Friday, 28 December 2007

Jump In! #5: Paul Reynolds on blogging

Paul Reynolds, joint md of McGovern online and TV tech commentator, talks with Marie Young about blogging and social networking. Find out: * How he started blogging * How to discover your voice * How a company can incorporate blogging This is part 1 of a 2 part interview. Next week Paul takes on Generation X's dirty little secret! Get the latest Jump In for free in iTunes or on the web. Subscribe at  

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Do you work on the web?

One of the cool things I learnt about as a result of BarCamp (see interview here and info on my "presentation" here) was

It's what's known as a meme - in other words, it doesn't really "do" anything or have any particular purpose, but it's kind of cool, and will probaby have some great spinoff that we haven't predicted.

See my profile, or find out how to add your own.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

What's the role of oratory (etc) in a conversation age?

(Warning 1: Pseudo-academic language ahead, from a writer who should know better)

(Warning 2: The actual point of this post is right at the end. Persevere. Or cheat and skip right to the end)

Things are changing. That seems to be the intro to every article I write these days. Mostly because it's true.

The biggest change I see - whether it's in the world of business, leadership, media or even religion- is from one-way message delivery, to two-way message discussion. It's the age of conversation.


In business, witness the proliferation and popularity of books like We Are Smarter Than Me (to which I was one of 3000-odd contributors!) and Join the Conversation.

More specifically, leadership is being deconstructed as an idea. It's early days for this, but the book I'm currently reading, Leadership for the Disillusioned, outlines one academic's efforts to discover a leadership that liberates rather than enslaves. Most of that is done in a dialogical way.

Media has been slowly becoming two-way for about 15 years or more, beginning with talkback radio and now extending to the many channels available on the internet. Now it's becoming mainstream as newspapers, TV and radio make it easier to converse with them through the internet.

And in religion, at least in Christianity, people are simultaneously pressing forward and rediscovering their roots. The book So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore portrays a way of thinking that is outcome-focussed, rather than programmatic. It exposes many of the religious institutions we take for granted as driven by guilt and fear, a diagnosis I endorse, having been part of several churches and wondering what we were doing wrong. Fortunately, the book posits a simple but profound answer.

So my question is ... what happens to the old one-way methods?

I know the new barely ever completely replaces the old. Television didn't wipe out radio, for instance, but it did redefine it.

So, what will the next century or so hold for:
  • Political speeches
  • Blockbuster movies
  • Sermons
  • TV commercials

Why did I write this post? Mainly because I got home from BarCamp last week - one of the most genuinely interactive conference experiences I've ever had - and I really really really really wanted to see a good movie. A real movie. A two-hour long, popcorn movie. And it made me think, will we have movies in twenty years? What will they look like? So there you go.

Now it's your turn. Please comment! :)

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Jump In #4 - BarCamp Auckland

Simon Young talks with Ludwig Wendlich,16-year-old web developer and organiser of BarCamp Auckland, an UnConference for web people. Find out about the future of conferences, and what it means to you as a communicator. Get the latest Jump In for free in iTunes or on the web. Subscribe at  

Friday, 14 December 2007

"Fat and happy Anglosphere"?

I love it when you stumble across someone else's perception of you or your country. In a article, Tim Ferguson says of the OECD report on student performance:

Arguably, the surprise is in the fact that Australia and New Zealand are also in this top bracket. A prejudice of low expectations holds that the fat and happy Anglosphere is also dumb, compared with the Asians and a few Baltic standouts. Not necessarily so, though the U.S. has only middling scores in this study; the U.K. did somewhat better.

First of all, yay for us! New Zealand is living up to our own story of being small but nimble and smart, a story Ferguson tells for Asia:

Commodity prices are up, but the most enduring natural resource is the human mind. That is the essential explanation for many of Asia's great modern successes, and the premium for knowledge is only growing with advances in information technology.

I've long thought that's what we had going for us. Maybe I've just been hanging out with the right crowd, and reading too much Idealog.

Secondly, I've never come across the "prejudice of low expectations" about our "fat and happy Anglosphere" - although I am secretly (or not so secretly) very happy but not surprised that we are, on aggregate, smarter than the US.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Jump In! #3 Boyd Wason on communities

iJump cofounder and catalyst Simon Young talks with Tango Communications' managing director Boyd Wason about: * how to engage audiences using social media * which social networks are "hot" * how to create a marketing strategy that really engages Subscribe to this podcast for free at  

4 ways Twitter is like God

Twitter is like God. Not in that it's omniscient, omnipresent or omnipotent, but in that Twitter is:

* experienced in many different ways (on the site, using Snitter, Twitterific, Twitteroo, Tweetr, Twitterpost, Twitterlex, Twhirl, several IM clients or cellphone)
* a source of genuine fellowship (=having something in common)
* ignored by many in the world, who don't even know it exists.
* maligned by people who haven't tried it for themselves and can't see the point.

Okay, so I'm not a theologian. But don'tcha reckon?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

I'll be (probably) presenting at BarCamp this weekend!

I'm a bit behind in blogging about BarCamp Auckland, the unConference happening in East Auckland this Saturday.

I've written about unConferences before, but this is the first time I'll actually be attending one. As far as what time I'll be presenting, or even my subject, it's hard to say. At an unConference it's all organised (or disorganised) on the day. It's spontaneous and in the spirit of conversation. I love it!

Find out more at the BarCamp Auckland website. See you there?

Saturday, 8 December 2007

What does a real community look like?

This post covers spiritual topics, but it's relevant for anyone who's part of a community - or wants to be, or wishes they weren't.

So you don't want to go to church anymore
is by Jake Colsen, a pseudonym for two authors who have opted out of the organised religion game that many people call church.

This book, a fictitious story based on the two authors' experience, does a fantastic job of raising concerns that many people have about church, and offering some solutions that are simple, but very, very scary.

It's not only fantastic reading and thinking in and of itself, it's also a powerful example of storytelling as a way to communicate complex ideas. It's a journey, this book.

And there's a podcast to go with it, appropriately called "The God Journey". Some very good listening to be had.

Don't misunderstand what this book is about. It's not simply saying don't do church in buildings any more. It's saying set aside the shackles of structure and set your relationships free. Advice that's just as much needed for the corporate world as for the church world.

As one of the authors said in a recent podcast, they're not against the "organised" part of organised religion, but against the "religion" part. It's become a cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true: God wants a relationship with us, not for us to try to please him with religion.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Jump In #2: Dwayne Alexander,

Dwayne Alexander, former CEO of apnfinda, talks about his new startup, Hear how to get your whole team motivated, manage change, and harness the power of social media.  

Saturday, 1 December 2007

What is the 21st Century's A-bomb?

From the 1945 through 1989, the biggest thing in world affairs was the atom bomb. Now, it's religion.

That's actually good news, because while many of us would struggle with nuclear physics, religion is arguably easier to understand. Or at least, we've had more exposure to religion than to radiation.

Like many readers of this blog, I've grown up in a western country, in the Christian tradition. But even as a member of the Bible-believing Open Brethren, I never learnt that much about the history of the Bible.

So it was very interesting to read Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography. It's a whirlwind tour through all the versions of the Bible - the Torah, the Talmud, the New Testament, the Kabbalah... and so on!

Armstrong has done some serious homework here, and made the complex simple. Instead of delving too deeply into theology, Armstrong tells simple stories about people, and what they believed.

It's not an unbiased book. In fact, Armstrong is making a strong case against fundamentalism of all kinds, and a plea for understanding and love, ignoring the parts of the Bible that are negative or harsh, and meditating on the parts that are loving and kind - quoting many theologians, both Jewish and Christian, orthodox and otherwise, through the years, who have also advocated this approach.

I appreciate this book, but tentatively disagree with some of its conclusions. I say "tentatively", because I have no scholarship to base my disagreement on, just a tiny bit of subjective experience, and gut feeling.

And I say "some" of its conclusions because overall I believe Armstrong has written a rational, emotionally intelligent and respectful biography about a book that means so much to so many people, and it's an attitude I agree with.

I'd recommend The Bible: The Biography as a (somehow) very thorough yet very fast tour of one of the books that has shaped western civilisation, and continues to wield a lot of influence today.

I started this post by comparing religion to the atom bomb. Like nuclear power, religion can be a force for good or for evil. It's also the force that's driving world issues - yet unlike the atom bomb, which was a single, big thing, religion is a complex, fragmentary issue. We've got a lot of learning to do.

Want to learn about Islam? Read my review of The Q'uran: A Biography.

Need some other spiritual thoughts? See my posts tagged spirituality, or my old blog Oh God, I think I'm a fundamentalist.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

What use is Twitter??

When I describe Twitter to people, I often get blank stares.

"Why do you need more interruptions in your day? Aren't you already busy?"

Here are two examples of the true power of Twitter:

* Last Friday I was having real trouble with WordPress. In frustration I twittered "Wordpress, what part of
don't you understand?"

It was more of a rhetorical question than anything, but within the hour Nick Hodge from Sydney tweeted back the answer! (It's
, if you're interested.)

* Later that day, I sent out a tweet for feedback on some design tweaks to Again, within the hour, I had some feedback from a 16-year old freelance designer in Auckland!! (feedback which I'll attend to very shortly, Ludwig - thanks again!)

Is it just me, or is Twitter getting more social?

I've noticed a couple of things lately:

1) The A-listers, heavy outputters of information like Jeremiah Owyang and Robert Scoble, have slipped off the radar. They've been characteristically transparent about the reasons why - mostly, they're busy (which is a relief! They're human too!).

2) The rest of us - not especially famous people, but often producers of their own content either blogs podcasts or online video - seem to be commenting more often about more things and getting more conversational.

Maybe it's just that I've recently tapped into a vein of particularly chatty people, and been replying a lot more often. But it's great to see Twitter being used to its potential.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Do you love....?

Work without love is slavery.
Mother Teresa

Super-cool idea

School students think of an idea - a warrant of fitness reminder that flashes when your warrant is due. Auto Association licenses the idea for $60k. Brilliant!

Time for a change | Idealog: the magazine and website of creative New Zealand business, ideas and innovation

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Categorisation and Miscellany

I've just been skim-reading the list of Web 2.0 Lists. Fascinating.

It's a great ready reference - I added it to my bookmarks straight away - but it also reflected some of the desperation we are collectively feeling about information anxiety.

I've been facing the same challenge close to home, as we've been working on nailing down our SimonYoungWriters service offering to a product set.

So now, instead of just saying "we'll write whatever you need written" (which is still true) we're now offering newsletters, articles, press releases, website copy, brochures, instruction manuals - etc., etc. Watch the SimonYoungWriters site for the changes soon.

But as I was imposing this order on apparent chaos, my mind was raging. This may help stimulate people's imagination to see what we can do for them, but it doesn't really reflect the service we provide.

I feel like I'm stuck in the middle.

On the one hand, I've got the old, product-centric way of thinking. If I want to streamline my business, I need to turn it into a factory, making standardised products.

On the other hand, I'm the guy who wrote the article on Service-Dominant Logic, which says we've got it all wrong with this product-centric thinking. I'm also a fan of what I've heard of David Weinberger's book Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. Certainly a related YouTube video strongly resonates with me.

Stratifying leads to fossilising. That makes sense to a part of me, but putting the other point of view into action is proving difficult.

I guess I need to keep searching. Read some of the academic papers and case studies, get Weinberger's book (anyone want to get me one for Christmas?)

Monday, 19 November 2007

Pretentious post of the day

What I like about postmodernism is its emphasis on dialogue and discovery. What disturbs me is the apparent undercurrent of distrust, many times assuming the worst possible motives of the deliverer of a message.

In postmodernism, things are rarely what they seem. Sometimes that's good, but when things actually are what they seem, it's not good.

(Written in response to an email from a colleague who said my article on the service-dominant logic of marketing showed good balance but, "with some reading between the lines i think there is some hegemonic protectionism kicking in.")

(Disclaimer/Clarification: This is not a direct response to the "hegemonic protectionism" comment, but rather the seed of a thought of an idea that sprang from it)

(and also an excuse to use up my big word quota for the week)

Friday, 16 November 2007

NZ business needs more mad young things!

I had a fantastic time at the Exporting Beyond 2007 Summit at Sky City yesterday. Sadly, I was probably the youngest there (and at 32, that's not saying much).

  • Short. It started with lunch and finished after 4pm. That's what busy people will go for.
  • Focused. There was a real sense of urgency about this, and a sense that everyone in the room could make a difference.
  • Interactive. After a 45-minute intro speech, we got into elective groups, about 15 people around the table, and threw our ideas around. True Wisdom of Crowds stuff.
Key insights I gleaned:
  • We're so comfortable right now in NZ that we're in danger of being numb to the future - we need to focus on exporting or our future generations won't be able to live this same lifestyle.
  • To do that, we need to tell stories and share more.
I'm sensing a cultural disconnect here. The needs - telling stories, sharing and collaborating - are quite touchy-feely, yet the people there yesterday were CEOs, mostly focused around finance and the economy, rather than the "softer" disciplines like psychology or language.

The way it was positioned - as an "Exporting Summit" for "CEOs" - probably failed to attract the kind of people who can inject some much-needed fresh thinking and creative solutions.

People like the kids who are taking risks and making lots of money. Chances are none of them would consider themselves "exporters" or even CEOs.

The event also highlighted the fact that we kiwis are paranoid about competition and largely unwilling to share. That's another post for another time! Stay tuned.

Rod Drury > Ponoko makes the New York Times

Rod Drury > Ponoko makes the New York Times

Woohoo! Well done guys!

Friday, 9 November 2007

I don't look like Jesus any more

(but hopefully I act like Him!)

In a rash moment (actually, it was dry skin) I went all the way when shaving. Not sure how long this clean-cut will last.

Anyway, speaking of Jesus, I watched Walk the Line again last night.

That is such a good film. Brilliantly put together, raw, powerful, harrowing, touching. A true tribute to a genuinely honest man. When the same guy impresses Billy Graham and Quentin Tarantino, I'm impressed!

My favourite scene - the very last scene in the movie. It's not very eventful, but it stands starkly in contrast to the rest of the movie. For once John is not escaping his troubled family, but going back in an opposite spirit. Instead of returning his father's emotional poverty, he's able to love the loveless.

Anyway. I'm raving. Must be time for lunch. It's a bit cold out though, especially around the face!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Making sense of dollars

Some people just "get" money. I don't.

Sure, I can do my business' accounts every year, but talk to me about cash rates and inflationary reserves and my eyes glaze over. As a journalist who reports on marketing, I need to upskill in this area.

So I've just finished reading two books that I hoped would give me the inside track on economics and money management:

Kissing the Frog: The magic that makes you money by the Brothers Middleton
Economics: A little book of big ideas by Matthew Forstater

Frog Kissing

Kissing the Frog is a brilliant idea - a storytelling approach to learning about investment.

The story follows Goldilocks as she seeks advice on investing in property, shares and businesses. Along the way she meets just about every fairytale character you've ever heard of, which is very smart, because it ties abstract financial and economic principles to familiar fairy tales. Somehow, along the way, the principles start to feel simpler and more familiar than they actually are.

It's not for kids, mind you. The Brothers Middleton try to spice up the story a little by adding a fair bit of sexual innuendo, particularly about that Prince Charming.

Because Frog is not just a dry treatise on investment, it's free to explore the more emotional side of investment. For me, anyway, the principles were easier to understand because they were told outright, and then explored through a story.

The Brothers Middleton also use different characters to educate us about different approaches, for instance the September hare's cautious, long-term approach to share investment, compared with the March hare's approach to high-risk, high-return options trading.


I got really excited when I started to read Economics: A Little Book of Big Ideas, but my enthusiasm dulled slightly as I went on. It promised a bite-sized approach to understand the big ideas of Economics, but I found it hard to discern a coherent structure.

It is bite-sized - each key economist gets just a double-page spread each - but is arranged by subject rather than chronology. I'm sure there is a structure to it, but it's quite hard to figure out, unless you already know all the stuff you got the book in order to understand.

The language could also be more accessible. However, that's a tall order when balanced against the need to fit someone's life work in two small pages.

So maybe Economics: A Little Book of Big Ideas isn't for beginners like me, but more useful for students of the field who need some quick revision.

More on economics in my review of Das Kapital: A Biography, and my thoughts on why we need to learn about money at Leadership Issues. Plus, a review of the Australian book Affluenza and the book Medici Money.

In coming months: a review of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations: A Biography.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Monday, 29 October 2007

Why I'm not at Podcamp Boston

1. Because Podcamp Boston is in the United States and I'm in New Zealand, and that's a lot of miles and a lot of dollars.

2. (kind of) because I don't have to be there. Not that I wouldn't like to be there in the best possible world, but the great thing about a group of podcasters is that they eat their own dogfood. There's a Google group, some tools, a blog, tons of photos, and a steady stream of Twitter tweets. (If you're on Twitter and set up through your phone or IM, just tell it to "track pod". Alternatively, just follow Len Edgerley's excellent coverage and follow all the links.)

It's just like being there ... except for the being there part. The information is free and freely distributed, the real value is in the face-to-face contact with your peers. Ah well, maybe next time.

What's great about an unconference like Podcamp is that it hits the mark - people really get to learn what they want to know. I've been noticing for a number of years there's always a large range of knowledge in any crowd - some will be absolute beginners, others will be expert in some niche area, others will be confident all-rounders.

I wonder, though, if the most absolute beginners are missing out because the unconference format is so unfamiliar. I guess that's where the mainstream media still comes in - as a valuable, trusted, curated conduit to the possibly quite scary flood of info out there.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Evan Almighty review - a God who's safe to like

Like most of New Zealand, I took some time away from the computer today and spent some quality time with Marie - including a trip to the movies. We saw Evan Almighty.

I'd heard some pretty iffy reviews, but a comedy seemed the best on offer. (Doesn't say much about what's on at the theatre! The Kingdom wasn't on until late tonight... )

We laughed - and also, surprisingly, felt closer to God. Although the film was generic enough to be spiritually acceptable to people of many faiths (although less generic than Bruce Almighty), it also seemed pretty compatible with the mainstream, fairly orthodox (I guess) Christian faith Marie and I call our own.

Some of my favourite moments:
  • God (Morgan Freeman) appearing to Evan's wife Joan as a waiter, with the name tag "Al Mighty" - smart. What he said to her was just inspiring.
  • A smarmy journalist asking Evan (Steve Carrell) cynically why God would call him. Evan's answer: "He's called all of us." Yes!
  • Evan's little shrug of the shoulders as he holds up his staff and the animals board the ark. He says, without words, "Hey, I have no idea how this is happening. I'm just doing what I do - and this stuff happens!"
I was pleasantly surprised by Steve Carrell's acting. As another reviewer commented, he has a gift for doing "frustrated", but he also has a gift for doing very sincere people caught up in circumstances beyond themselves. That's a sentiment we need to see because, a) a lot of us feel the same way, and b) it gives us hope.

Morgan Freeman was great, as he was in Bruce Almighty. He combines seeming omnipotence with homespun friendliness - which I imagine is not an easy task.

On a theological and philosophical level, I'm reminded of the writings of Adrian Plass, particularly his "controversial" statement that "God is nice and he likes us" ... which is somehow better than we could imagine.

It also reminds me of a conversation heard on The God Journey podcast a few weeks ago. The guys were talking about two Gods: the mean God and the nice God. We desire the nice God, but secretly fear the truth is he's the mean God.

From memory, the conversation went something like this:

So this guy, he tells me he's sticking with the mean God, because he's covering his bases. See, if God is actually nice, but I'm following the mean God, the nice God won't mind. But if God is actually mean, and I'm following the nice God - I'm in big trouble!

So I said to him, would the mean God go to the cross for you? Instinctively, without thinking, he said no. What does that tell you about the mean God?

Finally, this reminded me of the best things I enjoyed about A Generous Orthodoxy, as well as the mystic poetry combined with deep Biblical teaching combined with folk and celtic music that is the catalogue of Michael Card.

Always good to be reminded of something I already knew. Marie and I went and talked to God for quite a bit after seeing this comedy. Who'd have thought.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Why is war so popular?

I have had a fantastic day. It started with a trip to the $1 book sale, where Marie, my mum and I picked up some books on everything from organisational studies to beauty tips to Golda Meir's autobiography to a book about a lion tamer. Good stuff, and a good price!

Later we went to the mall and met Marie's mum and sister. Girl time! So I took the only reasonable course of action - said, "You'll find me in the bookshop" and spent hours reading captions of pictures.

It's interesting what you find interesting and absorbing when you relax. I gravitate to history.

Particularly, I looked at Alan Greenspan's new book, which has a humility of spirit about it that I like. Then I went on to New Zealand history, and found a lot of excellent photos that just summed up moments in our history. These are often familiar images to me, but they fascinate me still.

Then I started to tap a deep vein of war literature, particularly the world wars. This was in the New Zealand section, not the military history section. It was fascinating.

I don't know why, but I find it endlessly fascinating to contemplate the almost senseless bloodbath that was the century in which I was born. To look at the Nazis, to think of how much hope they must have initially offered to their people. To look at the beginning of the holocaust and see the depravity we can all sink to when evil attitudes and behaviour become normal. To look at Stalin and see ambition and drive gone far, far astray. To look at the British and think, yes, the British Empire did a lot of evil in its heyday and it deserved to fade into obscurity, but that at the same time Churchill was so right, that was their ... our ... finest hour. To look at New Zealand's history and think what a confused route we have taken, how there are no good guys and bad guys, but there are good and bad motives.

I guess it was a deep afternoon. And then I topped it off by buying some music - Bob Dylan's "The Times they are a-changing", "Slow Train Coming" and, to make sure I didn't get too serious... Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

What is marketing?

That's the big question I re-examine in the November issue of NZMarketing - can hardly wait! :)

It's also a question being asked in the UK, as Simon Wakeman reported on his blog. Having just finished the article on service-dominant logic, I couldn't resist chipping in:

Here’s a nice concise [definition] from Vargo and Lusch, the guys who brought us Service-Dominant logic of marketing:

“To collaborate with customers and partners to create and sustain value.”

It’s not a thorough definition, but one that seems to catch the zeitgeist of marketing thinking at the moment. I think?

I've just now seen a follow-up comment from Andrew Wake, where he says, among other things, "Simon Young’s offering seems far more succinct."

Blush. Thanks! But I can't take credit; that pithy definition was lifted from one of the many papers written by Professors Vargo and Lusch.

But thanks anyway!

(While you're waiting to discover the future of marketing, read up about licensing your ideas.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

How easy do you make it to downgrade? (Aka 37Signals, you suck)

"Everyone" knows customer experience is really important, that negative word of mouth spreads faster than positive, that happy customers stay longer and spend more. So companies make it easy to do business with them.

How about the other way around? When you want to downgrade or leave a company, how easy is it? I recently tried to downgrade my accounts with LinkedIn and Highrise HQ.

With LinkedIn, it was a breeze once I emailed support asking "how do I downgrade?". To some that might be good enough, but I'm used to automation here ... this is web 2.0, right? The great usability that helps me upgrade smoothly should also be there to help me downgrade smoothly.

It's slightly more complicated with Highrise HQ, the CRM application from 37Signals. It's a powerful product, and on the face of it, it's easy to both upgrade and downgrade.

Trouble is, I want to downgrade but I have file attachments. If there's files in my account, I can't downgrade. So I emailed support:

Hi guys,

I'd like to downgrade my account to a free one but I can't because there are files. But I don't need those files. However I can't find how to delete all those attachments so I can revert to free.

Can you help?

Their reply:

Hi Simon,

There is no central file location, so you'll need to delete them from
the contacts and cases you've uploaded file to.

You've got to be kidding me. Because Highrise HQ can't handle HTML email, every email that has automatically forwarded to HighriseHQ has come through as a MIME attachment.

That means I could probably spend all day deleting files one by one, and still not be finished.

That's no fun. C'mon 37Signals, you guys do great software, how about making this task a little easier for me - and other customers who want to downgrade now (perhaps to upgrade later, you never know!)

Update: At last night's Ecademy Auckland group I heard that Google AdWords is another service that doesn't let you downgrade once you upgrade. Bad, naughty, evil Google!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Gaming and your business - new post at iJump

I've just posted at iJump about a neat set of conversations I had today around:
  • gaming
  • customer engagement
  • long term business relationships
  • fun and humanity in your business
  • intellectual property licensing
There'll be more in my monthly online marketing column in NZMarketing Magazine, due out at the beginning of November.

What's iJump? You'll just have to find out, won't you!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Second Life products - fake or virtual? (Is there a difference?)

A geeky start to last night's presentation to the Certificate of Direct Marketing students at the Marketing Association: I took their photo.

(Well, two photos - my MacBook Pro doesn't have a wide-angle lens.)

We talked about what is becoming my usual schtick:
  • blogs are changing the world, but not for the reasons you may think
  • yes, some blogs punch above their weight, but more importantly...
  • the live web is changing the way humans process information
(For that slide I had a video of We Feel Fine as the background ... hypnotic, compelling!)

Afterwards we had a bit of a tour around Second Life, courtesy of my avatar Gerontius Wunderlich.

When I explain that people buy and sell in this virtual economy, I always get someone asking, "why would people buy something that's fake?"

It's a question that goes right to the heart of our perception of value. Is it fake, or is it virtual?

For instance, we watched a couple of people having a dance-off outside the ALM Cyberchurch. Suddenly one of them started throwing off bright shiny lights. Oohs and aahs from the audience.

"That's what people will pay for," I said.

Is it tangible? No. Does that flash of light belong to that individual? Yes. Is it valuable to them? Yes, because it makes them (or their avatar) look cool in front of their friends (or potential friends).

Fake? Or Virtual? It may seem like mere playing with words, but there's more to it.

If you want to go way too deep into this conversation, start with the presentation we saw at Auckland University's CODE last month on "Time, Space, Consciousness and a Second Life". I never knew (and still don't really) about "vitalism and post-structuralism as a counter-metanarrative to the traditional logic of reductive scientific materialism".

After that presentation, Marie and I wandered back to the office, pausing to touch a tree in Albert Park and say to each other, "How do you know this tree is real?" It really does your head in, this philosophy/virtuality stuff. But it is fun.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

This video should play in every church

Spotted on ThinkChristian.

While I think it's absolutely worthwhile for Christians to get out and about a bit, and see how others perceive them, it's also good for "the other side" to examine some of their own prejudices.

Case in point: Dr Dave came across someone at the APA get-together recently who was looking into the prejudices of researchers when they labelled as "homophobic" those who believe homosexual behaviour is morally wrong. Believing a behaviour is wrong is not the same as believing the person who does the behaviour is inferior or less than human. But don't get me started on that...

Another great example of inter-confessional learning I stumbled upon today is Revolution in Jesusland, a fascinating look into the evangelical Christian subculture by Zack Exley, a political progressive. Refreshing, thought-provoking. Thanks to David Weinberger for pointing it up on his blog.

Notice what I'm saying ... It's not just great that Zack is saying nice things about the church, but that he's really listening to what's being said. A little more of that from the church, and maybe as a society America could really get somewhere!

Meanwhile, in New Zealand... ? Hmmm.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Facebook is better than OldFriends

OldFriends is the New Zealand version of the incredibly popular, and both of them offer the ability to reconnect with old school friends, or acquaintances, or crushes, or whatever.

When I first discovered OldFriends quite a few years ago, it was so exciting. I was able to reconnect with people! But after a few emails and promising to "keep in touch" with people - nothing. We all get busy, and there's usually no compelling reason to keep in touch, unless you work in the same industry or have friends in common.

That's why Facebook is so cool. While editing my profile, I added my high school (Avondale College 1993, FYI) and discovered I could search for others in the same year. Because I didn't go to uni I lost touch with a lot of folks from school, so it was really cool to get in touch with people.

So I've already had one person accept my friend request, and it's so cool to know I don't have to come up with a big long email message about how has life been since school, etc, etc... we'll get to know each other again just by being on Facebook.

There's something in that about how our concepts of social-ness (sociality?) are changing. But I don't know what that something is right now.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Coathangers, open source and the individual

Last week, these coathangers spoke to me.

They said, "We don't trust you."

Not at all like the friendly coathangers at Booklovers Bed & Breakfast, where you'll find the kind of coathangers you could easily stow in your luggage.

But you wouldn't steal coathangers from Booklovers (at least most wouldn't) because you'd be stealing direct from Jane Tolerton. And even those who steal from faceless corporations will think twice before taking from another individual.

It got me thinking about how brands relate to people, and how ultimately we're all brands and all individuals, and how the zeitgeist of the early 21st century is swinging right back towards to the individual, as found in community.

My thoughts were further consolidated in an engrossing conversation with Sigund Magnusson, cofounder of Silverstripe, a company that open sourced their CMS software earlier this year.

In brief (it was a long conversation), open source is not so much about free software as it is about recognising individual contributions. (There was more - just keep your eyes peeled on the site - but that was a key message I got from the conversation).

And because we're less likely to steal from someone we know, open source is theoretically free for the taking, but our desire to relate to one another in community means we want to give credit where credit is due - whether that credit is cash or just acknowledgement.

It's a line of thought I'm probably going to pursue in future blog posts. Stay tuned.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Fox wants you

Fancy a quick entry into Hollywood? Fox is asking for your story ideas on MySpace.

Sounds like a good idea - unfortunately one I don't have time or mental space to participate in at the moment. A bit of advice: check out what they do with submissions that don't win. Do you as the creator retain copyright? This is a great opportunity, but it would help you to be very clued up about the legal ownership aspects.

Hat tip: Heather Shepherd from Skip's Hollywood Hangout.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Thanks so much!

Just got some great feedback from Conferenz, who have summarised the feedback of attendees at the 5th Annual Media Relations Conference:

"Simon was my favourite speaker! Great content as well as audience participation"
"Liked the interaction, great start to the Conference"
"Entertaining & informative"
"Very keen/enthusiastic - made blogs interesting"

Blush. Thanks all for making it a great session!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Maxnet followup - they don't suck after all

Someone said a company's response to a problem can make all the difference. Maxnet's general manager Brett Herkt was quick to respond to my irate blog post the other day, and it's a textbook example of a gracious, well- thought-out reply.

The problem in question was (thankfully) sorted the morning after I posted, only to be followed up by another problem that seems to be with "the way things are" with domain names. It's still very frustrating.

But Brett's response stands as a textbook example of how to cope with those cranky customers who use their newfound power to spread bad vibes about your brand. That was a common fear expressed at the Media Relations Conference I've just returned from.

As I tried to explain at the conference - it's just conversation. All technology does is extend the conversation outside the walls of a room. The same rules apply online as in a room - be direct, be humane, attack the issue and not the person (which I tried to do, but probably slipped over the line in that blog post title...)

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The secret of New Zealand

In conversation post-conference yesterday with Leon Hudson from Chong Newztel and Nick from the New Plymouth District Council - two expat Brits who have seen the light and made New Zealand their home.

Leon: Since moving here I have never been so relaxed in my whole life.

Simon: Boy that's not the message we want to send out during a skill shortage - come to NZ to relax.

Leon: No, it's not that I'm relaxing - in fact I'm working longer hours that I used to. It's just that I'm not so tense. In London if I miss the tube it's a huge catastrophe. In New Zealand if I miss the bus, I get out a book to read.

He then said some stuff about cheese that I really didn't understand... but it was food for thought (the conversation, not the cheese... hang on, there wasn't any cheese..!)

And Nick did contribute to the conversation, just not that part of it.

Anyway ... like I said, food for thought. What sort of message should we send out to attract the rightly skilled people to NZ? Not that it's a place for work/life balance (although that's true) because apparently we need high growth businesses and those kind of businesses don't do work life balance.

But Leon's correction - that he's perhaps able to work longer hours because of a less tense atmosphere ... now that's interesting.

More info: my immigration article in Idealog

The Internet in 1969

Monday, 24 September 2007

Maxnet, you suck - or why I got interested in management

I'm writing to you from the Booklovers B&B where the internet is slow but the atmosphere is faanntastic. (And, of course, interesting books line the shelves)

Wellington is groovy as always, and my presentation this morning was another step in finding my best presentation style. More on that later.

But for now, a constructive grumble.

It was on my fifth support call to Maxnet that I realised why I'd become interested in management all those years ago.

I started in advertising. If you think a little bit about advertising, you want to learn about marketing. Marketing is about making promises. If you make promises, you want to keep them. If you want to keep them systematically, you have to have a system in place. Hence, management.

Maxnet is experiencing systematic problems right now that are preventing it from fulfilling its potential.

Since Saturday night I've been trying to switch my domain to a new registrar before launching our new SimonYoungWriters' site (I won't link because there's nothing there at the moment!).

I could bore you with a long story, but I'll summarise what's up with Maxnet, and how they (and every business) could do a better job:
  • Do the thinking for me. When I phoned late on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning, I got the same recorded message: "Unfortunately our operators can't take your call at this time". I didn't have the presence of mind to check their hours of operation, or I would've saved myself a lot of stress. But why don't they put their hours of business in their answerphone message?
  • Get the staff you need. My righteous indignation hit a high when I waited on hold for 10 minutes, only to get automatically put onto an answerphone. Not what I want as a customer!
  • Give staff the tools to help. When I finally talked to someone it was using my cellphone, calling from Auckland airport. It was a relief to talk to someone, but they couldn't help. The webmaster's in tomorrow, he said. Great.
  • Don't be so frickin' cheap. And that's another thing. I had to pay for the call, even though it was Maxnet's system that wasn't delivering the results I needed. They have an 0800 number, but you can't call it from a cellphone or from within Auckland.
I think that's all, and it looks a lot less when I see it in bullet point. But each of these bullet points caused me a lot of grief, and it got worse, the less responsive Maxnet appeared.

Tonight I spoke with a helpdesk guy named Stephen. From him I discovered that my issue was a priority, that several members of the team were aware of it, and that there had been other, similar issues on rare occasions before.

That's great, but why didn't anyone email me or phone me? I want to know something, even if that something is "we're working on it".

Even then, I had to prod and poke Stephen. He would've been quite happy to let me wait until morning to talk to an expert. This is my business, I told him. Is there anyone who can help me right now, because right now is when I need help.

Then the helpfulness came. Stephen plumbed all the knowledge he had on the subject, and shared possible scenarios, used his creativity and imagination. We didn't get there, but we got further than we had been.

Why is it so hard to get people to be completely present to help you in these service situations? Why do I have to be more assertive than I feel comfortable with to get what is simply my due as a customer?

All questions to ponder. And I don't completely blame Stephen or his colleagues for the bad service they've given me. It's a systemic problem that must be dealt with in a systemic way. Not a mechanical system, but a growing, learning organic system that gets better over time.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Switched-on Obama

Barak Obama's done it again. He's not only using Twitter, he's now on LinkedIn. And he's not sending a message, he's asking a question.


Thursday, 20 September 2007

I don't know why but this made me cry

I'm a big softy. There's just something about encouragement, about how this coach literally gave courage to someone who was a good singer, but lost her nerve.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Monday, 17 September 2007

Scoop: ‘Social Networking’ Trend Coming To Real Estate

Scoop: ‘Social Networking’ Trend Coming To Real Estate

Great to see Harcourts blowing the trumpet for social networking. This is an interesting example of being seen to be onto it, simply by saying we all need to be onto it. It's a peculiar trait of this time in history, when social networking and web 2.0 is so new, that there's a lot of room in between the know's and the know-nots to educate and position yourself and your company.

But as far as I can tell, Harcourts are the real deal. They've even got an office in Second Life.

But it's quite funny to have a press release simply saying 'we've been to a conference and we think that what they said was really important'. Maybe I should send a press release out every time I go to a conference ... or I could just blog it.

Hmm... I'd better stop, I'm sounding snarky. But while I'm teetering near the edge of snarky, I'll say this ... why put 'inverted commas' around 'everything'? It's kind of 'annoying'.


But hey, the press release worked, it showed up on my Google Alerts for Generation C, and here I am writing about it instead of doing my other work. Great work, Harcourts!

Friday, 14 September 2007

How to write Short Films

It's sadly been many months since I've attended Script-to-Screens Writer's Room - so I greatly appreciate them posting notes from the most recent event.

Even if you're not an aspiring screenwriter, there's some great advice on how to get ideas, how to craft short stories, and how to get funding for artistic projects (‘There is no substitute for originality and emotional resonance’).

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Picking on podcasters

I'm just reading 20 "do's" for your corporate podcast, this week's free download for members of Interesting.

I've only read points one and two, and I can think of some really good exceptions to the rules:

1. Podcasts should be short. In most cases, 30 minutes is too long; 15 minutes should
be the max, unless you’re interviewing Osama Bin Laden.

Yeah, but what about the enormously popular For Immediate Release, Across the Sound, or Shrink Rap Radio, which all clock in at an hour minimum per episode? And I haven't heard Osama on any of them. (Yet).

2. Take your podcast seriously, not yourself. For example, don’t introduce yourself as “America’s most practical small-business marketing expert.” Do we need to be
prompted to think that?

That's a cheap shot at John Jantsch, who does Duct Tape Marketing. Admittedly, he's stopped calling himself that (I think). And it doesn't come across too well for me - just as well he has a great personality and easy manner to get beyond the hyperbole. But that's part of his brand, not just his podcast strategy - why pick on him?

Apart from that, there are some pretty good ideas for podcasters. Maybe not hard "do's", but some food for inspiration, anyway.


Originally uploaded by Wilhelm Augustus Hohenzollern
There's something to be said for unambiguity. And repetition. And repetition.


Originally uploaded by Wilhelm Augustus Hohenzollern
This made my morning. Who would have thought that government-owned New Zealand Post had such a rebellious streak?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Cross-post: Gen C comes to Australia

Cross-posted from

Gen C hits Australia

A column in The Australian puts a start date on Generation C - 1985. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek column, but maybe there’s a bit of truth to it?

generation C (for communication, caring and compassion apparently). This generation, born in the late 1980s, is completely wired, does not believe anyone born before 1985 knows how to use Bluetooth or a DVD player let alone an electric wanger - sorry, I mean one of those new-fangled computers.

These children of the millennium create their own content online, and while generation X pays for an unlisted number and retreats ever deeper into its funkhole, gen C spends its time going public and talking about itself in neurotic detail on the web.

Every member of gen C is a celebrity - they must be; they all have a website, don’t they? Gen C was also taught to care. They not only want to save the whales, but forgive the fiends of Guantanamo and September 11.

They sound like every generation of idealistic youngsters: eager, cute and, sadly, about to run slap-bang into reality.

Already the article’s been picked up in the blogosphere, here, here and here.

Monday, 10 September 2007

What web 2.0 means ... semiotically, anyway

Umamiblog » Blog Archive » So, so true

And thanks to Jake Pearce for telling me what semiotics actually is. Jake, don't forget to come back from Europe! :)

Sunday, 9 September 2007

How well does your business facilitate?

AuthorHouse and iUniverse Join Forces to Change the Publishing Landscape: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance


Under Author Solutions, Inc., the World's Two Largest Providers of Publishing Services Will Expand Offerings to Give Authors More Choice and More Control (my emphasis)

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

I am a shameless Xero fanboy

Switched our accounting to Xero last night. Wooo!

It's good. It seems to do all the same things our old package did, but it does them cooler. And that is surprisingly very important, even for something like accounting.

What's so cool? The fact that there's a dashboard, the fact that I can click on just about anything for more information, and the fact that the "feedback" button is on every single page, and actually goes to someone who gives me an answer!

Well done, Drury, Morgan et al. Here's to all the success you deserve.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Co-creation at work

Feature: Please don't mess with this sign by Matt Nippert | New Zealand Listener

Very interesting stuff!

"The unlikely symbiosis between advertisers and those who hijack their campaigns."

Monday, 3 September 2007

Is this a hoax?

Or something that's desperately needed? The "about" video copy reads like "The Sound of Silence":

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs
That voices never share
No one dare

visit NOSO

Maybe Wilf Jarvis was right?

Art of chatting face to face dying | The Daily Telegraph


Psychologist, Harvard Business School researcher and etiquette columnist Robin Abrahams says societies have become filled with shrinking violets.

"In the past, only about 40 per cent of people reported being shy in social situations,'' Ms Abrahams said.

"It's now a significant problem affecting about half.''


"Society is changing so rapidly it's becoming difficult to navigate. There's no longer a set of rules for appropriate behaviour,'' she said.

"At the same time, technology is enabling us to opt out of difficult situations and causing people to become more insular.


Ms Abrahams said the answer was in developing a new approach to teaching social skills.

"It can't be about the memorisation of customs as it was in the past, because there are too many potential situations and too much social change and cultural diversity.

"It needs to be more like chess, based on strategies and general principles.''

Ms Abrahams recommends two key strategies: communication and practice.

"Communicating with others about their expectations is a huge part of feeling comfortable socially,'' she said.

"And so is practice. Social interaction is like anything else: the more you do it the better you become.''

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Where is your competition coming from?

Interesting feature in the latest Hitwise NZ Newsletter: the local competitiveness index.

Turns out that in the "shopping and classifieds - house and garden" subcategory more than half of traffic is going overseas. I wonder how much of that traffic is turning into cash?

Reminds me of some interviews I did last year, all in the one week, where two Americans and a Kiwi who's worked in the UK warned businesses that there is no such thing as a domestic market any more.

Sure, you have companies that only sell to New Zealand, but their competition is from anywhere in the world. That takes the stakes way higher. Patriotism can only go so far, particularly when it's faced with convenience.

Diversity drives innovation - notes from this week's diversity symposium

I had such a great time at Thursday's Diversity Symposium, where I was the guest (thanks very much) of the EEO Trust, who put the event on.

Keynote speaker was Frans Johansson, who's well-qualified to speak about diversity, being part Afro-American, part Cherokee and part Swedish. He's the author of the book The Medici Effect.

Without further ado, my notes from Frans' presentation:

  • All new ideas are combinations of old ideas.
  • Some combinations aren't that exciting; eg spider + web. Big deal.
  • But what about spider + goat's milk? Strange, huh? Explore connections between the two and you actually get some of the material they make bulletproof vests out of.
  • Far apart ideas and cultures look at the same things differently -> creativity -> innovation
Then he looked at the characteristics of organisations and teams who create great ideas:
  • Corning Glass - the world's biggest glass provider - develops 4000 products a year; about 2% go to market.
  • Prince has about 1000 unreleased songs in his vault - they're not good enough for him to release.
  • You have to have lots of ideas to get the good ideas.
  • The most innovative teams fail the most. (Interestingly, I was hearing much the same thing in ResearchTalk's interview on excellence while waiting for the train Thurs. morning!)
  • Diverse teams generate more ideas.
Then he had a really cool example from the world of music: Tubular Bells.
  • If you were a rock musician in the 70s and you wanted to do something different, how many variables do you have? There are about 2400 combinations with traditional rock band equipment, chords and vocal styles.
  • And if you're a classical musician, you've got about 2400 different combinations to create a new piece of classical music.
  • Or you could mash them together like Mike Oldfield, who made an album that stayed at number one for something like 15 weeks!
And now some facts and figures from the world of business:
  • hp's quantum lab has 32 scientists from 13 different countries, and 13 disciplines. And no rules!
  • Took them 2 years to get established and working together as a team - but once they'd figured out which language to speak (!) they got to be one of the most productive research labs in the USA.
Then a few pieces of advice, supported by examples:
  • Find inspiration from fields and cultures other than your own - and dare to explore the connections.
  • Redefine what you do.
  • How to be number one: make a new category.
  • Combine curiosity, no fear and ideas.
  • Deliberately staff for innovation - different:
    • experiences
    • approaches
    • concepts
    • traditions
  • Diversity by design.
  • Example: L'Oreal - a French company with a British CEO - launched a hair product for African-American women (why didn't an American company do that?). They accidentally discovered a market of 1 billion people worldwide - all those women with African-origin hair, found in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe!
  • Example: Frit-o-lay had an affinity group (self-formed group of people with something in common) of Hispanics who recommended a guacamole-flavoured chip. In its first year it earned $100 million. Ees nice!
  • Ignite an explosion of ideas by selecting specific groups.
  • Eg Volvo had a concept car designed by all-female engineers. It had - among other things - a side hatch to fill up your washer fluid, instead of having to open the bonnet (or hood). Good only for women? Nah, great for everyone. Diversity drives innovation.
  • Intesect ideas from your global offices.
  • Example Cummins makes generators but makes profit from service. Good in Europe and US but in China there's no infrastructure, so they had to make their generators better so they won't need servicing so much. Ended up thrashing the competition and changing the business model!
Then Frans showed us a graph which showed that homogenous teams get productive straight away, but plateau after a while. Meanwhile, diverse teams take a while to get going but go on to outperform homogenous teams.

"The single most important leadership quality is to move the [time to get productive] to the left (of the graph - in other words to get productive , faster)"

Man there's so much great stuff here, I'm going to have to do another post shortly. Time for tea now!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Accidental spammer?

Just days after New Zealand launched it's anti-spam law, I get this email:(...followed by a huge list of USB Flash Drives with photos - amounting to 77kb)

I cannot believe this. I can count on one hand the number of times I've received spam-like email from within New Zealand, but really, the timing for this is perfect - if IDL wants to cop a huge fine.

I'm guessing that this is accidental rather than deliberate spam, so I did something unusual: replied.


Are you really sure you want to send this email, just as the anti-spam law has been passed?

1) I can't remember explicitly giving you permission to email me, and you haven't reminded me in the email
2) You haven't provided an easy way to unsubscribe

...both factors which could land you in huge trouble.

I recommend you first of all stop this campaign, and don't send out any more emails like this. Secondly, I recommend you start building an opt-in database. It also wouldn't hurt to join the Marketing Association (

On a related note, I'll be speaking tomorrow at the Marketing Association's Practical Email Marketing workshop tomorrow. Looking forward to help people do the opposite of this email!

Is LinkedIn still okay?

Several times in the last week or so, I've heard people talk about the shortcomings of LinkedIn. Personally I've found it tremendously useful and efficient, but Jack Yan has a good point in his post, LinkedIn needs more.

"LinkedIn does not really reflect the roundedness of an individual, and business connections are best formed with people with whom you have some non-business commonality.
People are almost forced to become more human in Facebook if they frequent it."

Therein lies the strength and weakness of Facebook compared with LinkedIn. Which one you prefer reflects your philosophy of doing business. Some people wish to separate business and the rest of life, others, as Jack points out, wish to do business with whole people.

While it's possible to show a bit of your humanity on your LinkedIn profile (plus a link to your blog, which I always check on people's profiles), Facebook gives you more of an integrated package.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Web Strategy: The Three Spheres of Web Strategy (and the skills required)

Web Strategy: The Three Spheres of Web Strategy (and the skills required)

(Posted simply because I thought it was a good link and needed to put it somewhere I'd notice. Please enjoy!)

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Chuck Palahniuk interview (link)

Robber's Dog's Blog posts an interview with Chuck Palahniuk. Name sound familiar? He's the guy who wrote the novel Fight Club.

Quote: He hangs out in public places as he writes (hospital waiting rooms etc) so he has a resource of gestures and natural drama always to draw from.

Cool. JK Rowling writes in cafes as well!

Where is Skype's humanity?

PR 2.0 - Silicon Valley
gives a fantastic review of the brouhaha (or is that a kerfuffle) around Skype's response to its outage last week.

Outages will happen (although hopefully not so dramatic!) but it's in the crisis that we the customers know if that company gives a monkey's. The odds are stacked against any kind of company, because in the back of our minds - even if we run a business ourselves - there's that voice saying "All corporates are bastards."

Interestingly, even though I'm a Skype customer, I had no communication from Skype about the outage. I heard about it entirely through Twitter and other people's blogs.

Skype - and most other companies - need to learn how to write like a human. This is a mindset as much as a skill. My favourite quote from Skype (second hand, through someone else's blog) is

"We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions."

Well thanks for reassuring us. We really, really needed to be reminded of that part of the service agreement.

But service agreement clauses are the domain of the coward. They're the letter of the law, but what about the language of the heart? It sounds soft and a little crazy, but that's the stuff that really has an impact on the bottom line.

And because Skype was down, the Skype team was reduced to using the most basic form of communication - words.

Do your words show you give a monkey's?

Looking forward to hearing what Shel and Neville have to say on this.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Book Review: Das Kapital - A Biography

I've got mixed feelings about Karl Marx.

I know him as the alleged father of an ideology that has resulted in more deaths in history than those rendered in the name of religion - a grisly toll which continues to rise today.

I also know him as a denouncer of religion and, together with Freud and Darwin, one of the gods academia chose to replace anything that looked remotely like God.

I've come up against this dogmatic reverence for Marx in, of all places, a book on creative writing. It wasn't so much Marx that annoyed me, it was more the insidious way the author had used Marx, Freud, Foucalt et al to politicise the creative process - a process which I believe to be one of the most creative forces on earth.

So there's potentially a lot to dislike about Marx, judging by his self-proclaimed followers. But there are always two sides to the story; that's why I read Karl Marx's Das Kapital - A Biography.

Karl Marx's Das Kapital (Ten Books That Changed the World S.)

I also read it because it's part of the Books that Shook the World series, books that offer an accessible “way in” to some of the world's most influential ideas. So far I've read about Plato's Republic, The Q'uran, Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" and Darwin's Origin of Species. They've not only been excellent history lessons; they've also offered fascinating insights into how ideas take hold and spread.

Das Kapital: A Biography comprises three long chapters, gestation, birth and afterlife. It's far from comprehensive, but perfect for a reader like me who is vaguely familiar with economic issues (though not formally educated in economics) and also relatively up-to-speed with history.

Francis Wheen, the author, paints a picture of a brilliant man driven by his search for underlying truth, but also easily distracted by petty rivalries, and terrible with deadlines (as many great writers seem to be - much to my relief!). What's really interesting is that Marx saw Das Kapital as much as a literary work as a political or economic treatise. In fact this is the book's overall point of view, drawing on quotes from the minority of scholars who recognised this aspect of Marx's intentions.

The first two chapters tell the story of the book's conception and birth, including the muted response when it was published in 1867. The biggest problem was, people couldn't figure out what the hell it was about. This touches on some important issues for any writer - Marx's collaborator Engels tried to persuade him to break down (or break up?) the information into more manageable chunks to reach a wider audience, but,

“'How could you leave the outward structure of the book in its present form!' Engels asked despairingly after seeing the final proofs. 'The fourth chapter is almost 200 pages long and only has four sub-sections...Furthermore, the train of thought is constantly interrupted by illustrations, and the point to be illustrated is never summarised after the illustration, so that one is forever plunging straight from the illustration of one point into the exposition of another point. It is dreadfully tiring, and confusing too.'”

Usability again!

The final chapter then looks at Marx's legacy, as carried forth by George Bernard Shaw, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, modern academics ... and then it gets really interesting. While Wheen notes that failure of communism in the Soviet Union, and that fact that most ostensibly Marxist countries in the 20th century weren't industrialised nations (the kind Marx said were the only kind ready for a communist revolution), there is a note of hope at the end that really has me thinking. Wheen quotes a number of fairly pro-capitalist authors who reassess Marx's work, going back to what he really said, rather than what others have derived from his “gothic novel” that was Das Kapital.

The book ends - and I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone - with a theme of revisitation:

“Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century.”

Certainly makes me want to learn more - about Marx, about other economists (my next book to read is Little Book of Big Ideas: Economics) and about emerging models of the way business works - models that more closely match the reality we live in.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

So many days, so little blogging...

Apologies for my recent silence. I've still been busy on Twitter and Facebook; I kind of like how easy it is to microblog.

Before a quick roundup of news from my front porch, a few thoughts on usability and word of mouth.

Jeremiah Owyang reports Facebook's amazing numbers. Meanwhile in NZ, well-funded Ferrit's traffic still trails Trademe, the corporate-owned startup that still acts like a startup, particularly in the restraint shown with marketing and advertising (ie they don't advertise at all).

As I slog away at re-doing my company website (that's the old one) I think of how many little details make up the overall user experience of a site. There's a lot to think about, but those little things make a huge difference.

So when we think of Trademe and Facebook attracting huge numbers, I believe it's because they've taken the dollars they could invest in advertising and promotion, and ploughed them into the invisible, but far more important area of usability.

The temptation is to think these sites were done on the cheap, because they don't have the usual ostentatious corporate expenses. But as I'm discovering with my own site and my involvement in, usability takes time and headspace, and that costs some sort of money. Even if that money is opportunity cost.

For, we've been trying to do something completely different - which, as we've discovered, is very time-consuming, particularly when we all have quite intense day jobs. Because we're looking at the new all the time, it's taken me quite some time to remember some of the blindingly obvious aspects of the old that I've heretofore (love that word) forgotten - such as an easy way to contact us!

Meanwhile, for the redesign, I've been blessed to have some great advice from David Young (no relation), who pointed me to WordPress as a CMS.

Then, in my search for a web designer familiar with WordPress themes, I discovered John Lewis had just - I dunno what the phrase is, got WordPressganged? Taken up the press? ... anyway, he had switched to WordPress a few months back. So he's done an excellent WP theme for my new site (coming soon, have patience).

The longest part of the journey is writing the copy. Actually there was also the information architecture. It is all legitimately part of my role as a web copywriter, but it is amazingly time-consuming, particularly when it's my own business. Hard to get perspective, y'know.

But Marie is helping no end. She's not a writer - yet - but after reading Persuasive Online Copywritingshe has been a fantastic coach as I get out of writing business articles mode, and get back into poet-artist-make-you-think-guy - my native mode.

I also got interviewed on the subject of writing like a human being by Anna Farmery this Wednesday just gone. Anna is great to listen to and just as great to be interviewed by. Stay tuned for that!


In other news, this week's share market hiccup reminded us all that good times do not last forever. Jason Calacanis believes it might be a taste of things to come for the tech sector.

It's uncomfortable, but has the ring of truth. I started in business at the same time as the last tech crash (launched my first website in April 2000), and I knew nothing about business then. Ignorance (and still having a day job, albeit at a non-profit organisation) was bliss.

Now I'm a bit more informed, and have a bit more on the line. But a key thing that's different this time compared with 2000 is the social networking scene. I know that some companies that are part of the environment may disappear in the coming months. But the people behind them won't (we hope!). Now is a good time to read stuff like Getting Things Done, so we can make the most of relationships, and the technology that enables worldwide relationships, without losing out on vital productivity.