This is my last post….

At least on Mentalbreak.wordpress.com. I started this blog in April 2008 to practice my writing skills (putting my journalism degree from IU to work) and to take a break from the daily routine of corporate marketing. Now, after a six-month break to participate in Seth Godin’s Alternative MBA (SAMBA), I have a new direction. That direction is The 150 Project. You can read an update about SAMBA on Seth’s blog, here.

Please make sure to update your RSS reader or email subscriptions to my new blog and webpage (that I created myself) located at 150project.com. You will find a few old post from Mental Break and my new ones that focus on social media and online communities.

If you have any suggestions on how I can improve The 150 Project blog and topics you would like to see, please let me know!

See you at The 150 Project!

The White House joins the conversation

whitehousePresident Barack Obama started his career as a community organizer in Chicago 20 years ago. In the Presidential Campaign he applied these skills to create the successful community organizing website, MyBarackObama.com. Now that he is in the White House, Obama is turning to the American community again to help embody his goal of making government inclusive, transparent, accountable and responsible. This past week he announced the launch of the Office of Public Engagement with the mission to serve as an open front door to the White House. To do this, the goal of the office is to engage in online and offline conversations with American Community. Online they have created Whitehouse.gov as a way to communicate the latest happenings in the US Government using social media such as blogs, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. The website also serves as an online outlet to send questions, comments, concerns, or well-wishes to the President or his staff. Offline they plan to hold town halls and other in-person events throughout his term (not just during the campaign).

Gone are the days of the one-way, closed communications. In a Web 2.0 world, where the consumer holds the power through the web and social media tools, companies must adjust to survive. The Office of Public Engagement is a great example how one of the largest organizations known for red tape and one-way conversations has made the change. It’s all about having conversations with your customers and not at. What are you doing to engage and listen to your customers?

I think the White House has done a great job to incorporate social media and conversations with their community on their website. I have highlighted how they do this on my Squidoo lens – Tribe Communication Tools: Whitehouse.gov. Check it out!

Lessons from my conducting debut

Conducting an orchestra is like leading a dynamic company. I learned this first hand at the Music Paradigm this past week. This amazing experience is the creation of world renown conductor, Roger Nierenberg. Here are a few takeaways I experienced:

  • Listen from a different angle – This was my first experience sitting inside the orchestra – It was amazing! But I realized it does not sound as good when sitting in the audience (or the conductor stand). I realized the horns on the left side did not hear the same full effect as the Cello on the right side. They all looked to the front to receive the direction from the conductor. When you are in an organization you hear and see what is around you and receive instructions from the top. Not everyone can stand at the front and conduct. What would happen if you moved around and traded places with an oboe? Would you have a better understanding of what they do and hear? When you went back to your position, you may view the orchestra and sound in a different way. It is always good to move around once in a while to hear things a little differently.
  • Find the sweet spot – There is a fine line to walk between giving too much direction or not enough. He conducted the same song twice. First, with little direction and enthusiasm and the second with overpowering force and exact direction. By talking to the orchestra after each song he was able to learn that after the first song they would prefer more direction and for the after the second song they felt micromanaged and unable to reach their full-potential. The key was communicating and receiving feedback on his style. By communicating he was able to better adjust his approach and find the sweet spot to lead.
  • The dynamics of a team – One of my favorite instruments is the violin. Roger did a few exercises with the section of 4 violins to show their team dynamics. When someone did not play as well or played to their own tune it still sounded okay. Each time the three other team members were able to adjust to carry the team. Ofcourse, it sounded best when they all played in perfectly harmony. The lesson was that things do not fall apart if you have your own style or someone on your team is slack. Hopefully, you have a team that works together to balance out your style.
  • Leading without a leader – For two songs, Roger walked away. What was the orchestra to do? They were given a song and asked to lead without a conductor. There was a moment of hesitation, and then they knew what to do. One person took the lead (as expected it was the first chair violin) and then the teams began to lead each other. You could see their eyes straying away from the music sheets and towards the first chair violin or the teams around them for direction, however, they were reliant on each other and not the conductor in the front. A successful company is able to still function without a leader.
  • Every small move makes a difference – I actually had the chance to go on stage and conduct the orchestra (with Roger’s help, ofcourse). With Roger leading my hand I was able to conduct a full orchestra. When asked what it was like, I could only sum it up as, “magical!” Standing in the front where all the sounds come together in perfect harmony was a powerful experience. Before we started conducting he let me in on the plan that we were going to have smooth movements. He noticed earlier that the orchestra had the tendency to hit hard notes and wanted to smooth that out. I could hear with the slight move of my hands how the orchestra would change their tempo. It made me realize that a good leader can see and hear everything fits together at the top and adjust accordingly with the smallest movement to make everything come together

  • This was an amazing experience that has changed the way that I look at leadership, dynamics of a team and orchestras! All the lessons from The Music Paradigm are soon available to all in Rogers upcoming book, Maestro: A Little Story About Leading by Listening. This is published by Portfolio and will be available on October 20, 2009. I have already added it to my wish list!

    *Click on photos to enlarge. Photo’s by Glenn Wasserman.

The Ego vs. Smart Marketer

15% of the audience in a Broadway shows only attends one show in their lifetime.

All over NYC and beyond you see ads targeting new show goers. This is the ego marketing wanting 1% more of the new audience.

The smart marketer would focus on how to get showgoers who attend 4x shows to increase to 6x.

The smart marketer would focus on the conversations they are having with current customers and how they are enabling/encouraging them to have conversations with their friends.

Building a plane in midflight

I attended the Behance 99% Conference last month. It was a conference for creative professionals about how to get things done. As a former conference planner and attendee of conferences large and small, I have to say that this was one of the most organized and well done conferences I have attended in a long time. Especially since it was their first one. I would recommend it to anyone (creative or wannabe) in the future.

My favorite speaker (next to Seth Godin, ofcourse), was Scott Thomson. If you are an avid reader of my blog, you will remember that I wrote a post in mid-April titled, Lessons on community organizing from the Barack Obama Campaign. Scott Thomson was the lead designer for MyBarackObama.com. His speech was great – engaging slides (with little type), well organized ideas and he connected with the audience. My favorite line of his was, “Designing and building the community was like building a plane in mid-flight.” I thought that was a great description of the times where you just have to get things done and move on. I look forward to seeing what he does next!
Here is a a video from his presentation.

4 Easy Steps to Pick-up a Girl (or a Customer)

For the first time in history, companies have the ability to have conversations with their customers and not just talk at them. Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Ning allow them to join in on the conversations. The conversations are going on, however, companies are often hesitant and scared to participate. It is a new way of interacting with their customers. Questions arise such as: Will they talk back? What if I am rejected? Will they like me?

These questions sound familiar?

These are the same questions a single guy may ask when wanting to pick-up a girl. Think about companies as a single guy on the prowl for a girl at a bar. The same steps in The Art of the Pick-up can be applied to companies looking to become involved in the social media conversations.

Step 1: Just say ‘hi’. Saying ‘hi’ takes little effort and can yield high rewards. If you hear they are already talking about something you know about such as your products, you already have something in common. Just say hi and introduce yourself.

Step 2: Focus the conversation on them. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you like about the product?” What would you want to change?” “Tell me more about yourself.”

Step 3: Ask them to dance or buy them a drink. This is not a necessary step, however, it helps you engage. It is a way for them to learn more about you. You can show off your skills or offer them insights or free offers to your products. If they say ‘yes’ you know there is some interest and they are committed to talk to you longer.

Step 4: The close. The conversation is going well, but eventually it has to end. You must be focused on extracting something out of your interaction with the girl, either her phone-number, a promise for a new meeting or a kiss (aka a sale). This is the most important step to success. Get their number and permission to call them again to continue the conversation.

The secret to success is to not be afraid. It is just a conversation. If you are genuine and follow through with these 4 steps you are sure to find a date!

Should you have an online community?

I have blogged about The future of marketing and Do you have a community? By now, you can probably tell that I am really big on community building. There are many benefits to having an online community, or, what Seth calls ‘creating a Tribe.’ However, you have to ask, “Should you have an online community?” The answer could be NO. Here are some reasons you should NOT have an online community:

* If you do not think your community will enjoy connecting with others with the same interest.
* If you have several unhappy customer and you are afraid they will talk to each other.
* If you want complete control over everything said in the community.
* If you cannot deliver “services” the community wants.
* If you cannot tie back the community to your core business values.
* If you do not think a community will scale your business.
* If you cannot figure out who your community is (after you read this).
* If you have other successful methods of permission marketing.

After reading these questions and your answers are YES, an online community is not for you. If you answers are NO, it is time to start thinking about the goals of the community. To be continued…