Don’t Let the Big Fish Get Away

Posted on March 8, 2013 by Comments Off

There is an old saying that states it is not WHAT you know, but WHOM you know that matters. I prefer a twist on that saying because I have found that the “what” is often just as important as the “who.” Speaking of “it’s whom you know,” my flight from Seattle to Austin for SXSWi was full of familiar faces.

Of course, in today’s rapidly evolving social media landscape, culling through all the noise to figure out what is important and who are the influencers can be a nearly impossible feat. And if you plan on attending a big industry event — like I am this week in Austin at SXSWi — well, good luck sifting through the tweets from attendees tossing back a few beers at bars and clubs to find the smart posts from experts and panelists.

With this in mind, we recently joined forces with two brilliant up-and-coming Portland companies, Little Bird and Tater Tot Designs, to create a new Web application called Hey Big Fish. Hey Big Fish launched earlier this week at SXSWi and will help those attending and/or tracking the event measure the people and topics that carry the most influence in the SXSWi pond.

I’m excited about the partnership for two reasons:

First, we are building an extended family around our agency by partnering with two companies that have complementary strengths to our own. Little Bird contributes the influencer discovery platform that the app is based on, and Tater Tot Designs delivers the digital solutions that make the app responsive and easy to use.

Second, the result is something NEEDED by our industry and our clients — global brands that want to reach their key audiences in the most effective way possible. Hey Big Fish generates data that help these brands identify     where their audiences are and which topics interest them most, enabling our clients to break through the noise.

With Hey Big Fish you can track your own influence and networking success with personalized event scorecards to see where you rank in the SXSWi pond.

Personally, I plan to use Hey Big Fish to follow the conversations around reducing waste in the vaccine supply and the efforts to reduce global poverty — personal passions and topics of interest for me. This tool allows me track the conversations at SXSWi and discover new influencers who share my interests, enabling me to connect, share and, ultimately, make an impact.

I strongly believe we have some of the smartest people on the planet at Waggener Edstrom. Part of my respect and esteem for these colleagues is their recognition that our industry is always changing, and as it changes we need to be at the forefront, developing new ideas and new solutions that will continue to deliver impact for our clients. Sometimes this push for impact means looking beyond our own agency.

Check out what the future looks like.


Crowdsourcing and the Ox

Posted on March 2, 2012 by Comments Off

TED Talks are always quite phenomenal — almost always an intellectual, creative and visual delight. The speakers inevitably bring humor, insight and wisdom.

In this case, TED speaker Lior Zoref not only brought wisdom, he brought CROWD wisdom. And he brought an ox as well. More on that in a moment.

This is NOT the ox. It is a stand-in for the ox brought on stage.

It turns out that when Zoref, self-proclaimed crowdsourcing advocate, attended TEDx in Tel Aviv last year, he shared his dream to be a speaker at TED.  And then set about to achieve that dream. He used social networks to gather crowd wisdom. In short, he gathered crowd wisdom to “write” his speech. The result: phenomenal. A highly creative speech within a speech.

I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of collective thinking, rejecting the idea that any one person truly owns the solution. And with clients we are increasingly bringing the power of the crowd to help tell their stories and strengthen their connection to communities.

 Zoref’s reference to one of my favorite John Lennon lyrics describes perfectly the impact of this kind of thinking:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

And about the ox. Turns out that more than 500 TEDsters, when they use their smartphones to share their collective understanding of an ox’s weight in real time, really CAN guess an ox’s weight. Within about 3 pounds in fact.  Now that’s crowd wisdom.


Iron Your Cape

Posted on March 1, 2012 by 1 Comment

I wrote earlier from #TED2012 (, reinforcing the idea that asking the right question is more important than driving to the “right” answer. I was struck today by a corollary to this truth when I attended the TED session called “The Lab.” Once the answer or answers DO reveal themselves … then what? How would we proceed if we thought we absolutely, positively could not fail? Regina Dugan, director of DARPA and noted artist/engineer, wisely noted that some of the finest scientists are the ones who are able to defy the impossible and refuse to accept failure as a possibility. They teach us, in her vernacular, to get in touch with our “inner superhero.” But what about us mere mortals? Do we, too, have the ability to defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure?

As I experience life, both personal and professional, I see how easily self-doubt and fear can creep in as conventional wisdom is challenged and vision moves into the messy and far more pragmatic (and frightening) business of execution. Ms. Dugan recalled one of her darkest moments at DARPA, where fear and self-doubt did indeed creep in. She spoke of an important mentor in her life who sent her this short message in response: “There is only time enough to iron your cape. Then back to the skies for you!”

I, too, have been fortunate enough to have similar influences in my life when that insidious self-doubt creeps in — whether my family, mentors, professors, true friends, or numerous colleagues. TED itself is a place where inspiring people provide this influential reminder – to one another.  So pause. Go ahead. Take time to touch up your cape and then get back out there. And never, ever allow self-doubt and fear to stand in the way of making the seemingly impossible… possible.

TED2012: The Question Is Often More Important Than The Answer

Posted on February 29, 2012 by 2 Comments

It is the “season” for science fairs in elementary schools across the United States. As a closet science junkie (who as a kid may or may NOT have nearly blown up the basement with my chemistry set) I love the focus of young students as they explore the great mysteries of our world. Curiosity is one of the most important attributes, one that we all should cultivate.

At the heart of curiosity is a question: what, how or, most important to me, why???

I bring this up because the first session at TED2012 was all about the question. Linked to finding answers, of course, but what really stood out was a call to each of us to make sure we constantly ask ourselves if we are even answering the right question.

We all know that many companies focus on asking candidates just the right question, which in turn will get at many attributes that the company wants and needs in their people — to innovate and to win in the marketplace. The same is true for creating a vision and direction in business. Asking the right question first focuses the vision and addresses a big question: To what end are we doing this?

This first session, though, was not at all about the way businesses use the power of the right question.

  • Physicist Brian Greene kicked it off by stating that our very definition of the universe is wrong and that (perhaps) we are just one of many multiverses.
  • Sarah Parcak, a space archeologist (how cool is that title?!?), proved that we know far less about our world than we thought when she used satellites to show that 99 percent of ancient Egypt remains to be discovered. I was just in Egypt, and our lecturer also told us this — and no one really believed it.
  • Author Susan Cain made us question our assumptions about extroverts and the quiet and contemplative introvert.
  • Writer Paul Gilding challenged us to consider new ways to reinvent the global economy in the name of social progress
  • And futurist Peter Diamandis discussed his goal to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, through the lens of life’s possibilities.

I have always celebrated “the question.” And, in fact, curiosity is one of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s values. I am attending TED2012 to engage with a diverse and extremely accomplished spectrum of innovators. And through my own questioning and curiosity I expect that some remarkable linkages and learning will occur. Best of all, I will hear from and meet people who have different points of view. And who live their lives asking the right questions to come to more robust and novel answers.

Sustainable Livelihoods, Spices and India

Posted on November 15, 2011 by Comments Off

India is known for many things: its people, culture, history and … spices. During the past week in India I visited many entrepreneurial projects, and of course also headed to the markets to see the tremendous array of products. I sought out the spice merchants because I am interested in spice farming after talking to women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia selling their spices in the marketplace.

I’ve been honored to personally support Mercy Corp’s efforts in Darjeeling and Nepal to revitalize the spice farming trade and find sustainable, innovative ways to increase crop production and help farmers get the best prices for their spices, including ginger, chilies and cardamom. I wasn’t able to travel to either of these places on this trip, so I just snapped a quick photo in a Mumbai market of the same spices. The owner spent a fair amount of time pouring the spices into little bowls, and they were incredibly fragrant and mouthwatering.

Sailing With Science

Posted on August 15, 2011 by 2 Comments

There is a long-standing dialogue about how to get kids (not to mention young women and girls) more involved and excited about science and innovation. It’s a subject that I have personal experience in and strong opinions about, but I’ve not shared them broadly — until now. 

And this post won’t even begin to scratch the surface on how we can continue to improve on this front, nor will it be able to completely share my experiences on the associated challenges. But I believe it gives one tangible example of something that made a difference in my life and one that I’m seeing have an impact on young students — and that is the importance of hands-on experience in science and innovation. 

This past weekend, I took my family and two of my daughter’s friends to an event on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in support for Salish Sea Expeditions, a Pacific Northwestern organization that focuses on putting local scholarship winners aboard a sailboat to study, do experiments and collaborate with peers to study the region’s marine life and oceanic environment. They learn science, sailing, collaboration and leadership (they have to make all the decisions themselves, down to even their meals)  all at the same time.  

It was a fun evening and included some star power via “Lost” actress, Elizabeth Mitchell, who supports Salish Sea Expeditions’ work. It was a perfect example of how individuals and targeted local organizations and events can make a significant impact on people’s lives.  

For me, conducting science experiments as a kid in my parents’ basement (and yes, I did in fact pretty much destroy it a few times with interesting chemical combinations ) was key to instilling a sense of curiosity and wonder about science and innovation. And although I didn’t grow up to develop the next amazing social networking tool or discover the next renewable source of alternative energy — I did know I wanted to remain involved with innovators and, as a result, started my own company to tell their stories. I am particularly interested in the intersection of communications and social innovation,  which addresses some of the world’s biggest problems. 

An interesting fact Director Stephen W. Streufert shared to get young women and girls involved in science is that, when you ask fourth graders if they can envision themselves in scientific professions, the averages are about even between boys and girls. However, by the time they reach eighth grade, far fewer girls are able to envision themselves as science professionals. Why? Statistics tell us that more girls ARE entering the fields in reality, so why is it hard for these girls to envision themselves as successful in the science fields? That would require a book instead of a blog post to sort out and a great deal more expertise than I have on my own. But at least one thing that I know made a difference in my life and that I saw making a difference for the Salish Sea Expeditions participants was the opportunity and encouragement of directly being involved in science at an early age.  

Even if none of them choose to remain in science as a profession as they grow, each kid will retain an intrinsic curiosity and an inherent desire to learn and question “what if” questions that drive innovation in any field.

Simplifying the Complex

Posted on July 12, 2011 by 1 Comment

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at the TED University session at TEDGlobal 2011. My topic was Wildfire Stories and, more specifically, how to take impactful innovations that can (at times) be complicated due to the science and technology required to bring them to life and to simplify the story around them so their impact can be understood in a manner that helps get the story told — and more importantly heard.

During the presentations, audience members had the opportunity to engage by speaking out about a big trend that TED attendees should be thinking about – comments were just thrown out from the audience floor. One comment shared from a gentleman from NASA was very relevant to my talk on storytelling: “The danger of over-simplifying complex ideas” was a trend he was worried about.

I intend to find that TEDster to hear more about his concern; I agree 100 percent that we cannot afford to trivialize complex challenges and issues so knee-jerk decisions and actions are taken because this can sometimes drive greater issues than those they were intended to solve.

But I’d also share the following:

  • Even as a kid, I loved science. I entered science fairs every year (my favorite was making my own paper from a wooden block out of my toy box) and grew up in a household where understanding the complex was expected. My dad used to quiz me on names of obscure rocks and minerals.
  •  I believe my upbringing and becoming so intrigued by the wonder of science and technology were driving forces behind my founding the agency that bears my (and my business partner’s) name today. I wanted to be able to bring together the curiosity of the innovator who asked the question of “Why?” — or, as is often a better question, “Why not?” — when developing a breakthrough innovation and marry that with the passion for TELLING that story in a way that removes barriers to adoption and IMPACT. 
  • As I mentioned in my talk, the reason this is SO important is because an invention doesn’t equate to being an innovation — and an innovation has no impact until it gets into the hands of the people who can most benefit from it.

One of our core values at WE is curiosity. Sometimes we probably have embraced this to nearly a fault when we constantly ask “Why, why, why?” But by asking those questions in partnership with our clients and listening to the answers, we can demystify the complex — that is what enables us to take the amazingly innovative, and sometimes equally complex, and make it a story that can truly change the way we live. That’s exciting stuff — and is the reason I still love the work I do today as much as I did over 25 years ago.

I Love My Job — Reason #7

Posted on June 30, 2011 by Comments Off

In the past month I met with a number of agency people, including a group of our Senior Account Executives, and the topic of entrepreneurship within the agency came up every time.  This got me thinking that we should figure out how to motivate more people to try out their new ideas.  So off I go to ideate with colleagues (guess I should include our CFO) about how we can make this more actionable. 

Last night, as I was going through trip photos, I found this one of a woman entrepreneur in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Granted her venture is very different from some of what our people want to experiment around — but the qualities are the same:  CREATE, MEET A NEED, DESIGN A DELIVERY SYSTEM, TELL THE STORY.   

This is a subject near and dear to my heart.  In fact, I look forward to sharing about it more during the TED University portion of TED Global 2011 in Scotland the week of July 11.

Creating Ideas That Stick

Posted on June 8, 2011 by Comments Off

New ideas and inventions come from those who see “a different and better way” nearly everywhere they look. These entrepreneurs see a need, and believe fervently that they can make a difference; they take risks, embrace failure, mix it up and find a way to bring their idea to life. As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently in Beijing, speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China. We discussed: Can an entrepreneurial culture of innovation be CREATED?

Being a 27-year-old firm means that we have had our fair share of reinvention cycles; in fact, I would say we are ALWAYS moving through many changes to embrace new ideas and improve. In the past six years, though, we have significantly increased our rate of change, not only to stay on the edge of integrated communications, technologies and social networks but because we are pushing ourselves to create broader, deeper and more highly relevant impact and value for our clients. Here is what we’ve learned so far about how to create a culture of entrepreneurs: 

  • Break down the silos between groups. With 900 employees, it could get easy to stay within your own team. But often the best ideas come from a diverse set of people working to solve a problem or design an opportunity.
  • Find your risk-taking muscle and train it, so that taking smart risks is embraced across the entire organization. Learn from your failures; and share broadly. This starts at the top – leaders need to model risk-taking, admit mistakes, and embrace new ideas vigorously outside of hierarchies.
  • Challenge your teams to redesign the way they come up with ideas. Invest in the time to learn new methods of ideating – mix up people (tech can help bridge miles) and even ideate with your clients in new ways.
  • Maximize the use of technology for your own collaborative use. Your tech team needs to be a strategic part of your leadership team with the ability to design to a vision that can be inherently global, but intrinsically local.
  • Give your people free time, and give them incentives to use it as they want. Daniel H. Pink does a good job of linking this to what motivates people in his book Drive.  Ask your people to share, and be truly interested in what they’ve learned. Build peer-to-peer networks within the organization where like-minded people can compare, contrast and ideate.
  • Find ways to recognize new ideas that have resulted in powerful impact for clients, or for your organization. And remember having this be peer-to-peer and grassroots, in addition to senior recognition of great work, is extremely significant to your people.

While I was in China, I asked the teams to share what they are working on with their clients (thank you to Carolyn Chen, Rosemary Xu and team) and was impressed with their ingenuity, and their nimble approach to getting things done. My own team can learn from this, and so can our other offices.

In March, I was also with our team in Boston and I heard a fantastic idea from one of our account leads, Brian Bogie, about how his team won a new client. I loved his story and approach, which was based so strongly on building the relationship the right way over time. I asked him to write it all down, knowing I was asking for unplanned workload; he did this energetically, it was shared out, and within minutes people were sharing their own stories and collaborating – and we further honed our best practice within a 24-hour period.

Find those ideas. Embrace them. Share them. Develop them. And teach them.

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