition is so simple, you wonder how no one thought of it sooner. But isn't that the way with all good design?

Check out Ning at

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My love for sweets is in my genes

I could eat sweets morning, noon, and night and never get sick of them. My sweet of choice: Entenmann's chocolate-covered donuts. I could easily scarf down a box of those in one sitting. I don't (or haven't recently anyway) but it's within my capabilities. I know this isn't good for me. I've tried every trick imaginable to banish my sweet tooth. I am envious of people who claim, "I'm just not that interested in sweets." Until I consider how absolutely delicious sweets are, and then I am grateful that I can get more for myself if others don't like them.

My grandfather was a candy maker and I have always jokingly attributed my love of sweets to my genes. As it turns out, my penchant for sweets is not entirely within my control. There is now scientific proof that my little joke, like most, also holds some truth. In today's Health section of the New York Times, there is mention of a research studies about a gene variant that allows people to process sugar more quickly than those without the gene variant. When studied in two groups of people, those with the gene variant always ate more sugar, though there was no difference in the amount of starch, fat, or protein that was eaten.

All these years, I've been beating up on myself a little for my seemingly endless craving for anything sweet. In actuality, I just happen to have exceptionally gifted genes when it comes to processing sugar. What luck!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Anatomy of a Leader

My boss and I had a conversation a few months ago about young, bright people who enter large corporations and often feel stifled. They move around in the early part of their career, making a different where they can, and eventually amassing enough experience to get them their own group to manage. In the process, they have accumulated a lot of frustration and an vow that they will never treat their team members as anything less than true partners. And despite their best intentions, they some times fall short and their own young team members begin to see them they way that they once saw their own over-bearing bosses. 

So what's a young leader to do to uphold their promise to treat their new teams the way they always wanted to be treated when they were new to the world of work? Bill Taylor of Fast Company took on that challenge in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. I don't know how long the link to the article will work and the information in it is so critical for young leaders that I have pasted it below. A word to the wise: take notes on Taylor's comments and when you get that big leadership job, post them up at your desk. Your team will thank you, and they'll stick around.

I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the challenges of talented young people frustrated with life inside big organizations—game-changers who spend much of their time questioning authority . In this post, I’d like to turn the tables and address talented young people who find themselves exercising authority: leading a project team, running a product-development group, starting a new business unit.

If you’re the new boss, how do you make sure that you don’t repeat the bad habits of the old bosses who drove you crazy? My advice is to develop solid answers to five make-or-break questions for aspiring leaders.

1. Why should great people want to work with you? The best leaders understand that the most talented performers aren’t motivated primarily by money or status. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves.

Early on in their company’s history, Google’s founders made clear that they considered the talent issue a make-or-break strategic issue for the future. So they published a Top Ten list of why the world’s best researchers, software programmers, and marketers should work at the Googleplex—and never once did they mention stock options or bonuses. Reason #2: “Life is beautiful. Being part of something that matters and working on products in which you can believe is remarkably fulfilling.” Reason #9: “Boldly go where no one has gone before. There are hundreds of challenges yet to solve. Your creative ideas matter here and are worth exploring.”

What’s your version of Google’s Top Ten list? Have you set out the most compelling reasons for great people to work on your team, in your division, at your company?

2. Do you know a great person when you see one? It’s a lot easier to be the right kind of leader if you’re running a team or department filled with the right kind of people. Indeed, as I reflect on the best workplaces I’ve visited, I’ve come to appreciate how much time and energy leaders spend on who gets to be there. These workplaces may feel different, but the organizing principle is the same: When it comes to evaluating talent, character counts for as much as credentials. Do you know what makes your star performers tick—and how to find more performers who share those attributes?

3. Can you find great people who aren’t looking for you? It’s a common-sense insight that’s commonly forgotten: The most talented performers tend to be in jobs they like, working with people they enjoy, on projects that keep them challenged. So leaders who are content to fill their organizations with people actively looking for jobs risk attracting malcontents and mediocre performers. The trick is to win over so-called “passive” jobseekers. These people may be outside your company, or they may be in a different department from inside your company, but they won’t work for you unless you work hard to persuade them to join.

4. Are you great at teaching great people how your team or company works and wins? Even the most highly focused specialists (software programmers, graphic designers, marketing wizards) are at their best when they appreciate how the whole business operates. That’s partly a matter of sharing financial statements: Can every person learn how to think like a businessperson? But it’s mainly a matter of shared understanding: Can smart people work on making everyone else in the organization smarter about the business?

5. Are you as tough on yourself as you are on your people?
 There’s no question that talented and ambitious young people have high expectations—for themselves, for their team or company, for their colleagues. Which is why they can be so tough on their leaders.

The ultimate challenge for a new boss who is determined not to be the same as the old boss is to demonstrate those same lofty expectations—for their behavior as leaders. One of my favorite HR gurus, Professor John Sullivan of San Francisco State University, says it best: “Stars don’t work for idiots.”

So here’s hoping that your team or department is filled with stars—and that they never think of you as an idiot.

The above picture can be found at

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to Be Smarter

The definition of intelligence, its measurement, and the belief that it relies more heavily on nature or nurture are all up for debate. In discussions on intelligence, there does seem to be general agreement that there are steps any person can take to make the most of the intelligence they have. 

The New York Times ran an article this week detailing some of the methods of maximizing intelligence: exercise, a pursuit of lifelong learning, sufficient sleep, and challenging ourselves with riddles, puzzles, and mind-bending games. Though my favorite piece of the article involves its reference to the list Conde Nast released of the 73 top brains in business. And you'd think that list would be chocked full of Ivy-educated, fabulously wealthy finance types. And there are some of the those, though their number is surprisingly, and pleasantly, few.

The majority of Conde Nast's list is dominated by people who go out of their way to think different, be individuals, people who recognize that differentiation, not assimilation, is the way forward in the world of business. The list includes a collection of people who don't make headline news, but quietly, in their own way are simultaneously changing the world and building wildly successful companies. 

This list gives us some profound food for thought: our education focuses on test achievement, elite school acceptances, and hitting numerical thresholds. Do we need to have a metric in place in our education system that captures a sense of confidence, an ability to look at challenges with new eyes, and have the courage to forge ahead against adversity, naysayers, and others who wish we'd just "be like everyone else"? Current business successes would suggest that the idea is worthy of consideration. 

Saturday, May 17, 2008 - a meeting space for innovators

You have a great idea for a product, or a service, or a business model, and you need some honest, credible feedback. And that doesn't mean calling Aunt Sally or your best friend or chatting about it with your neighbor. They know you're brilliant and innovative and achieve everything you set your mind to. But you have this nagging suspicion that you need to get advice from people who don't know a thing about you, and self-identify as innovators. Your prayer to the innovation spirits has been answered and its name is

Though still in beta, I suggest signing up to be kept up-to-date on its progress, and to possibly score a place in the beta test. Because everything is so well documented on Bulbstorm, with witnesses, your idea will not be stolen, and the service will connect you to investors and customers who are interested in working with you, along with fellow innovators who can give you feedback and inspiration. 

We've entered what I believe historians will regard as the Age of Design. And you might as well take your rightful place among the ranks of those who are advancing our society forward with creative thinking. I look forward to interacting with you on Bulbstorm, and sharing ideas! 

Why a corporate culture matters and needs tending

No matter how much the culture of a company is discussed during recruiting events or in media, mainstream or otherwise, I am always amazed by how few companies actually actively measure it. I consider the quality of a company's culture to be as critical, if not more so, that any other business metric. They track sales, margin, expense rate, and investment. I've even heard some executives say that those are the only four numbers that a CEO can actively manage. 

But what about culture? It increases retention time, which certainly lowers expense rate. Dollar for dollar,  investing in retaining top talent is the best investment a company can make. And I am a firm believer in the idea that if a company cares for its talent, its talent will care for its customers, increasing sales and margin. If looked at that way, a CEO could possibly focus a sizable chunk of attention on culture and do very well. If he or she takes care of the culture, the culture will take care of the talent, and the other numbers will fall into line.     

The Financial Post ran an interesting article on culture this past week, and it's worth the short read. It discusses two companies, Maple Leaf and Starbucks Canada, who actively measure culture and adjust accordingly to preserve its integrity. Managing culture is no easy undertaking, though from the perspective of these two companies, the effort pays off handsomely. 

The picture above can be found at:

Friday, May 16, 2008

The wonder of toes

My niece, Lorelei, has recently discovered the wonder of her toes, timed just after she discovered the excitement of rolling over all on her own. It's the little things. I was considering this during my slog to work this morning, inching along in the rain for an hour and 15 minutes. And I thought about Lorelei playing her little game of rolling over from side to side and then getting those tiny wiggling toes into her mouth. She is excited about the discovery of life. And that made me wiggle my toes a bit too, and smile for being able to do so.

That's the wonder of children - everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is an exciting adventure to them. The gift of fresh eyes. So whether we have kids of our own, or in our family, or have friends with kids, or volunteer with kids, or have a job that involves kids, it is a gift to be around them. They're teaching us, at every moment, about happiness and contentment and the magic that is all around us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The goal of all designers: create conversations

Tim Lebrecht at frogDesign wrote a post earlier this week about the earliest stage of ideation. In this age of user-generated design, he questions whether designers are really going about their work in the correct way. He challenges designers of all levels to consider that whatever the end product of their design, they should seek to create conversation.

I was a bit confused by this for a time until I considered an art exhibit I saw a few years ago at the Phillips Collection in DC. The exhibit featured works by Joan Miro and Alexander Calder. The created their art as a conversation; this is largely because they did not have a common fluent language. Miro would create a piece; Calder would answer it, and then add another idea for Miro to comment on. And so it went, for many, many years. Across decades, across oceans. They transcended language with design.

So what if companies like Coca Cola or Target took the design POV that they were creating conversations with their customers, rather than creating products? How much richer and more relevant could their designs be? How much loyalty to their brands could they generate?

Pictured above is Joan Miro's "Garden"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

I'm starting to feel panic at the pump. In Rhode Island this past weekend, I paid $3.99 for a gallon of gas. When I arrived home, I found this week's issue of Business Week waiting for me. Some energy sector analysts are predicting $200 / barrel oil by the fall of this year. Wal-mart and Costco are placing limits on the amount of rice any one customer can buy. Food bills, air fares, electricity prices are all climbing. And then there's the real estate market.

On my long drive home from work, I often consider whether or not we did this to ourselves. Our consumption level is frighteningly high. In this country we seem unable to be happy with what we've got - it's embedded in us, as Americans, that we always strive for more. 

While we are obsessed with measuring GDP, other nations in the world have different benchmarks. The country of Bhutan considers GNH, Gross National Happiness, an indicator of societal well-being. A while back I found the following definition and history of the term GNH:

"Coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures actual well-being of a country's citizens rather than consumption, accounting more fully for social, human and environmental realities. Its premise is that basic happiness can be measured since it pertains to quality of nutrition, housing, education, health care and community life. By contrast, the conventional concept of Gross National Product (GNP) measures only the sum total of material production and exchange in any country:

Promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development

Preservation and promotion of cultural values

Conservation of the natural environment

Establishment of good governance    

At the GNH International Conference in 2004, participants adopted a declaration that said that the facilitation of GNH should be accompanied by "the development of indicators that address human physical and emotional well-being. They must be capable of use for self-evaluation, so that individuals and groups may gauge their progress in the attainment of happiness. In addition, indicators should facilitate full accountability, good governance, and socially constructive business practices, both in day-to-day life and in long-range policies and activities."   

So while we weather this latest economic situation, the consideration of alternate indicators is at least worth a few moments of time. After all, if you're going to wait out a storm, you might as well have some reading material that gives you hope for a better tomorrow. Learn more at

The images above can be found at

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life dream: Rwanda

Real Simple Magazine recently asked their readers to write in with the top 3 things on their life's "must-do" list. I needed to think long and hard about this and I came up with the following short list, though there are many more things I'd love to do:
1.) Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef 
2.) Learn to play the piano
3.) See the mountain gorillas in Rwanda

4.) Speak another language fluently
5.) Visit Sicily with someone I love
6.) Buy a home

Taking the Rwanda "must-do", I did a bit of research after hearing the tail end of a story about mountain gorillas on NPR. Many scientists have traveled to Rwanda to study the animals, and many conservation groups are working round the clock to save them and their habitat, in the face of poachers and a never-ending stream of wars in that nation. The gorillas grew used to seeing people, though once the genocide grew rampant throughout Rwanda, scientists withdrew from their work with the gorillas. The populations of the animals has been falling ever since, until now. 

It appears that the gorillas could sense the stress of the wars going on in their area, and their birthrates declined as a result. Another well-supported theory suggests that once the scientists withdrew, the gorillas missed them, became depressed, and stopped having as many young. Now that peace has been restored, even though tenuous, to Rwanda, the gorillas population is growing and birthrates are up for the first time in 24 years. 

The natural world often goes overlooked in war-torn areas. The human casualties of conflict are heart-wrenching, and there are other species that are also harmed in the wake of war. They suffer in silence. All the more reason to do whatever we must do to keep the peace - there i more at stake than our own existence.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Living in an ecosystem

A few nights ago I went to a dinner co-sponsored by (a retail trade organization) and Demandware, an e-commerce platform provider. They were kind enough to host a soft sell dinner for 50 retailers in New York City at Ruth's Chris. While the dinner and networking were terrific, a researcher from Jupiter Research, Patti Freeman Evans, gave a brief speech on e-commerce, though her insights had much broader-reaching applications.

I have written often about the act of curation - in writing and in life. As a retailer, there is also a curatorial aspect to my company's work. In our brick-and-mortar stores, we are constrained by the size of the box. Even on our website, there is just so much merchandise that any one Guest is willing to click-through. Navigation must be easy. Content must be relevant. Frustration, confusion, and wait time must be held to an absolute minimum from parking in our parking lot all the way through the Guest exit. As retailers, we are curators. Yes, the content matters, though the thoughtful edit matters even more. Or point-of-view and clear expression of it is mission critical. There's no room in retail for "wishy-washy".

It's easy to have a POV about a store, or a chain or stores, or a website. But what about an enterprise POV? Much more difficult when there are parties of conflicting interest. Our business, like so many others, is currently siloed beyond belief. Many people see an ecosystem within their own microcosm. And you can't build a brand that way. I am surprised every day at how many people drive their respective buses with blinders on. This is only complicated by the fact that we are a turn-around, so we are, as my boss likes to say "driving the bus at breakneck speed while also trying to paint it." Again, if only I could draw...

What Patti Freeman Evans asked us to do, as retailers, is consider our entire business and indeed our entire industry, as an ecosystem. What we do in one store, one chain of stores, or on one site has an incredible effect on many other people and companies. And her thought provoking analogy of businesses being living, breathing entities offers us a chance to reflect on the question, "what would we do, in our businesses, if we were conscious at every moment that our decisions profoundly effect the lives of everyone we reach for years to come?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Top 50 Sesame Street Moments

I am indebted to Gwynne Watkins and her team of editors over at Babble. They combed through the over 20,000 YouTube videos of Sesame Street to pull out the 50 best ones. As a lover of all things Sesame Street, I am ecstatic!

And I understand that some people may be wondering who in the world would ever spend that much time on Sesame Street. But then clearly those people don't know what they're missing!

Click here to get to the Babble post that contains the 50 clips.

Monday, May 5, 2008

GEL 2008: Terry Borden and Bent Objects

I have a fondness for wacky art and the minds that create that art. I'm especially appreciative of wacky art that makes me laugh out loud. Terry Borden is one of those people.

About halfway through Day 2 of the GEL conference, Terry took the stage and talked openly and honestly about all of his failures as an artist. And then he hit upon an idea of Bent Objects, using items found around the house and then making them into "people" with bent wire arms, legs, and accessories, then placed in vignettes. He didn't, and maybe still doesn't, have much money so he has to create each art piece for only a few bucks apiece. And that constraint has placed the spotlight on his humor and ingenuity. Again, I am reminded that what makes good art brilliant is the need to work within constraints.

I'd describe them verbally, though the laugh is much more easily shared by just visiting his website. One of his works "Paying Respects" is pictured above. Several peanut-people bringing flowers to a jar of Jif. I love this guy.

GEL 2008: Alex Lee, President of Oxo

You may not know the name "OXO", though you undoubtedly have seen their products in the kitchen gadget aisles. And their anonymity shouldn't surprise anyone - after all, their CEO, Alex Lee, believes that designers should be overshadowed by the simplicity and beauty of their own designs. Whether it's making an incomparable salad spinner or an ingenious measuring cup, the reaction OXO is always looking for from users is their lack of notice of the object. It should be so intuitive and easy to use that its use should go unnoticed, like walking, like breathing.

Alex also made several points about dignity. OXO seeks to design products that are usable by the greatest percentage of the population possible. The goal is to design beautiful products without increasing cost, while maximizing functionality, and never making a user feel like "I'm using this easy-to-use product because I am unable to use another one that is more complicated."

He and the talented design team at OXO have several axioms that they work and live by. Products should be:
Easy to use
Easy to understand
Use honest language
Instructions not required

As far as finding inspiration for worthy design projects, OXO also makes that search simple. They find objects that cause people some sort of pain or frustration, even if they don't know that they are frustrated. And then they develop a design remedy to alleviate the pain. For example, why should I need to get my eyes down to counter level to observe a meniscus to see if the liquid I've measured is at the right level? I should be able to comfortably observe it from overhead. I didn't realize that, but OXO did. Design so brilliant you wonder how you ever did without it...

Alex Lee at Gel 2008 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Twitter: microblogging and its business implications

I have some friends who have started blogs and find them to be so much work to update that they simply abandon them after a while. To be certain, it takes discipline to writer regularly, and at the heart of it, if you don't enjoy writing, you won't enjoy blogging. But if you like the idea of sharing what you're currently working on and giving people updates in short snippets is more your speed, Twitter might be for you. And that's especially true if you are a company, as many user are likely to this connectivity tool to log a company's missteps in customer service. 

Twitter is about two years old and the only question it asks is "What are you doing?" in 140 characters, or less, you answer the question, from IM, from the twitter site, or by text messaging from your phone. I usually put up the URL of my latest blog post, and use it as a way to get the word out about my writing. 

Rob Pegoraro wrote an article this past week in the Washington Post about Twitter, and other short update services available on sites like Facebook. Towards the end of the article, he mentioned that companies like JetBlue have a presence on Twitter and respond appropriately to customer comments posted there about the company. 

Best of all, the log of follow-up by the company is available for viewing by anyone on the system - essentially a diary and timeline of how JetBlue has handled a customer issue that a customer felt strong enough to tell the world about. Afterall, when you're given lemons....  

You can follow me on twitter. Name = christanyc

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival Talk: Pangea Day

Every year, TED gives a set of honorees a "prize" - the chance to articulate their wish for the world. Sometimes the world is fortunate enough to witness the work that brings one of these wishes to life. May 10th will be a day that one of those prizes comes into being.

Two years ago TED awarded its annual prize to Jehane Noujaim, an Egyptian-born film maker best known for her document "Control Room" which chronicles the role of media in war. Her TED wish was that the whole world would have the opportunity to sit down together at a common time for several hours to enjoy a set of short films that represented universal themes. Pangea Day, May 10th, will provide that opportunity. 

The Tribeca Film Festival hosted a discussion this week to promote Pangea Day. Held at the Director's Guild Theatre, Chris Anderson, the host of TED, moderated a panel that included Jehane, Christiane Amanpour, the famed CNN journalist, and Gideon Yago, the journalist largely credited with bringing the world's news to MTV. This 90 minutes gave me such hope for the future of this world, and the role that art, and particularly film, can play in bringing about social justice and mutual understanding. As Christiane Amanpour so brilliantly stated, "An attempt to understand someone else is the soul of diplomacy."

From the talk, the most poignant and powerful sentiment communicated by the films of Pangea Day is empathy. For example, an agency called Johannes Leonardo created a set of films that feature a choir of one nationality singing the national anthem of another nation. France sings USUS sings MexicoKenya sings India. The film of France singing the US was so powerful that I teared up and actually shivered. That feeling of compassion through music was indescribable.

Many of the short films are up on YouTube, and they will all be available on the Pangea website on May 11th. Not surprisingly, Jehane means "world" in Farsi. And in her closing thoughts of the talk she provided perhaps the best quote of empathy and understanding I have ever heard. "If we could read the diaries of our enemies we would find enough pain and sorrow to extinguish all hostility." It's my hope that the short films on Pangea Day will start us down that road.