Focus Filtered Fluid #my3words

Focus, Filtered & Fluid  (My Three Words for 2017)

Way back in 2006, when I was struggling to hold it all together in a corporate world heading off the rails, a guy by the name of Chris Brogan quit making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, he chose three words he would use as a guiding principle for the year. I didn’t know it back then but within just a couple of years our paths from Maine would begin to cross regularly in Boston. Back in that first year of new actions, the words he chose were: ASK. DO. SHARE.

Like a beacon, they prompted him throughout the year to Ask more questions and ask both to help as well as ask for help. He got good at sharing what he learned and in that sharing our paths crossed and I’ve replaced resolutions with actions ever since.

In 2016, my words were:

  • Community
  • Communications
  • Commerce

And it made a huge difference in what I accomplished. But the real time web cuts no slack. Were you caught off guard by the 2016 political outcomes? Everything and nothing surprised me about the presidential elections. Talking heads got it wrong. Strategists missed the mark. Alliances now shift loosely and widely, driven in large part by spontaneous combustion on social media.  It is just so clear that we now live in a real time world that adjusts and disseminates new information rapidly. “Expecting the unexpected” doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.

So for 2017, as we roll into uncharted territory, don’t agonize over deep analysis. Just “DO IT.” Stay nimble and your business can thrive.  My three words to guide me through 2017 are appropriate for the times and the challenges ahead:

  • FOCUS
  • FILTERED
  • FLUID

Focus – Yes, we each still need a plan of where we are going and what we want to accomplish in a year.  Having a written plan allows you to check in regularly and see if you are on target. And, in today’s world – when your target has moved – you get to readjust how to approach your new day.

Filtered – I have too often gone to the internet to search for something specific and found those shiny objects and distractions that divert my attention and send me down rabbit holes from which I emerge dazed, sometimes hours later. Have you ever gone onto Facebook or searched on Google for one thing and found yourself unexpectedly somewhere else? Fight back by organizing your time. Let the filters of search do their job and just bookmark those other things for later.

Fluid – I am learning to recognize that Google and Facebook are not my friend. They are advertising engines designed to hook me and sell me something. There is no such thing as free. Time is our most valuable possession.  When I come up against a time zapper, I am going to flow around it like water and keep going. This will not be easy. But instead of screaming into the phone “operator, operator, get me a human,” or pounding “0” a few times, I’ve learned to recognize that I am dealing with a computer algorithm not a person. I’ve learned to hang up – call the customer service line and ask- in a calm voice – for help from the human that answers in real time.

wc_my3words-bots-dsc_0003_keithspirophotoWe will hear lots about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat Bots in the coming months. They are taking over. No – actually – they have taken over. Most of us just haven’t thought about it that way yet. Think speech recognition and that lovely voice that offers to help you with your account; those friendly helpers with names like Siri (Apple), Julie (Amtrak) and Alexa (Amazon) that stand sentinel between you and a real person. Those are the entry points to chat bots. They save time for the business at the other end. They do repetitive tasks and they are going to eliminate millions and I do mean millions of jobs. More than will be created by new technologies. We can’t stop this process change and so, for that reason, I am going to be fluid – and simply work around the obstacles that are thrown at me – in a creative way (because we have that over bots)  and I will keep going.

I hope you do the same. Let’s make 2017 a great year!

(originally published in The CRYER January 1, 2017)

Evelyn Dunphy – First Lady of Katahdin

eevelyndunphyportrait_hrclick this photo of Evelyn for a short video where she answers my question “What does Katahdin mean to you”

With the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary,  I commented that I thought Maine Watercolor Artist Evelyn Dunphy was the real First Lady of Katahdin. What I meant by that was, quite simply, of all the people I have come across connected to the mountain, no other person had done more hands on, up close, community driven work to make modern day Katahdin real. Sure the President and his wife declared The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on August 24, 2016 on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. And yes, land was accumulated and donated, but fractious conversations emerged. Residents, people from away and politicians of all sorts got involved. Yet, long before celebrity and notoriety, Mount Katahdin was quietly enjoyed, shared and championed by many, enjoying the wild spaces as Governor Percival P. Baxter envisioned them.

When these spaces were threatened, it was individuals like Evelyn who became active in raising awareness of the beauty and the need for preservation. She painted and donated artwork and was recognized and awarded the First Artist in Residence in Baxter State Park. Ever.

She has shared those watercolor images in shows around the world. She leads art workshops and engages people, mano a mano – hand to hand – brushstroke to brushstroke as she shares her love of the Katahdin region and her art of watercolor. To me, this makes her the First Lady of Katahdin. A true ambassador for the wilderness preserved by Governor Baxter for the people of Maine.

“But Katahdin in all its glory,

Forever shall remain

The Mountain

Of

The People of Maine.”

A Seat at the Table

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Do you stress over getting a seat at the RIGHT table? Are you suffering from FOMO? This post was inspired by dinner on an overnight train to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We were seated with strangers just north of Baltimore but found ourselves celebrating dessert with these randomly created new friends in Washington DC, without ever getting up from the table. This is a rare occurrence. More likely, these days, we’d do an online search for information about a person before we’d meet with them. Our opinions shaped, not by what they say, but by what others say about them.

KeithSpiroPhoto of Jeff Pulver #MoNage interviewing Jack Dorsey

Jeff Pulver #MoNage interviewing @Jack Jack Dorsey co-founder of Twitter

I’ve just come back from MoNage – A conference looking at the age of messaging as communications on the internet. My friend, Jeff Pulver, has been exploring the future of communications with some of the best thinkers, active innovators and disruptors on the planet. Presenters came together from as far away as England, Israel and New York as well as a couple of well known locals in Boston.

Keith Spiro Photo Chris Brogan & Christopher Penn at Jeff Pulver #MoNage

Local favorites Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn share a conversation onstage at #MoNage Behind the humor were amazing insights of change since they co-founded PodCamp some ten years earlier.

Remember the 1960’s? Back then, AT&T made it possible to reach out and touch someone. Nobody is really sure just how to go about doing that today!  With so many social media platforms and tools, we are all a bit unsure as to how to find our connections let alone feel confident that they have even seen our messages.  Jeff Pulver says that  Facebook today is the AT&T of the 60’s  but also that we have become a society of swipe to the right – where one can block somebody online or unfriend them with just a simple hand motion. Doesn’t say much for relationships but it does seem to create a forum for incivility and bullying.

Let’s face it, marketing has changed dramatically. Chris Brogan and Chistopher Penn, two giants in the world of digital communications and messaging, co-founded PodCamp ten years ago. Ancient history that became part of their wild and wide ranging conversation on stage about the changes in media and community.  As I see it, going back those ten years, everyone had access to the same amount of space, gated mostly by the size of the screen with which a viewer went online. Podcasts were unique with radio-like portability.  Today, portability is the device in our pockets. There is an explosion of ways people communicate. What’s formal? What’s a chat between friends? How do Millennials differ in their use of communication tools at work and with friends?

Social media platforms have moved to a pay to play model with Facebook and Google dominating and owning so much data, they can control how to dole it out and at what price. Since brands can’t be sure of how they’ll find us, they pounce at every opportunity. The more primitive forms are via remarketed ads and social media “suggested posts & tweets.”

Overall, there is a sense of desperate overload; too many platforms, too many places where you might find your prospects or your friends. How many apps do you need just to get access to the people you regularly talk to, if you even call it that anymore?

To be effective, marketing must be real, trustworthy and transparent. We are more likely to listen to our peers than to any marketer’s message. Brands are learning this. We all need to be aware of how our “likes” are being used.

These days, “The Google” knows all. It has an answer to nearly everything and it has the ability to match up our search patterns with marketers.  This makes us complicit in the skewed results we see. We each live in our own personal bubble of internet search serving up only things that we are likely to click. If we like something, we will only see positive things about it. If we dislike someone, we will only see negative things about them.

With all the online access points and nearly 2 billion people on Facebook, there’s a false sense of anonymity. But just a quick google search for my name yielded 395,000 results in less than half a second. How do you fare? Have you done a search for yourself online?  Try it.

Our future is fully dependent on the digital reputations we build daily. This is not necessarily the reputation we want to have but the one that more correctly reflects the expectations of the seeker. The one thing we all want in life and in business is acceptance. A virtual or real seat at the table.

Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument

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Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service. How fitting that on the centennial of the National Park Service, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was declared official by the President of the United States.

I was so pleased to have The Cryer select one of my images of Mt.Katahdin and the surrounding area for the September 2016 cover of the monthly newspaper.

I had the pleasure of kayaking around Millinocket Lake and attending renowned watercolor artist Evelyn Dunphy’s workshop at Frederic Church hundred year old camp in the Shadow of Katahdin.Rhodora_©KeithSpiroPhotoDSC_2870 Evelyn, a dear friend and world class artist has led workshops all over the world- Italy, Provence, Ireland, France and most recently, Cuba. But it is her annual visits to the Katahdin region and her activism to protect the area that her earned her a fierce local Maine loyalty and she was awarded Baxter State Park’s First Visiting Artist (2009). She is truly the First Lady of Katahdin in my eyes.

Congratulations National Park Service, Katahdin region and artist Evelyn Dunphy for your modern day successes in preserving the natural wonders of our little piece of the world in Maine.Church camp E Dunphy_©KeithSpiroPhotoDSC_2740.jpg

 

Inspiration – reflections on Inspirefest Dublin Ireland

inspiration for ks wordpress site cover

I had the pleasure of traveling to Ireland and participating in Inspirefest. Held in Dublin, Inspirefest is a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts. Founder Ann O’Dea puts diversity and inclusion at the festival’s heart, and the ratio of women to men is a refreshing change from the still massively male dominated tech world. This is directly in line with Jeanne M. Sullivan and Astia, the group that originally invited me to the Emerald Isle. Sullivan is Chief Inspiration Officer at Sullivan Adventures and a long-time investor in people, while Astia is a 501c3 dedicated to diversity in leadership.

The photo above is Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer, Accenture Global professional services company incorporated in Dublin. Accenture is the world’s largest consulting firm with over $31 Billion in revenue and operates in more than 120 countries. Her theme was empowerment and diversity leads to breakthrough results. Similarly, Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Dropbox demonstrated how Dropbox with more than 500 million users is also changing the rules.

Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Dropbox changing the rules with more than 500 million users

While attending Inspirefest, I was part of a strategy panel entitled Thinking Big Enough to Scale Internationally. Our panel consisted of Anne Ravanona (moderator), CEO Global Invest Her, Paris, Eilish McCaffrey, Growth Strategist iOT and Digital, Silicon Valley, Emily Brady, Business Advisor, Growth Strategist & Supply Chain Optimization Expert, Dublin, Corinne Nevinny, Angel Investor, Non Exec Director, Los Angeles and Andrea Clausen, Senior Business Analyst, Google, Dublin. As a business strategist, I drive community success using the power of social media and the real time web, and I was excited to demonstrate that these tools and methods translate easily and globally.

In addition to witnessing the continued power of digital communication, I also had the opportunity to discover new business incubators in person and meet with entrepreneurs in, and just outside of, Dublin and Galway. I met Eoin Costello, co-founder of Startup Ireland, who filled me in on Digital Dun Laoghaire, a small town a half hour out of Dublin with a big project, and saw how the Bank of Ireland has taken a breathtaking leap into the future of banking, transforming old structures and ways into a true leadership engagement.

Surrounded by the drama of Brexit and the increasingly contentious US election process, I found it refreshing to be able to focus on business and only business. Ireland has rolled out the welcome mat, with groups like IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland bursting with excitement at the prospect of expanding business in Ireland. Connecting entrepreneurs to resources is the key to job growth anywhere and is now a global imperative. Do you have an interest in manufacturing? Ireland has some strong connections for you, and good entrepreneurial leaders know to take advantage of gaps and disruptions to drive success.

I’ve talked previously about validation. If Validation is the culmination and recognition of all the work that goes into launching a business, then Inspiration is both the starting point of an enterprise as well as the fuel that keeps you going through the rough spots. There is no better way to be inspired than to surround yourself with cheerleaders, advocates and strategists who can expand your thinking and help turn that business idea into a reality. Pull enough good people together around a great idea, and you can change the world.

Validation

validation post teaserThe Boston and Maine Connection – Validation

Validation, the independent corroboration of your mission by one or more individuals who make you feel like you’re not out there all by your lonely self as you drive toward your business goals.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there in the public eye to expose your business and vision to the harsh realities of finance where revenue meets the road and survival and additional funding is based on how likely others believe you are to succeed.

In the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem – there are some amazing events throughout the year that let you check the pulse and the pace of business against your peers. The other night I attended the New England Venture Capital Association’s (NEVCA) annual award ceremony which recognized many top notch entrepreneurial endeavors at a major kick up your feet and celebrate event hosted at the House of Blues in Boston. wC_DSC9872_©KeithSpiroPhotoWith a standing-room-only crowd cheering and celebrating the startup business life cycle from launch to exit, there was a whole lot of validation taking place.

The NEVCA works to make Massachusetts the best place in the world to start new companies: building relationships among founders and investors; amplifying the voice of Massachusetts’ entrepreneurial community.  With 700+ venture capital professionals from 80+ firms, its members collectively manage more than $50 billion in capital.  With this type of financial and geographic density, even Mainer’s feel the draw of the Boston ecosystem.

wC 20160518_203205_©KeithSpiroPhotoIf Oscar’s so White was the glaring failure of Hollywood to pay attention to diversity and changing interests, The NEVYs awards were the exact and most energetic opposite. The Stars of the startup world and the disruptors of old line business processes run like a posse in a rather exciting ecosystem of mutual support and recognition.  No better validation that you are on the right track than to be in a room filled with like-minded people who take the time to cheer you on. Everyone wins in an environment that builds up their peers and where barriers to entry begin to  appear low because of the sheer magnitude of cheerleaders and available expertise.

The train from Maine runs in both directions  and not surprisingly, I’ve meet several startup leaders traveling southbound.  Maine readers might also recognize former local reporter Dylan Martin who now works in Boston as a media maven for BostInno and who I caught up with after he went riding the mechanical bull.  Boston knows how to party. We even imported our best friends from IDAireland Stephen Mullan & Aimee WilliamswC_DSC9999_©KeithSpiroPhoto

My wife’s favorite shop in Bath Maine is Pitter Patter, children’s clothing.  That owner Colleen is taking a marketing class for the first time, surprised me since she exemplifies the traits of a good marketer which in her case flows from following her business passion for parents and little kids. She does all the right things from accessorizing purchases to deploying video and social media. wC 20160521_100100_©KeithSpiroPhotoShe even created a gift giving task simplifier that appeals to parent and child – books matching stencil art baby T’s. My first mentor, menswear sales innovator, Stuart Shaines, is now retired to Florida but he would be proud. It was through Stuart that I learned the power of upselling by accessorizing. Put a snazzy shirt, tie, belt and socks to go with the suit being sold you could take a one item transaction and move the needle because it all looked so good together and made a complete package outcome an easy sale. Time is as important as ever and every One-Stop shopping experience either “clicks or mortar” becomes a friction free opportunity to sail through a sale process.

When I talk to Colleen about cash vs. credit card tactics and compliment her marketing , I always get a smile. This too is validation.  We all need it because we are all in this together.

Community, Commerce, Collaboration and Communication makes it all work well.

The Platform, she said, was Chocolate

The platform, she said, was chocolate. And much of the marketing centered around  fair trade cocoa and real chocolate chips.

I was sold. I got the whole concept in the first presentation. The hot chocolate mix was OK.cisse hot Cocoa pkg

What chocoholic could find fault with a product that had melting chocolate chips at it’s core? Even better, the founder of  Cissé Trading Co, Diana Lovett, had a passion for sustainable development which came out of her public health work in Africa. “I longed for a way to contribute to what I believed in through a business, so I created a cocoa company committed to responsible sourcing and investing in growers.”

As time went on and the organization grew from 2 to 4 full-time employees.  I became more impressed and engaged with the marketing, and the process, and the plan of this small but smart start up. A very human approach in touch with today’s need for consumers to know more of the story and less of the Madison Avenue product pitch.

Meet her farmers; LA FUNDACIÓN DOMINICANO DE PRODUCTORES ORGÁNICO The FUNDOPO cooperative is a Fair Trade certified organization made up of about 1,500 organic cocoa farmers in Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Read Cisse’s accolades.  Yes, I am an investor. But now, after watching them move into box stores like BJ’s, family department stores like Target and uniquely fascinating distribution plans that include the likes of Krogers, I found myself becoming a Cisse Chocolate Groupie. The quarterly reports were easily digestible. Indeed, each financial data set, in the early days, came with a sample of a new product. cisseSuperThins pkg In the end, at the last of the samples, it was The Super Thins that pushed me over the line. I could no longer just root for them from the sidelines. I needed to help them get to the next level.

So I went to my local BJ’s, pestered them and became a member entirely because they now stock Super Thins by the truck load. The Whole Foods store in my neighborhood doesn’t carry it and I made a point of telling them that they need to catch up. I want clear and easy access to chocolate, Cisse Chocolate products to be specific.

CisseSuperThins_c ©KeithSpiroPhotoNext came the random public survey. In heading down to a meeting in New York City and purely as a lark, I brought a snack pack case to see what would happen if I carried it with me – most visibly – all the way down to NYC. I chose to never mention unless someone asked. Sure enough, people started asking me “what was it?” Why  was I carrying it and more importantly what did it taste like?

For those brave enough to ask the question – I rewarded them with one of my single serving portions and warned them to be careful as this was an addictive chocolate treat.The comments were all endearing & you can see the video here.c cisse survey says_185000

And so, I’ve come to recognize that I have become a brand ambassador for Cisse pure and simple because I enjoy the process as well as the product.

Please help spread the word. Visit and Share the photos of this journey here and be on the lookout for a guy carrying a case of super thins and sounding the call for eating good chocolate for good reasons.