Grade A Entrepreneurs

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Women, Invent Your Future: Attend Ruth Stergiou’s conference in Sunnyvale (CA) this week!

March 18th, 2012 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

InventInvent Your Future is the name of a Conference that Ruth Stergiou co-founded with Denise Brosseau in 2005 and of which Ruth is the CEO. The event will take place on March 22, 2012, at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

I like the phrase: “Invent Your Future,” as even though women have come a long way over the last 50 years, we still have a lot to accomplish! Recent political events show that women might easily be dragged into the past, and we will once again face an uphill battle if we do not take control over our future. We must realize that “The Game is Changing,” as the theme of the Conference says — in other words, if we do not make it clear that the times of taking women for granted are over. Changing the game means strengthening women as both individuals AND as a group forever.

Individual successes of a number of women should not make us forget that parity is still not here: women’s salaries are still lower than men’s, and as of December 2011, the United States ranks 78th among 190 countries in its percentage of women serving in national parliaments (not to mention the dismal percentage of women in the boardrooms, etc.). Definitely, as my friend Gloria Feldt puts it, “Women need to lead their own way forward!”

No matter how extraordinary the success of some individuals, it’s not enough to admire trailblazers, as this may also implicitly condone the idea that the bar must be higher for women, which might be in turn somewhat intimidating. The importance of a conference such as Invent Your Future is that it welcomes an amazingly large spectrum of women, as I could see for myself last year, ranging from women who “made it” to women who don’t feel “quite ready” one way or the other or are somewhat nervous at the idea of getting out of the “comfort zone” they have been assigned. This conference is designed to move women from corrective and defensive activism to a transformative attitude, offering great keynote speakers (Reid Hoffman, Martha Beck, Gina Amaro Rudan and Nandini Ramani), as well as theme-based and “Share the Wisdom” roundtable sessions.  Any company in Silicon Valley (or elsewhere) that is serious about empowering women should encourage its female workforce to attend.

Invent Your Future is all about the power of empowering women. Ruth Stergiou’s bio says that she has dedicated 20+ years of her life to ”foster the retention, development and acceleration of women leaders,” and this is undeniably the case. This conference is one of the ways she is creating momentum for women, as collective power is key to scaling individual successes. Attend!

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The New Relationship Marketing by Mari Smith: High Tech and High Touch

February 27th, 2012 · Book Review

NewRelationshipMarkMari Smith, probably the ultimate Facebook guru (see my review in March 2011), is also the author of The New Relationship Marketing that came out last October.

Social networks tend to be perceived as channels, or as conduits that enable us to broadcast information in order to attract attention, and more often than not we may forget the key premise of social networking that Mari Smith’s book reminds us of: “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” So the whole point is: how do you get to be known from people, how to you get them to like you and how to you earn their trust? It’s all about building a relationship that matters to both parties. It’s precisely what “the new relationship marketing” is about.

Mainly targeting “a business person feeling the pressure to shift to using social media marketing to better understand the new soft skills required for success on the social web,” the book is also extremely reassuring and designed to overcome apprehension. The social web is not going to eat you up: anyone can carve up his piece of the always-on society on his own terms. After all, the operative word of the social web is ultimately conversation. Strike it when you want it and how you want it. It’s up to you to decide.

Like Erik Qualman in Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence, which I reviewed earlier this year, Mari Smith dispels the threat that social networks still signify to many people. You don’t need to turn into social media addicts to survive. You need to know what you want to accomplish and work at it in a consistent fashion — as well as leverage key real world social values, and traditional soft skills. High tech is ultimately high touch — i.e. the ability to communicate your core values, to structure the relationship circles that matter to you, and incrementally build on these relationships. Nobody is expected to become an influencer overnight, but it’s up to each of us to create the environment that enables us to create the flow (flow into is the latin root of influence) that others will want to join. In the end, to understand social media, try to forget about the Rolodex metaphor. It’s not so much about who you know as it is about who knows you!

This book is just as endearing as its author — enchanting by all accounts to use one of Guy Kawasaki’s favorite words.

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Klip launches privacy circles for mobile video (available for iPhone on the App Store)

February 2nd, 2012 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

LondonNumbers speak by themselves: Klip surpassed 1 million downloads in just over 100 days. That simple. Even if mobile video and video sharing are the rage, it’s still spectacular.

Power Engineering = Ease of Use : A rather late comer to the app (no excuse when the founder is an old friend, Alain Rossmann), I must admit that I am blown away: it’s the highest quality video streaming around for mobile device with a fantastic recommendation engine suggesting videos, users and topics to follow; it includes SMS and iMessage to invite and tag friends. Klip stores my videos in the cloud and provides unlimited uploads for free. To make it short, Klip is the state-of-the art choice to create, store, and share videos on an Iphone. Clearly super high-tech brains can make gorgeous and easy-to-use apps.

Now Privacy = Circle Management: Klip just released its 2.2 version that adds one of the best implementation of privacy I have seen on any mobile app: Circle-based privacy.

The norm up to now for video app privacy has been very basic: the video is locked and you are the only one who can see it — or the way to open up is to an undiscoverable url that you can email to friends. Kind of lame and certainly not scalable.

birthdayKlip changes all of this.  You control privacy by adding or removing followers from your personal circle. Video uploads can be marked as visible to everybody or to just to your personal circle and circle videos are automatically restricted to the members of your circle. It is private sharing the way it should be: a breeze to use while still providing tight control. I love the fact that comments added to a private video are only visible to members of the circle and that only the owner of a private video can share it with others on social networks.

So when you look at your feed, popular videos, or latest videos you automatically see in real time the public videos and the circle-only videos if you belong to that circle. Each person has a personalized view of popular, latest, etc. You have a view that depends on the circles you belong too, all in real time. All the video metadata (comments, likes) are automatically restricted to the members of the circle. Also, and this too is really cool: If you add somebody to your circle all your prior circle videos become instantly available to him/her (and if you remove them, they can’t see what they used to see…).

Klip creates magic by combining  brilliant real-time cloud computing with a gorgeous, fluid Iphone interface. So don’t wait, get the free app here and tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, enjoy this clip! http://www.klip.com/view/riwWoS8gzg

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A Must-Read: Not the Last Goodbye, by David Servan-Schreiber

January 29th, 2012 · Book Review, Talents, Innovators

Goodbye Book Cover0001My friend Franklin Servan-Schreiber delivered a speech last week in Houston at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and will speak on Tuesday at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh about the final weeks of his brother, David Servan-Schreiber. Co-founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and one of the founders of the US branch of Médecins Sans Frontières, David was the author of multiple bestsellers including Healing Without Freud or Prozac and Anticancer, A New Way of Life and ultimately of  Not the Last Goodbye: On Life, Death, Healing and Cancer that came out in France one month before David died (July 2011) and was published in the US in November 2011.

How can you die of cancer when most of you adult life was spent fighting it and helping other overcome this ordeal? David was diagnosed with brain cancer and operated in 1992 when he was 31 years old and he survived for nineteen years, despite a relapse in 2000. But on June 16, 2010, things weren’t looking good. The tumor was huge. He was just coming back from Detroit and here he was with a “ticking bomb inside [his] head.” No matter how famous you are and how knowledgeable about cancer you may to be, you are crushed. He took his bike to go back home. This was unsafe: “So why would I act so carelessly? Was it a fleeting suicidal impulse? A romantic wish to die on the cobbled streets of Paris? An attempt to escape the months of pain and anxiety that surely lay ahead of me.”

In just a few words, David described an overwhelming sense of dereliction, feeling betrayed by his body and ashamed of failing the millions of people who had read his books. He knew that his cancer would come back at some point. Yet, for years he had been able to “slow down the inevitable [...] The thing I’d been dreading all these years had finally happened.”

David_Franklin_Aout_2006“The support from my loved ones was a gift from heaven.” As David writes, “the sicker you feel, the lonelier you feel, and the more anxious you become.” When I read those words first in the French version, and then in the American one, I felt a pang remembering the help that David tried to provide to my own brother, the year before. The support that David received from his family was amazing and is the reason why this book exists.

Over the months, David went through multiple treatments, but by February 2011, despair was settling in. He could not work any more and he didn’t have much to do, except to wait for death. He felt increasingly despondent, Franklin recounts, at the idea that his readers would forever be discouraged from following his recommendations. That’s when Franklin helped his brother rebuild a sense of purpose: “Let’s kill two birds with one stone,” Franklin told him. “First you are really bored between treatments. Second, you owe it to your public, the people who trust you to explain what is happening to you and you will fill up your life.” At first David resisted. He was tired. But one morning, as his voice was starting to disappear, Franklin left him no choice: “We need to do it now.” Franklin knew it was urgent. He reminded his audience that doctors rarely describe to their patients, let alone to their families, what’s going to happen step by step — but he himself was made aware by a friend that degradation in cancer patients is not linear, and that everything can go well until one morning everything goes wrong. The number of weeks David still had was unclear. What was obvious was that he might be unable to speak at anytime.

Franklin started to interview his brother in March 2011. His first question was unambiguous: “You are the author of Anticancer, you are dying of cancer. What do you have to say?”  Wait for Chapter 11 before you know… for David had a lot to say over the course of seven interviews, transcribed by a journalist and infographic artist who had worked with him on Anticancer. David reviewed and corrected every single page. By June 15, 2011, the book was published, rose to number one in France the following week (believe it or not, people were reading this book on the beach!), and remained number one until the Fall. David died a month later.

Dying well : As David takes us through the various steps of his cancer and his treatment, he trains himself into the art of dying and into understanding what this really is about: “Today, as I am closer than ever to the final moment, I realize that I am reacting more or less like my patients I cared for as a psychiatrist [...] Like many of them, I am afraid of suffering but I am not afraid of dying.” The text reads as a free-form recollection on the events that have structured his life, on what he learned from his patients, on what he would like his legacy to be — and on what he sees as the “balance sheet of [his] life.” In the end, dying well is “departing with a sense of peace and connection” — of connectedness to all the dear ones who lived before and will live after: “Our dead live in our hears. It’s the most comforting form of immortality, and the one that means the most to me.”

Cancer has now become the leading cause of death in America. Each of us will have to take care of cancer patients at some point. David’s book is a must read.

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The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki: Ageless Insights into Entrepreneurial Audacity

January 19th, 2012 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

Style MacintoshThe huge success of Walter Isaacson’s book, Steve Jobs, shows the scope of our fascination for one of the top industry visionaries ever. While most people have come to realize the meaning of Steve Jobs almost in retrospect, for entrepreneurs starting in the eighties, he was already a thought-leader, and the Macintosh was already a metaphor for entrepreneurial audacity. One of the very first books to acknowledge this fact was Guy Kawasaki’s The Macintosh Way in 1990. This was Guy’s first book. His French publisher, Diateino, just published abstracts, Le Style Macintosh, and I wrote the French preface whose English translation you will find below.

How do you write a book?

One morning in 1989, I arrived at the ACIUS offices in Cupertino, CA, and, as usual, I went to say hello to Guy, then serving as President of the company we had co-founded.

That day, the conversation was not quite business as usual; Guy had other things on his mind:

“How do you write a book?” he asked me.

“You start on page 1 and finish on page 200 or 250,” I replied.

“Really? If it were that easy, everybody would be a writer…”

“But not everybody has something to say.”

“Do you think I have something to say?”

I told him yes, at which point he smiled from ear to ear: “I want to write a book.”

“Perfect – go for it!”

I don’t think Guy was ever afraid that I would object to his writing a book, but he may have wanted to make sure I knew he was embarking on a project that would take up a chunk of his time away the company. It was clear to me, however, that if work kept him away from writing, he would regret it; I told him he constantly would be thinking of what might have been, and therefore would be less productive. He asked me if I had taken creative writing classes to write my own books, and I amused him greatly when I didn’t even understand to what he was referring.

“So how will I know if it’s good?” he asked me.

“It’s just like any other product: either people want it, or they don’t. You’ll know if people read it.”

After he had written about sixty pages, he showed me the manuscript to get my opinion. I don’t remember making a great deal of comments – I simply found it good. What I had on my desk were the first chapters of the The Macintosh Way.

The timeless manifesto of the entrepreneurial spirit

Twenty-five years later, I find myself rereading this book with pleasure. In it, I truly recognize the Guy Kawasaki I knew in 1985, and the Guy I still know to this day.

It is said that the best authors write just one book, over and over, and in most cases this is true. The Macintosh Way contains the seeds for a good deal of the ideas that Guy has explored and developed over the course of his subsequent books, some of which I have translated for Diateino Publishing in France. Every book is informed by an author’s previous works, which allow readers to find and trace enduring themes. Read and judge for yourself whether I am wrong in thinking that The Macintosh Way is pure Guy Kawasaki.

For fans of Apple, this is a return to the source, and for fans of computers, it’s a return to the origin of personal computing — to the root of the curated and comfortable technology experience we have all come to expect today. A few weeks after the death of Steve Jobs this book is obviously à propos, as it serves both as an historical account and a timeless manifesto of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Taken as a piece of history: Even if Guy’s goal is not the chronicle of his life in the Macintosh division for which he was recruited in 1983 by a college friend, Mike Boich, his role in the group is present on nearly every page, as the book has an anecdotal backbone. In the French translation, we have removed some references that are firmly lodged in a bygone era, yet there are still a number of details that bring back to mind the incredible ebullience of the Silicon Valley in the eighties. Genius, just as now, waited for nothing; the overwhelming feeling that everything was changing around us urged people who have now become historical icons to push themselves to the limit – so far that even twenty years later some have retained this energy and vision to reimagine the world. It was certainly the case with Steve Jobs, but also with Bill Gates, who grew from genius programmer and industry leader into one of the most fascinating philanthropists in our world today.

When Guy told me in 1989 that he would title his book The Macintosh Way, I liked the name but feared it would not age well over time. I understood his reasoning, of course, as the Mac represented the beginning of his professional life, the same way it represented mine as an entrepreneur. At the same time, however, the Apple world had already changed, and despite our faith in the Macintosh’s power and beauty, we could not help fighting a certain feeling of Paradise Lost. The original stars that had created the Apple aura, Steve Jobs at the helm, had almost all left, and the subject of conversations at cocktail parties all around the Valley dealt at least as much with the continual Apple reorganizations as with Macintosh software updates and new capabilities. In fact, many of us believed that the spirit of Macintosh now lay outside of Apple. We were proud, yes, but I for one could not shake the feeling that our loyalty was partly born out of nostalgia even though the “Macintosh way” had largely shaped our entrepreneurial style.

Enchantment: Make your “Macintosh” successful…

Looking back, the title is far more powerful than I ever imagined in 1989. The Macintosh Way is not merely a series of tips collected in the Mac original heydays. In fact, as Guy reminds us in all his books and notably this one, experience can be a false guide: “Be wary of experience [...] It is better to work with raw, enthusiastic potential than an old pro from a competitor who will merely transfer his old habits to a new product and company. ” The Macintosh Way is more of an existential experience, a manifesto for entrepreneurs who have the skill and guts to believe in their vision and do what they must in order to change the world for the better by bringing people something they didn’t even realize they needed.

In 1989, while the Valley looked on the evolution of NeXT with skepticism and had not yet seen the scale of radical change that Steve Jobs could bring about in the film industry by investing in Pixar, Guy Kawasaki already summarized the symbolic significance of Jobs for all entrepreneurs: “Steve challenged the status quo and put something into motion that grew larger than anyone envisioned. Macintosh started as a computer. It became a cult. Then a phenomenon. Then a standard. Now it is a way of doing business. The development and introduction of Macintosh provides many examples of doing the right thing and doing things right.”

Over time, and with the announcement of Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple, then his subsequent death, the Macintosh has become a metaphor for entrepreneurial audacity and the will to transform vision into reality. This is what Guy expressed in The Macintosh Way and, again, most recently, in his preface to Enchantment: “By reading this book, you will learn how to apply my experiences as an evangelist, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist to make your “Macintosh” successful.”

Happy reading!

Marylène Delbourg-Delphis

Menlo Park, January 2012

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The End of Business as Usual by Brian Solis

January 18th, 2012 · Book Review

The end of biz as usual“What are words for if not to inspire the hearts, minds, and actions of our employees and customers?” Brian Solis asks this before listing a series of buzzwords that operate as “crutches for characterless engagement,” and are “indicative of how businesses see (or don’t see) employees and customers.” His advice is simple: Take a moment to revise the way you speak, before it’s too late. We are getting awfully close to “The end of business as usual,” to use the title of the book.

The book is not about doomsday by a futurist, but rather about common sense by an insightful sociologist who calls a spade a spade, sees that tomorrow is today – and writes beautifully! When two-thirds of American rely on e-commerce to shop and 43% of all online consumers are social media fans or followers, it’s somewhat perilous to assume that tomorrow’s business will be what it was five years ago. The end of ”business as usual” is the realization that, at a time when consumers are connected, the layers of non-communication and disconnectedness that businesses have built around themselves are irreversibly estranging them from customers. So, “rewire the way you work to succeed in the consumer revolution!”

Earn your way into the trust zone of social customers… Referring to a study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, Brian reminds us that forty-seven percent of retailers entered social media “because of competitive pressure to do so.” Clearly, “businesses must now find comfort outside of their comfort zones,” and had better get used to this sooner rather than later… Social media is not an option pushed by a bunch of social media aficionados. It’s the mandatory business operating system for companies to “earn their way into the trust zone of social customers.” Even though “customer-centricity struggles to find a home within the operationalized business,” brands are pressured into performing their own cultural revolution, no matter what.

At the dawn of new performance metrics… While leaders have been able to get away with simply giving speeches about adaptive companies and change management for the last 40 years without actually doing anything tangible, new forms of metrics are now good BS detectors. What is your Groubal customer service index? There is the brand that companies meticulously design and what customers make of it. “Connected customers define the value and the equity of a brand within social networks.” Actual social capital will drive stock value far more efficiently than PR games… That’s what you read between the lines of this book.

The laws of engagement… The book is a collection of essays organized in chapters that complement Engage or Die. While Brian’s books always include a conceptual dimension with very interesting and relevant references (I loved Pierre Levy’s notion of “collective intelligence”), you can still read in any order you want. All entry points lead to the idea of a new business reality: businesses aren’t selling products as much as they are selling experiences through myriad social touch points. Engaging is the art of unlocking the value of these touch points.

The End of Business as Usual is as much of a must read as Engage or Die.

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Digital Leader, 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence by Erik Qualman

January 2nd, 2012 · Book Review

Digital leaderNotoriety used to give you a chance to be immortalized with a postage stamp, but “now every single one of us has a digital stamp.” This is the opening statement of Erik Qualman’s new book: Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence. While Qualman’s previous book, Socialnomics*, analyzed the new challenges and opportunities that the social media re-segmentation and restructuring of the market are to present to businesses, Digital Leader focuses on what it means for each of us to be part of the “Glass House Generation,” and what it takes for each of us to become a digital leader – transform our digital footprint into a distinctive digital “stamp.”

Be on the stamp that everybody wants to find! The book is structured around an easy-to-remember acrostic. “Stamp” stands for the five habits of digital leadership:

  • SIMPLE: success is the result of simplification and process
  • TRUE: be true to your passion
  • ACT: nothing happens without action—take the first step
  • MAP: goals and visions are needed to get where you want to be.
  • PEOPLE: success doesn’t happen in a vacuum

Each of the chapters provides examples and anecdotes illustrating the topic at hand. Most of them are taken from the analog world on purpose: You don’t need to be a digital native to become a digital leader. A leader is a leader, and anybody can become a digital leader. Social media is not some form of black magic that obliges you to become somebody you are not or do not want to become. Rather, it is an environment that invites you to find the quintessence of who you are and what you want to say in order to be understood and interesting. Make technology work for you! The content of leadership may not intrinsically be different from what it is in the physical world, except that you must make your messages even more zen in order to render them more effective as well as more universal (and show a heightened sensitivity to the diversity of the people that constitute your digital friends or followers). Leaders, whether analog or digital, define their goals, pick their fight, shape their paths in order to shape the path of others.

Your true personality is just a camera phone away from being discovered… Do digital citizens lose some of their identity or betray their passions as they clean up their act and expurgate their texts of sarcasm or any form of nastiness? Maybe. Maybe not, if social media is more than an outlet for your random stream of conscience. The world of social media is undergoing the same evolution as the early days of blogging that progressively went from a public psychoanalytic “Say everything” craze to a consummate art of edited spontaneity. “The digital revolution has connected our integrity and reputation in a way never seen before.” No need to lament and dream of a golden era when we could separate our personal and professional lives and fancy ourselves as healthy Jekylls and Hydes. “Your true personality is just a camera phone away from being discovered,” Qualman reminds us, echoing the Zuckerberg’s statement in The Facebook Effect: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity.” While it’s true that in the digital era, “someone is watching us all the time,” it’s also true it gives us the ability to work on our personal unity and confidence, “recreate” ourselves — to take leadership over own lives — while easily accessing a wide audience, connecting and engaging with people. We lead by empowering others and “grow as they grow.”

One of the remarkable qualities of the book is that it dispels the threat that social media still signify to many people. Qualman is not lecturing you into becoming social media addicts to survive. Instead, his tone is inviting: “Digital Leaders are Made—Not Born.” Any individual can thrive in the digital era by creating output that unites people instead of dividing them. A very good book! Very human.

*I wrote a post about Socialnomics at the end of 2009.

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Social Technology in HR and Recruiting by John Sumser: Get a Move On!

December 22nd, 2011 · Book Review

SumserBy Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

I just finished reading The 2012 Index of Social Technology in HR and Recruiting, put together by John Sumser and the HR Examiner team.

The report covers initial attempts in leveraging social media in the sourcing and recruiting industry. Although quite a large variety of products are surveyed, the report primarily focuses on the multiple angles through which vendors try to incorporate some form of social element within the HR field. It’s only the beginning, and as the report indicates from the start, we “are entering an era of flux.” The word “flux” is especially interesting here: it refers to the rate of transfer of the social media wave across the various branches of HR as well as the inconstancies, fluctuations and wavering that it generates — thus revealing interesting paradoxes.

Should the cobbler’s children go barefoot? Over the last three years, corporations have started to realize the value of social media and have put significant efforts into social enablement, especially in sales, marketing and customer service. Success is generally associated with a clear strategy and the allocation of appropriate resources. Yet, social is barely starting in recruiting and social recruiting often limited to posting jobs on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. As John Sumser points out: “As the most conservative of the organizational functions, HR is particularly slow to ingest new ideas.”

Isn’t it odd that the very same people whose role is to help corporations move forward can’t be in a position to do so simply because of technology constraints? Isn’t it strange that while it is part of their DNA to create relationships, recruiters would shy away from tools and platforms that facilitate and encourage connections with and between people? How is it that with social media being first and foremost about relationships, early social technology in HR “is focused on the collection of the data, not relationships?” In a logical world, HR — human resources — should have been the very first organizational function to embrace social media and put an end to a “process that treats potential candidates as objects.” But it’s not.

Time to steal the Seven-league boots! Lots of recruiters would love to move quickly! But they are often stuck with antiquated practices and systems and are not adequately assisted by the other departments as they do their jobs. Why should HR be a “competitive weapon” only for younger corporations? Why should recruiters indefinitely bear with incumbents that do not even provide free open APIs to enable transparent communication across platforms when engineers and marketers can connect everything with anything with a snap of the finger?

HR AnalystsJohn Sumser’s forecasts are definitely a call for upper management to help out recruiters. Recruiters shape the future of organizations and are a critical touch point with customers/candidates, building up  – or crushing – a company’s reputation: “No role will change more rapidly than the recruiter’s. Shifting demographics, rapidly evolving jobs, an avalanche of technology and data, responsibility for branding and involvement in community conversations add up to an overwhelming change at the nexus of the organization and the outside world.”

Engage or Die” (to use the title of a great book by Brian Solis last March) is what you can read between the lines of this very informative and well written report – that gives HR teams excellent reasons to demand more freedom and better systems.

Who should read this report? HR teams, of course, but even more importantly all the departments of any company in order to:

  • Better understand why it takes so much time and money to find, select and hire new employees today!
  • Realize that change is never hard to effect when there is will to evolve… And there are lots of forward-thinking digital leaders in this industry that can help out, as I could see for myself as the CEO of a new company, TalentCircles.

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Ken Fischer, President of the UMS: Leading by touching people’s lives

November 29th, 2011 · Talents, Innovators

Ken FischerTwice a year, I look forward to the meeting of the UMS National Council Members, and each time I am struck by the leadership of Kenneth Fischer, the President of the University Musical Society (UMS) in Ann Arbor, MI.

Leadership: you know it when you see it… However hard it may be to define, you know it when you see good leadership, especially in a domain like the performing arts, where success cannot be taken for granted. How often do you see packed venues for Amahd Jamal, the State Symphony Capella of Russia, John Malkovich, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre 
of Taiwan, to name some of the 60+ performances scheduled for the 2011-2012 season? The obvious response is that you must have an amazing director of programming (Michael Kondziolka), and a no less remarkable marketing, education, and financial team (Sara Billmann, Jim Leija, John Kennard and many others). But you can’t forget the top guy at the helm, Ken Fischer, who has been the President of the UMS for 25 years. End result: although the organization is located in a rather small town, Ann Arbor, (around 120,000 inhabitants), the UMS is one of the top five presenters in this country. Wow!

I will not define leadership, but I know why this 66 year old, white-haired, gentleman with sparkling eyes exemplifies some of the main characteristics of a leader.

He is:

1.     Trustworthy: Year after year, Ken has been fulfilling his responsibilities without letting down anybody’s expectations, by empowering brilliant minds around him as well hundreds of volunteers, persuading donors of all sizes, reaching out for students, academia and business organizations, attracting a repeat audience enchanted by artists they often had never heard about — and blowing away world-famous artists unable to place Ann Arbor on the US map. Just how he manages this is hard to explain. The truth of the matter is that everybody trusts him and looks to him as a guide, likes his pastoral and pedagogical demeanor.

2.     Empowering: The UMS offers over 60 performances each season, performed in up to seven University and community venues. To accomplish this goal, Ken has five direct reports and a total staff of only 30 people. No need to say that each person in the whole team must be empowered to deliver on such an ambitious program and leverage the amazing resources that Fischer has managed to focus on the success of the UMS:  over thirty student interns from the University of Michigan, thirty-four board members and some 700 volunteers organized in multiple groups – Senate, Advisory Committee, UMS Choral Union, Usher Corps, National Council, Corporate Council, Teacher Advisory Group. Ken Fischer has empowered a whole tribe of believers and built dozens of links with regional economic development organizations and the University of Michigan. His credo is what his mentor, the late Patrick Hayes, founder of the Washington Performing Arts Society and founding president of ISPA, instilled in him. It’s an all-inclusive approach: “Everybody In, Nobody Out.” And it works!

3.     Connected: Nobody can count the number of people that Ken Fischer knows – I mean really knows and passionately cares for, in Ann Arbor, of course, in the United States, and in the world. His memory of people and their personal history is downright flabbergasting. In addition to having a special talent for connecting with people, he empowers anyone to bring his/her network and welcomes friends of friends into the UMS fold, making even strangers feel connected to the community so that they want to communicate and spread its artistic message.

4.     Effective: In the end, great leaders have a personal way of being effective — they are persuasive because they know what they are talking about and have an impact because they are contagiously emotional. Ken’s smiling friendliness, his soft-spoken manner and his almost conventional calm are the weapons of a man capable of filling many Ann Arbor venues with avant-garde artists and renegades that will be the classics of tomorrow – and shaking up the status quo without bruising feelings. Because of his considerable acumen, he continuously moves audiences forward, leading them through change – and making them enjoy today what many other presenters would postpone to a hypothetical tomorrow to play it safe.

And touching people’s lives is what the arts are about: Ken knows that in the arts, just as in technology, people do not necessarily know what they want, but are thrilled when you offer to them something that didn’t know they would enjoy. Year after year, and this for the last 25 years, Ken Fischer has built a history – a tradition – of innovation with one goal, offering audiences engaging experiences that they will remember and which, in turn, pave the way for more engaging experiences and more memories. Truly, you never know who you’ll meet at a UMS concert! One day they were students in Ann Arbor, and years later, they are big donors because the audacity of programming at the UMS reminds them of their own adventurous youth.

Family FischerIt is impossible to talk about Ken Fischer without mentioning his family, as it is clear to anyone who talks to this proud husband-father-grandpa that they are the center of his broad universe: He is married to professional flutist Penelope (Penny) Peterson Fischer. Their son Matt is Director of the App Store at Apple and lives with his wife Renee Danielson Fischer and son Alexander in the San Francisco Bay area. “Go blue” is the motto of everybody in this family!

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Amazing customer service from United Airlines…

October 11th, 2011 · Book Review

GlassesI am sure that I am not the only one to have been upset by United Airlines’ customer service many times – and complained. That’s why, this time, I have to admit that they have blown me away by the quality of their service!

Two weeks ago, I forgot a pair of reading glasses that look like sunglasses at the departing gate at Charles De Gaulle in France, which I realized when I was already seated. Before the plane took off, I went back to the gate, accompanied, and looked around. I didn’t find them. I asked the attendants and the security. Nobody had returned anything. So, I said casually that I might have left them in the Red Carpet Club, but I did not call them, nor did I fill any form, estimating that they were lost anyway…

But guess what! Yesterday, I found my glasses in the mail, coming back from Paris, with a simple hand-written note: “Please find enclosed your sunglasses left here at CDG Airport RCC,” signed by a person called Odile Dargide (not sure I read the name well).

Conclusion: Great customer service is not always the service that you might expect, but a service that comes to you unexpectedly! Thanks to United at Paris CDG!

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