Podcasting and Celebrity Numbers

Now, maybe you already knew this, but March 14th was Pi Day (what? You didn’t know? Really?). It’s not a typo, I don’t mean Pie Day (although there are plenty enough puns and pie recipes dedicated to this auspicious occasion to go around), I mean Pi Day, as in , as in 3.14159etcetc.

I actually do think that it’s really cool. The number pi is so much fun, if only because it is one of our foremost “Celebrity Numbers”. I was listening to the latest podcast of Hello Internet yesterday in the gym (and laughing out loud every now and then, much to the consternation of the guy on the stationary bike next to me), and they were talking about the anthropomorphisation (that may not be a real word) of numbers. Attributing human characteristics to digits. Go ahead and scoff, I say why not “humanise” numbers, give them endearing characteristics? It’s in our nature to attribute human qualities to non-human  objects or beings, it helps us to relate to our environment, to feel that we’re part of something. Menacing clouds, anyone? Perky spring flowers? Authoritative traffic lights? In numbers, we have our indecisive eight, our stern eleven, our playful five… And, we have our “celebrity numbers”. Numbers that enjoy a world-wide fame, that stand for something other than what they stand for, numbers that have a reputation. (And I am really enjoying the slug-fest between Tau and Pi, may the tougher number win.)

pi day

But anyway, I digress, what I really want to talk about is the whole concept of podcasts, which I’ve only recently discovered (I know, I know, where have I been?). And I want to talk about them in case they also have passed you by, in the hopes that you, too, can suddenly discover productive and interesting uses for those not-so-interesting commuting hours or walking-the-dog times. And even if you are already really into podcasts, I want to share with you my favourite ones, and you can tell me yours, and we’d have a connection, and it would be cool.

Listening to a podcast is like listening to the radio, only you get to choose what you listen to, and for how long. And when I say you get to choose what you listen to, the breadth is spectacular. Want a comedy show? Sports interviews? People talking about music? Gossip? Movie reviews? Cooking banter?

“So what?” you might say, “There are plenty of thematic radio shows with up-to-date tidbits and entertainment.” Well, no, not really, have you noticed how generic radio shows have become? (Yes, I am aware that there are exceptions, but they are few.) And listening to stuff on demand is nothing new, my parents have been listening to audio books for decades. Now, I confess that I hate listening to the radio (boring, and the ads!), and I always found audio books a bit slow (I read quickly), but I love podcasts. The breadth of topics, the convenience, the quality, the specialisation… And they’re generally free!! Because they cost nothing, and are so easy to download, I have access to such a wide selection that if the current one isn’t entertaining me, I can skip to another one.

microphone

I enjoy the activity of walking, but I’ve always found it a bit dull. Even with my beloved music playlists, I would sometimes get frustrated at the lack of productivity (and no, I’m not really Type A, I just like to get things done). But with podcasts, I’m learning as I purposefully stride or gently stroll. I feel like I’m having a conversation with very interesting people, it’s almost intimate and personal (which from a business point of view would make sponsorship of niche podcasts an interesting marketing proposition). And I’m walking a whole lot more.

Aside from the entertainment, think about the potential impact on education. Students listening to lectures while at the gym. Businesspeople keeping abreast with industry conferences while in the airport waiting lounge. People like me with not a lot of free time but who want to know more. Podcasts turn a traditionally “dead” time into an opportunity to learn.

Unlike reading a blog or watching a video, you don’t need to be online. You download the audio file, and listen to it when you want. You can go back, jump forward, repeat, skip… This makes podcasts ideal for squeezing more productivity out of your “dead” time, the time when you can’t really do anything else. Like trot to the grocery store, cook dinner, do the ironing… The phone rings in the middle? No problem, hit pause…

In an age when visual media supposedly reigns supreme (think Pinterest, Instagram, images on Facebook, tumblr, and the list goes on), and when interacting and commenting are social musts, podcasts seem refreshingly “old world”. You’re spoken to, there’s no dialogue, not much scope for interaction. Some of the pressure is off. Sure, you can send in comments after, once you’ve logged into the web, but it doesn’t have the same social immediacy. But that doesn’t mean that podcasts are any less significant, and “old world” they definitely are not. The download technology gives even unkown voices access to large audiences. All you need is an original format and an interesting theme, and the market will decide if the podcast makes it into the big leagues.

I love podcasts

But most interesting, in my opinion, is that podcasts are empowering. With radio, someone decides what you listen to. And blogs, books and videos demand your full attention. With podcasts, you decide what you listen to. And you control when.  And you can do something else at the same time. Multitasking made easy.

I use iTunes to download my podcasts, but apparently SoundCloud and Stitcher also work well.

My top 3, the ones that make me think “Wow, the world is really interesting”:

Freakonomics

Hello Internet

HBR Ideacast

I’m relatively new to podcasts, so with the zeal of the newly converted, I’m sure I’ll be adding many more to my ipod. I’m going to have to work on finding excuses to listen to them. Maybe I’ll take up running at a nice, gentle pace…

 

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If you want more on the fascinating world of podcasts, check out my Flipboard:

flipboard podcasts

Let’s not Ban Bossy, Let’s Reclaim It

So, are you on the Ban Bossy bandwagon yet? You’ve probably heard of the initiative spearheaded by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts of America to ban the use of the word bossy because of its negative connotations. Their point is that if someone calls a girl bossy, it’s not a compliment, and the intention is usually to get them to tone it down. Boys are hardly ever called bossy, and if they are, it’s not insulting. The point is that that’s unfair. And yes, it is.

Ban Bossy

Now, I don’t mean “bandwagon” to sound at all belittling, and I think that it is a great initiative in that it has opened a valuable debate. About time. But, I would like to draw attention to the fact that we shouldn’t have let bossy get negative in the first place. Ok, I understand why, back then things were different, the expectations society had of women were much more rigid than they are now.

However, things have moved on. Extremely successful and powerful women are all around (and, yes, of course we could do with more! Go for it!), and Sheryl Sandberg’s success (and Meg Whitman’s, and Hillary Clinton’s, and Oprah’s, and Angela Merkel’s, and the list could go on and on and on) is an inspiration to us all.

So I suggest that, instead of joining forces to validate the bad rep the word “bossy” has incurred over the decades, instead of further entrenching the poor word’s misery, why don’t we reclaim it? Why don’t we simply decide that bossy is not a negative thing for a girl to be? Why don’t we wear the label with pride?

Reclaim bossy

After all, we did it with the word “gay”, didn’t we? Back in the 50s it was nice to be gay, and then in the 70s and 80s it had more pejorative connotations, and now it’s an adjective (or label, or whatever) worn with pride again, only with a different meaning than in the 50s. We flipped the word gay’s reputation by talking and campaigning and putting it out there, with inspiring people showing the world that they weren’t ashamed to be gay, that it was not something to be embarrassed about or afraid of.

So why can’t we do something similar with bossy? Imagine an army of successful, intelligent women all saying “I’m bossy and I’m proud of it!”. Our daughters would aspire to be bossy, and they would probably get a lot more done. They wouldn’t be hurt if someone called them that. I can see the T-shirts now: “Bossy and Beautiful.” Beyoncé says in the Ban Bossy video: “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss”. Actually, I love that sound bite, I vote for keeping it as it is. But, what about another one: “I’m bossy because I’m the boss.”

I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss

Now, obviously, being bossy is not at all the same as being a leader, just as being the boss doesn’t give anyone the right to belittle or demean others. And even if bossy becomes cool, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also teach all our kids Emotional Intelligence. But bossy doesn’t deserve to be an insult, or even to be something to be socially feared. I say that we shouldn’t Ban Bossy, but that we should reclaim it. Bold and bossy, why not?

(And check out how this song reclaims the word “redneck”… The Boys ‘Round Here, by Blake Shelton, I love it. Seriously, who would have thought that being redneck could be sung about with pride? They’re making it hip, by showing us that it’s not necessarily what we think it is. Listen carefully, it’s even in the chorus: “redredredredredredredredredneck!”. Catchy. See how I leave you with a song for the weekend? You’re welcome!)

Boys 'Round Here by Blake Shelton

 

Crowdsourcing and the mystery of the missing airline

Truly amazing. We hear a lot about how cool crowdsourcing is, the economies it can produce and the efficiencies it can gain. And if we’re lucky, and/or motivated, we get to participate in some crowdsourcing initiatives and projects. But rarely do we get to see first-hand how it can shape the news.

I’ll talk more about crowdsourcing in other posts (my colleague Dennis and I are giving a talk next week on crowdsourcing, among other things, I’ll probably publish part of that content after the event). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s using the contributions of many, usually non-remunerated (yes, for free), to come up with solutions, ideas, information… Outcomes are being “sourced” from the “crowd”, hence the name.

(This is an image, don’t try to type anything in!)
captcha image

I’m sure that most of you have used Wikipedia, that repository of crowd-source knowledge, more than once. Medical research is being crowd-sourced. The captcha graphics that so irritate us when we’re trying to sign up for something are actually using us to decipher words that Google reader can’t figure out. And I’m sure you’ve heard of crowdfunding, in which we all contribute our little bit to the financing of start-ups. Crowdsourcing can even help you find fruit trees growing in your city (seriously, www.fallenfruit.com, not yet available in my city, Madrid, but still cool – below is a map of the fruit trees in Paris).

crowdsourcing fruit trees

I could go on, but it’s late and I need to get to bed but I can’t without sharing with you how amazing the crowdsourced search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370 is. You sign up on www.tomnod.com, and you’re assigned a section of the ocean to grid search. You, and 2.3 million others. A company called DigitalGlobe has repositioned their satellites to cover the Gulf of Thailand and the Straits of Malacca, and the photos are uploaded onto the web for us to pore over. We’re shown what to look for (plane debris, life rafts, oil slicks), how to tag anything suspicious that we see, and we’re left to it. What gets tagged gets filtered and sent to the relevant authorities.

satellite images of the ocean

And let me tell you, it’s pretty addictive. My daughter Ana and I covered more than 300 tiles this evening. No, we didn’t find anything, but it felt good, we felt part of something. We did our little bit.

Now, we all know how unlikely it is that any one individual will find the missing airplane. But 2.3 million people have an obviously much better chance. And with all of us working together, plus the 13 countries, 57 ships and 48 aircraft, surely we can solve this tragic mystery that has us all so intrigued.  

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For more on crowdfunding, check out my Flipboard:

crowdfunding on flipboard

The future is coming, markets are changing, and you might as well get involved.

Let’s go back in time. Not to 10 years ago, not to the pre-Internet era, but to the Middle Ages. More specifically to a dirty, noisy marketplace in the center of a town. Listen to the noise. Bartering, haggling, arguing, laughing, gossiping, plotting, insulting, flirting… The marketplace was the hub of communication, the center of activity, and definitely not a boring place to be. Back then, being shy and reclusive was not an option. If you didn’t put yourself forward, chances are you would die of starvation.

medieval marketplace via deviantart

Now, fast forward to the turn of the century. This century. 1999 to be exact. No doubt you remember what a really interesting year that was. The Y2K bug was hanging over our heads, mobile telephones were finally mobile, and Internet was this thing that we had to get our heads around. Everyone was talking about bandwidth and emails and search engines.

That year a book was published called “The Cluetrain Manifesto”. A very interesting book, and if you were to read it now, you’d be surprised just how prescient it was. It discussed how we needed to adapt our form of communicating to the new medium, and what the new medium meant to our way of doing business. While many of us have radically changed the way we communicate and get things done, in our professional and our private lives, it is also surprising how slow the rate of change actually is.

cluetrain manifesto

15 years on we still get a lot of envelopes in the mail. Our children still lug heavy textbooks to and from school. We still carry around wallets full of plastic, paper and metal. And while it is understandable that profound societal change can take some time, and that institutions have an incentive to resist messing with the status quo, failure to initiate the process ends up costing businesses their livelihood and people their jobs.

But that’s not new, you’ve no doubt heard that many times before. What we need to get our heads around is that a huge amount of the change that has yet to happen, that as a society we need, is in your hands. How? By going to the proverbial market. By putting yourself forward. By communicating.

One of the main messages of the Cluetrain Manifesto was that “Markets are conversations”, and in 1999 that was ground-breaking. All though the last century we were sold at, we were manipulated, we were categorized, and unless we formed part of a tedious marketing focus group, we were not listened to outside of our immediate social circle. Internet gave us a voice, companies started listening to us and talking back, and we became part of the conversation.

conversations

I imagine that most of you have bought something online over the past year? Now, did you leave a rating, or a comment? Few of us do. So where’s the conversation? Maybe you didn’t feel like it, you didn’t have time, or, more likely, the online store didn’t ask you for your opinion. Having worked in e-commerce for years, I understand the reluctance to open yourself up to the risk of getting stuck with a lot of stock of a consistently poorly-rated product. But if collective opinions can wake up the manufacturers and get them to focus on making better products, we will be approaching a more efficient marketplace.

Which brings us back to “Markets are conversations”, and how, while some of us are well on the way, many of us have yet to realize that the nature of communication has changed. It’s not so much that we can communicate with the market. It’s that we should. The market needs us. So, comment. Like. Share. Your opinion is one of millions, sure, but it matters.

Most of us have some degree of shyness. We are afraid of being judged. We don’t want strangers to know us, we don’t want to regret divulging sensitive details. We don’t want to lose control. But this reluctance ignores a fundamental shift in the way our civilization is developing. That a “marketplace is a conversation” is truer than ever. Companies that don’t talk to and listen to their clients are missing the point, and losing out to the competition that IS participating in the conversation. Many businesses, large and small, don’t even realise this yet. They still are afraid of their customers, and they still underestimate the customers’ interest and influence. Sales used to be about knowing more than your clients. Not any more, now it is about validating choices already made, and helping clients to generate new ideas.

ecommerce Burberry store

(image via video on the digital face of Burberry – really interesting, if you haven’t seen it!)

On a personal level, as well. How we act, what we say and do, says a lot about us. It determines peoples’ opinion of us, which has both personal and professional repercussions. And it doesn’t really matter how “private” we wish to be, NOT participating, NOT communicating, in itself speaks volumes. What we don’t do is as interesting to others who wish to know us better (potential employers, that cute guy you met at the picnic last weekend) as what we DO do. Staying completely private in this era of “let’s look it up” is no longer an option.

And I think that that’s good. The future is about connecting, communicating and creating. If you don’t participate, you have no influence. If you don’t show up, you miss the opportunity. If you don’t put yourself forward, you won’t get noticed. With easier communication, more and more decisions will be made collaboratively, and if you don’t express your opinion, your voice won’t get heard.

You’ve probably heard of crowdsourcing, where we all create together. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced encyclopaedia, research projects are asking for public participation, even art exhibitions are getting crowd-sourced. We believe that, yes, markets are conversations. But more and more, conversations are markets. Conversations generate ideas, collaborations produce results. Arguments stimulate, debates inform. And this is all happening, all the time, under our very noses. We can’t be everywhere all the time, not on a personal nor on a professional level. But we can participate, get noticed, connect. And with that, we generate a marketplace, for our product or service, and for ourselves.

The future is coming. We can help to shape it. Get involved. Get your company to open up even more to its clients. Listen. Talk. Fix problems as they arise, and do so publicly. Your clients will love you for it. Your friends will support you. And along the way, great things will emerge from the conversation.

And as for the title of this post, well, I think it could make a catchy song, don’t you?