Hurling Comes to Boston

Hurling at Fenway #AIGfenwayHurling

Galway & Clare mixing it up at Fenway Park #AIGFenwayHurling

The oldest and fastest team sport in the world visited Boston yesterday. Hurling, the ancient and Legendary national game of Ireland played out at Fenway Park before a crowd of some 28,000 people including this first timer.

Hurleys for the ancient sport of hurling #AIGFenwayHurling

Hurleys as fierce looking as the lads who wield them

Played with an ash stick called a hurley and a leather ball called a sliothar (which looked like but did not feel like a tennis ball), hurling is a very fast moving game that  reminded me simultaneously of elements from hockey, lacrosse, handball and basketball. But, this sport is way more complex and fiercely played out. I could conjure up scenes from Outlander as I watched the competitors use their hands, sticks and legs in an amazing show of athleticism.

Coming into Boston as All Ireland champions of Counties Clare, Galway, Dublin and Tipperary, the 11 player teams zipped through two semi finals with Galway and Clare facing off in the final Players Champions cup in venerable Fenway Park.

After attending the games, I have to say that hockey now appears tame by comparison, so I can only say – well played – to the many parties that brought this all together and sponsors that made for an exciting Irish weekend in Boston.

As a business connector helping Irish companies scale, I had the chance to meet Frances Fitzgerald Tanaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation at a prior event so it was great fun to see her again on the field as she presented the Trophy to  Patrick O’Connor  for the team. Clare won over Galway in a fiercely fought final, 50-33 and I look forward to the return of Hurling to Boston or me to Ireland – whichever comes first.

trophy presentation to Clare Hurler Patrick O'Connor #AIGFenwayHurling

Clare Team Captain Patrick O’Connor accepting congratulations and the trophy from An Tanaiste, TD Frances Fitzgerald

 

 

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Urgent v. Important; A Facebook Time-out

Urgent vs. Important – or equally well known in parenting and business circles as the Facebook timeout. I’ve been hearing from many folks lately with complaints about valuable time wasted or lost but only realized once they’ve emerged from one of the many daily trips down the rabbit hole of social media. Much of the criticism is pointed at Facebook where daily usage by over 1 billion people does appear to make it the watering hole everybody must stop at to take a daily drink. Some call it Facebook Fatigue. You emerge dissatisfied and find yourself diverted from your daily goals.

Now is the right time to revisit the growing dilemma of dealing with Urgent vs. Important tasks in your day. Let’s start with an internet search (of course) of the phase “urgent vs. important.” I was surprised to see “Eisenhower Box” among the top offerings along with a ten year old Harvard Business Review article. But look up “Facebook sabbatical” or “Facebook timeout” and a massive variety of choices are offered up.

Eisenhower Box.uploadjpgThe Eisenhower Box was a wonderful representation of how to process “inbound” demands on our time and it represented the “how” of time management skills and techniques in a world long vanished. Today, few people ever lift their faces up from the device that has become as addictive as opioids. This device (I hesitate to call it a phone) is where selfies become the default camera mode and human beings can become human doings if they’re not careful.

The addictive nature of these devices plays to the very human need to be acknowledged by others. This is the principle that most social media platforms exploit and therefore it is important to explore the “why” of today’s dilemma of Urgent vs. Important

Seth Godin rightly points out that responding to Urgent makes us feel competent – we must reply to an email – we want to acknowledge another immediately upon seeing their post. And it is so easy to act. A single touch of “like” or “swipe” triumphantly meets the urgency head on.

But is it important, this inbound missive?  Does it help create something of value?  Doing important work takes time and continuous focus.  Developing a drug to combat deadly disease takes years if not decades. Building an inclusive society that doesn’t leave behind the poor, the elderly and the differently-abled means taking risks and standing out from everyone else.

If Urgent makes us feel competent then important is likely to be a time elongated task shadowed by fear and uncertainty of outcome. Will the project succeed? Will the time invested prove valuable? Will real jobs be created? We may not know for years if the path taken is the right one to a measurable success. Would Thomas Edison be encouraged in his work today?

He was famously known for saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work” on his lifelong way to creating 1,093 patented inventions. But equally important was his belief that “The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think.”

Are we thinking about why disruption in the marketplace is so rewarded? One should question today’s reliance on MVP (minimum viable product) that is often an excuse to build a concept company to be acquired or flipped. Is the focus really a scalable startup that will deliver the creation of important jobs for the future? We are just a few years away from self-driving vehicles and chatbots taking over many tasks while providing predictably “correct” answers to our questions. But as business and society moves forward, the most important questions will not be answerable by search.

Consider then, the heretics who want more than just a world dummied down into the simplicity of swipe right, swipe left.  A former manager of mine talked about chipping away each day at the big tasks – of building trust, of being present and listening more than speaking.

When it comes to “Important” will you take the time to build the future – or will you swipe away the hours with all the idle time soon to be presented to you?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Video is Now

Amanda Palmer sings with Keith Spiro

Why video? Why now? Because studies by Animoto, Google and Hubspot support the proposition that marketing is moving to video and visuals at an ever accelerating pace. Here are some baseline statistics:

4X as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. (Animoto, 2015)

Almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store. (Google, 2016)

53% of smartphone users feel more favorable towards companies whose mobile sites or apps provide instructional video content. (Google, 2015)

Some 45% of us watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week (HubSpot, 2016) and

An astounding 100 million hours of video are watched everyday on Facebook (techCrunch 2016).

82% of Twitter users watch video content on twitter  and 90% of Twitter video views are on mobile (Twitter 2015) Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics

So, the message is clear. We have moved into an age where people watch and listen rather than read and we tend to prefer to consume information in video sound bites.  More video is posted each day than can be consumed in any one lifetime!  Most people agree that a video of one minute or shorter duration is the generally preferred length of engagement.

How do you get to participate in this movement without investing a whole lot of money?

Today it is easier than ever to create your own video broadcast.  Streaming platforms are everywhere and the simplest one is Facebook Live streaming. Click a button or two and you’re off to the races. Want a more professional look? Take the time to plan out a script.  As so many of the early adopters will tell you – just “press start” and do it. You can bring in the professional teams later. Most consumers today look for authenticity over commercial polish.

But beware, 70%  say they dislike mobile ads and 81% of consumers have closed a browser or exited a website because of a pop-up ad. So don’t buy into some fancy proposal that uses interruption techniques to push something in front of potential customers.  As I have said many times before, there are new rules of sales and marketing at work today. Content is king but it needs to be content that is useful to the consumer and not click bait or disruptive if you want to make a positive impression.

Today, video accounts for more than 50% of all search online. Many customers would prefer to see a video of a product in action before they get into the buying mode or walk into a store. Is your business ready to inform and educate rather than sell and push?

Here’s how to get started with video if you are not already using it in business:

An easy first step is to reach out into the 1 billion daily users of Facebook and try Facebook Live. You can narrate a story, a product introduction or a client testimonial. Be aware that this happens in real time and goes live immediately. So start simple. Keep to a particular goal and stay on only long enough for a few friends to check in on what you’re up to. Then shut it off. It doesn’t matter if only a few people were there live. The power of streaming is that it will be there for others to come across or for Facebook algorithms to serve up to others.

There are many new tools to help integrate video into your business. Your basic smart phone today can record video that you can post as is or edit for later uploading to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Here are just a few ways to introduce video to your customers:

Introduce a new product or a new employee.

Tell a story about the business or the culture and interview someone who is comfortable in front of a camera.

You can even create visual press releases and updates from senior management.

As you become more comfortable with the basics, you will want to consider things like lighting and backdrops. Here’s a great video from Wistia with tips on how to setup your own video studio for less than $100.  https://wistia.com/library/down-and-dirty-lighting-kit.

If you’re still shaking your head but game to try it, give me a shout.  I can put on my professional photographer hat and get you going faster than you think possible. Pay attention to the statistics – it is worth your investment of time and grappling with the learning curve.

Hey, What you guys doing?

KSPcW_B&M_DSC9370_©KeithSpiroPhoto

Hey, what you guys doing? It’s a complex question asked in a simple way.

While it came from the mouth of a two-and-a-half-year-old as he toddled over to see what his big brother and big sister were doing, the significance of the question sheds light on a basic human need.

“What are you guys doing?” expresses the very human need to know. Whether it’s curiosity, fear of missing out, desire for inclusion, belonging to an established group or as an ice breaker into a new group, the question opens the door to joining in and building something together. Repeat the act more than once and you have the start of a community, the most successful of which take all of the previously mentioned elements into consideration.

From a business point of view, how do you take this basic human need and combine it elegantly with the myriad of social media tools out there to make a powerhouse team of cheerleaders and ambassadors for your business?  The answer is that you need to hire a community manager whose role it is to encourage a growing audience that self-selects by choosing to engage with your business. Use the full power of the internet and real time interaction to nurture and grow the active space with a leader and guide who knows the needs of the audience and matches the goals of the company to fulfill those needs.

A key new element that can dramatically improve engagement is video with its power of hooking into the visual cues we humans have evolved to depend upon for our survival. Are you friend or foe? Is your message truth or fiction? We humans intuitively determine this in a flash of cognition taking into consideration body language and other visual clues in the interactions between two people. For my own professional dealings with far flung client locations, I often choose to meet in online video conferences where I can fully engage in that human face to face connection. I find it far superior to and much more satisfying than text messages and emojis. Those keyboard characters are cutesy but imprecise and can be manipulated. The eyes rarely lie.

As we engage broader audiences geographically and work with more widely dispersed teams, we run the risk of disrupting that all important personal connection. A globe traveling CEO I work with talked about the speed with which she could establish powerful connections in person over the long slow process of clarification needed in text messaging and emails.  In the end, trust never really gets established until you have the chance to meet face to face. And what I have been proposing is using the video tools available to build that trust and rapport faster and in real time.

Android and iPhone offer many ways to start at low or no cost. Here are some video conferencing tools you might want to check out: WebEx, Fuze, GotoMeeting,  Blue Jeans, Skype, Zoom, Face time, We Chat and What’s App.

Old fashioned TV style of “one, speaking to many” can be achieved by Periscope, live streaming and Facebook live. They are easily launched but not nearly as satisfying for interactive experiences but all of them feed the human craving for acceptance, certainty and comfort while removing the fear of the lurking, unseen stranger. I’ve been developing ways to create content, messaging and brand advertising opportunities on low budgets. Go video and experience the difference for yourself and your business and give me a shout if you want support on easily integrating video into your business communications tool bag.

 

Raspberry Harvest

3 raspberries
It’s the perfect childhood memory I didn’t have. Now living out in the country it’s raspberry picking season and the bramble scratches my skin as I work my way through raspberry canes that tangle as they always seem to do. No matter. The lure of ripe juicy raspberries just out of reach beckons and I push further getting ever more mired in the bramble
Despite the sharp tearing at my clothes and skin, here stand I in the midst of it all, selecting the ripe raspberries discarding the shriveled ones. Mother nature is amazing in providing raspberry look alike bugs and I’m occasionally startled when the raspberry I go to pick suddenly has moving parts. Yuck, I think as I make these now adult memories with the child within me still.
I give today a three raspberry rating – about all that might make it in the house if I don’t turn over the quart box soon enough. Here we go with raspberry mush all over my fingers and all over my face and only the sweetness of a second childhood’s shadow in the distance.

My first practice of Tai Chi

With soft meditative music in the background, nearly a dozen of us gather on the brick patio behind the Topsham Library for an introductory lesson in Tai Chi.
We focus on the three basic conditions: Mind, Breath and Posture.
We learn to transfer energy by gathering fresh energy from the sky and ground while breathing in and exchanging out the stale as we exhale.

shadow photo by Keith Spiro of Tai Chi on the patio

Tai Chi and Qugong have been prevalent in China for thousands of years. They are key to self-care in Chinese medicine and are used to increase vitality and inner peace. The practice of Tail Chi can also be a lovely way to loosen up your muscles and start the day.  The smooth fluid motions fit delightfully with the background music and being outside, we felt the light slightly cool breeze and bright Sunshine. The library’s new patio allowed a choice of sunshine or shade at that 9 o’clock start time.
Our guide, Robin Brooks, directed us to take in a full awareness of ourselves as we traced our own energy across our body along the energy channels. She has come back to Tai Chi after first practicing it many years earlier. While there are 108 movements, she now practices a form of easy Tai Chi. Actually, there is even teacher certification for it as Tai Chi Easy as taught by a fellow in Santa Barbara California. His method makes it immediately easy, beneficial and probably of growing value in rehab and long term care venues.
the new patio at Topsham Library photo by Keith SpiroFor all of us that morning, it was a fast and fun introduction to the practice of Tai Chi. With concentration, I really could feel the energy in my hands while holding a Tai Chi ball.  The fluidness of motion was easy on my barely awake body as I gently stretched muscles and tendons.
I found it quite pleasant to be gathered as a group going through the practice and motions while paying attention to my posture and energy.
Big thanks to the Topsham Library and Robin Brooks for giving us the opportunity to learn something new – while showing off the new space outside the library walls. Topsham library truly is a community center for everyone.

Dr. Chatbot or AI meets the Botniks

I recently read an article about the National Health Service in England beginning a collaboration with a digital media company to build a Chatbot that can interface with patients.

One of the biggest issues in the British Healthcare System is how long a patient waits to see a doctor and in parallel with that wait, how much of their time doctors spend diagnosing and dealing with relatively simple repetitive issues and basic information transfer.

With artificial intelligence and a chat bot that can take care of doing the routine and mundane tasks of a first-line general practitioner, the physician is freed up to concentrate on the more challenging medical issues her patients face.  Welcome Dr. Chatbot.

a version of a Dr. Chatbot circa 2012

a version of a Dr./Chatbot circa 2012.

Here are a few of issues this quasi medical newcomer must address:

  1. Human like – Studies have shown a higher utilization rate of the tools when there is a more human-centric response. Terminals at a human’s height are most effective. Think of the banking industry deployment of digital assistants in branch.
  2. User Experience – combining big data synthesis and human comfort to hone in quickly on the real problem underlying how the patient presents.
  3. Compliance – it is a well known fact that clinical trials have a high, 50% or higher, fail rate because of failure to “follow as directed.”  This leads to the need for human interaction and a true human intervener to ask the questions listen to your concerns and yes, touch your hand to improve compliance.

The Hawthorne effect is a well documented phenomenon of improved results because the subject knows they are being watched. There is a new startup company called Hawthorne Effect looking to do just that. They are providing  human interveners with the hopes of providing better and more accurate results in clinical trials.

The premise is a sound one in that trusted human professionals go out to patients who are in need of real time real personal interaction  and focused follow up. The patient  may need a reason to see the trial through completion or to “take as directed” the actions or medications to improve efficacy as well as accuracy.

The potential for widespread health breakthroughs with the Dr. Chatbot concept comes from the underlying technologies of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Newer studies are showing that there are predictors of disease that show up statistically before any one human doctor is likely to reach the diagnosis. The ability to provide an alert to a physician and do the high end mathematical permutations that lead to better and earlier interventions holds tremendous potential. But it will be the user/patient experience that determines compliance. I hope the tech people creating these machine driven interfaces pay particular attention to the human experience (or user experience -as the new discipline is called). Jeff Pulver has called for a move away from the term Chatbot to the more hip, creative and human like Botnik.

Indeed, we need to think of them as Jeff does, ““Botniks are creative, artistic, & rebellious just like the Beatniks” The time is right. There is a shift in thinking from what might work to how elegantly we can begin to deploy the tools. We have entered an era of intense focus on AI, machine learning and robotics and the best winners in this emerging category will be those that enhance the human experience.

Full disclosure: I am a cheerleader for and investor in Hawthorne Effect. I am betting that the human creative can direct the machine and not the other way around.