Be present

As you scroll through your social media feeds, you may notice people around you choosing one word or three to represent their goals for 2016. This practice is beautiful and if it can be maintained, may become a brilliant habit. We should set aside time for similar reflection and practice into our work lives or businesses. Knowing what your customers have been doing or predicting what they will be doing is extremely important and not to be discounted, but what are your customers or communities served doing now? Are you addressing their current issues to ensure a happier and healthier day and tomorrow?

If we can get the small daily details of service and experience design improved or solved, this is BIG news to your customer and communities. What may seem small and insignificant annoyances in the current customer journey are extremely important now to your community and will impact if they continue to choose you. We (you, companies, vendors…others) talk about the customer journey – Remember, it is just that, a journey. Along this journey we must progress and course correct as needed. As you plan your activities for the new year, think about how you can be present and accountable.

Happy 2016 – Predictions for your evolving #BookDNA?

As I sit here reflecting on 2015 and all that went well and some areas during the year I wish I could stash away and forget completely, there is a piece of each memory that will stay with me forever associated with the books I read during these times or because of these events. I call this my #BookDNA. In the past I have written my #BookDNA posts before the holiday season to help people plan their holiday shopping and give the gift of reading. Whether given to a family member or friend, books are my language of love. The gift of a book is intimate. It means you are on my mind and when I don’t have the right words to say in many situations, I allow the gift of word crafted by other authors speak on my behalf.

This year proved to be a bit difficult to read much for pleasure because of the reading required for dissertation preparation. I was more critical of books than ever before. With limited precious time, if I did not get hooked on the book within the first two chapters, the book went back on the shelf. In no particular order are the books I have chosen to reflect my 2015 #BookDNA and some of the books I chose to give this holiday season.

  • Supper Better: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and more Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games, by Jane McGonigal >> You may be familiar with this author from her numerous TED talks or previously written book, Reality is Broken. This book is your game plan for  a new and better you starting with getting your brain super-powered. This book was recommended to me by my husband (huge fan of Jane and game design) to help me conquer my inner demons. I hope after you read this book, you are able to recognize and blast demons before they wreak havoc with your life.
  • Jack Frost: The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce >> I love a gorgeous picture book that speaks to the child in each of us. Jack’s tale will guide you or your children during times when it it difficult to keep faith and believe in a power bigger than all of us.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler >> To be honest, I was never a huge fan of Amy Poehler and thought of her as more of Tina’s sidekick, but man was I wrong. This book not only packed a comedic punch and needed harsh dose of reality, but has made me a lifetime fan. I’m not one for girl talk, so I play the audiobook when I need a good whine or kick in the ass.
  • Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Louise Hall Tharp >> I adore the museum and have wondered the halls aimlessly on more than one occasion. It is impossible to not live in Boston and not know the story of the infamous art heist that occurred in (and in most cases, defines) this museum. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know much about the woman who created this beautiful hodgepodge museum in the Fenway. When I am next asked who I would most like to have tea with (living or present), I will most definitely answer, Mrs. Jack!
  • Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey >> This is the second book of the 5th Wave series. The 5th Wave made my 2014 #BookDNA list and I gifted this book to so many friends. I was skeptical if the dystopian intensity could be captured again in the second book of the trilogy. This book delivered and set-up and amazing hook for the final book in the series to be released May 2016. How can I wait?
  • Annihilation / Authority / Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer >> This is one of the most haunting science fiction trilogies I have ever read. I cannot describe, only compel that you read and when you are finished reading, let’s grab a cup of coffee or twelve and talk about the meaning of life.
  • CODE|WORDS: Technology and Theory in the Museum >> This is a fantastic compilation of essays by current museum hackers discussing the future of museums. Even if museums is not your career or choice, read this book and consider your views as a participant, what experience you could add to the field, and rethink your definition of a museum.

The books I am looking forward to reading in 2016 are a mix of classics and new releases and I don’t know which, if any, will make the #BookDNA list for 2016:

What were your favorite books of 2015? Are any of these books imprinted on your #BookDNA? What books are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?

Nature inspired community design

Every year or two, I try to find a new way to view my work, a fresh way to devise research questions, and a new way to inspire and challenge myself. I use this lens to build my speaking presentations and guide my editorial calendar. Despite failing biology during my school days, I remain fascinated by the simple and complex workings of nature. Several years ago, I became obsessed with the octopus and thinking through how businesses (especially community development) could learn from decentralized systems. Later, I moved on to comparing community management to a tide pool and what we can learn from these micro-ecosystems.

A discussion during a Community Roundtable event and mention of the book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, would turn my interests to urban planning and forever change how I viewed my position as a community manager and academic researcher. For the past couple of years, I have been breaking down how we can learn from physical community development and adapt these lessons and citizen behavior to online communities and creation of scaled digital ecosystems. I had yet to tie nature with urban planning until quieting my mind (as best as one can while commuting on a bus throughout Disney World) and staring outside the window at a patch of wild flowers.

My mind was primed to make the connection. The previous week, I had had the opportunity to attend Museum Camp hosted by Nina Simon and Beck Tench. The theme of the event was spacemaking and Nina Simon shared her “honeycomb” inspired community first program design. And the day before the light bulb went off in my head, I had listened to a NPR report on honeybee research. I was ready to think about bees. Staring out that bus window, I noticed a couple of bees making their rounds in a patch of wildflowers. This flower patch was most likely chosen to compliment the carefully created and pruned landscape of the resort rather than the pleasure of the buzzing bees. When designing a community, many choose aesthetic design over function or vice versa, rather than working to creatively blend the two.

I have been struggling with how to make blend the two and thinking about a digital ecosystem highly influenced by urban planning principles as a giant mind map. Instead of disparate community circles bridged or bonded by green spaces of social networks, what if the neighborhoods were visually represented by the “honeycomb” design as Nina Simon and her museum uses to define the needs and assets of the community?

Honeycomb. Hives. Bees. What had I just heard about the destruction of the honeybee communities? Was there a lesson to be learned from nature? Would I find a connection between bees and urban planning? <– This is how my mind works.

Colony collapse disorder has prompted scientific researchers to find out how the honeybee population is impacted by stress and pesticides and if any other bees are able to step in and do the work of the honeybee. It turns out squash bees (that can carry 100 times more pollen than a honeybee) and a type of Japanese orchard bee (that can do the work of almost 80 honeybees) may be a cost effective solution for farmers without the sacrifice of honeybees.

I think the key to remember is resilience,”says Shelby Fleischer, Professor of Entomology at Penn State University. “So don’t just aim for any one species. Historically, there’s been a lot of emphasis on making honeybees our pollinator, and resilience suggests that we should try and support a community of bees.

As organizations build online communities, they cannot aim for just one type of member with a single source of sustenance or risk a monoculture that will run the same course as the honeybee and colony collapse disorder. Simon uses the “honeycomb” design to surface new ideas and match community needs and assets with projects and collaborators. Design is not sacrificed for function or vice versa. Many types of people and ideas are required for a healthy community to flourish. Let’s take a cue from bee expert, Dan vanEnglesdorp – “Make meadows, not lawns.” A company cannot pollinate itself and relies on the communities served to be natural pollinators of innovation. Rather than forget our connection to nature, how can organizations be inspired by and learn from all that surrounds us and allow nature to guide the design of our interactions? A community first design trumps a digital first strategy.


Reflections from Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce 2015

I am struggling to write this post because I am not sure of the relevance. Many women have written and continue to write about equal opportunity and pay of women, particularly within the tech sector. I have purposely stayed out of these discussions and most other gender related industry conversations because I didn’t want YOU to notice I was a woman. Now, even as I write this post, I know that concept sounds ridiculous. I am obviously female, but I have not wanted me to define me as a woman or for women’s issues before they considered my brain and what I could bring to the table.

A former CMO described me as full of vim and vigor. In my 20′s, I took pride in my passion, but learned quickly (actually, it took me over ten years to put this into practice) to place a lid on those extreme high and low emotions if I wanted to climb the ladder in the corporate world and make my mark in a male dominated tech industry. I have been running away from emotion for several years-allowing feelings to fester below the surface in exchange for detachment and compartmentalization. I move on. I adapt. I accept the challenge. I have discovered I do not necessarily want to be ‘The Guy,’ but the guy ‘The Guy’ counts on-or in this case, the woman.

Perhaps, as a result of recently reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson and my eyes being opened to the history of women in the digital revolution, I was (dare I say it?) more sensitive to the conversation around the Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce 2015. I hesitated to attend any of the sessions dedicated to the topic of women. I didn’t want to be a part of the male-bashing or female-bashing extremes of conversation. But I can no longer ignore the conversation. As a person who was part of the tech industry, now a consumer of technology, academic researcher, and mother of two tech savvy daughters, I am a part of the conversation too.

There is no denying there was a visceral reaction to the Lean In movement. I struggled then to write a review of the book that my husband was the first to read and discuss publicly. Even then I didn’t want to compromise the charade I had concocted in my head-if I didn’t acknowledge I was a female or discuss domestic issues, I could be one of the guys. I would then have a future in corporate America.

I sat in Dream Park yesterday watching Kara Swisher interview Chairman and CEO, Marc Benioff, and Salesforce co-founder, Parker Harris about the Salesforce priority of hiring and elevating  top female talent. I won’t dismantle the interview with my opinions or insert my own stories-a mixture of confabulations and truths influenced by my fear of not being enough. I found Marc and Parker genuinely think they have made strides in making women a priority for the future of Salesforce. The jury is still out on whether the changes being made by the fourth largest software company will have an everlasting impact. What struck me (and kept rattling around in my head all day) was Marc’s answer to Kara Swisher’s question about why women had not previously been a priority at Salesforce or in Silicon Valley. Marc said he was not aware of the disparity of issues until they had reached extreme conversation levels. He kept referring to the software industry as male dominated and created by men.

In fact, the software industry was created by women. Prior belief was that power was in the hardware and thus dominated by males and software or programming secondary and the work of a female. Despite the great talent and feats of Jean Jennings, Frances Bilas, Grace Hopper and others, it was not until Bill Gates struck the epic software deal with IBM that software took the throne within the tech industry. Our generation has given birth to amazing minds-some of them featured in celebration of Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce. It boggles my mind we still have these conversations about the differences between men and women in the workplace. Our world has changed so much, yet diversity and inclusion are persistent topics of unrest.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think we can expect change if we only address the symptoms and not the root or fundamental issues. What I think each of us can do immediately is acknowledge and rewrite the history books to give credit to the females who came before us and forged the path allowing us to voice our concerns and passions. I don’t know if I’ll be embracing ‘I feel’ statements in the boardroom anytime soon and opt to wield patience and grace instead.

We need to share the stories of the females who have raised our voices. We need to share these stories with each other and our children. We owe it to the women before us. We owe it to those who will make be making the decisions long after we have left our offices.

Team Immersion: Snapchat

9354933893_4d68a59712_oI wish I had time to explore all the fresh tools and apps designed to inspire or help us to become more effective and efficient. There are some cases where I will be first in line to test a new product or service. Then there are times when I want to observe how a person or company is using a product or service. I downloaded Snapchat early, but I did not actively use the service. I could understand why teens were using Snapchat to communicate, but did it make sense for me or my professional life? This summer, I began to see how various communities were thriving with Snapchat and why publishers and marketers were salivating for a reason to snap. Keeping up with the Jones’ was not an excuse to determine if my company should be using Snapchat, but it did give me the motivation to brainstorm various angles of use.

What better way to explore a product or service, than becoming dependent upon it for a certain length of time. I am talking about becoming immersed in the community. Not simply observing, but actively participating. I wasn’t going in alone. I needed other viewpoints and skill sets. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce team immersions – where I invite and challenge my team to only communicate using one tool/product/service for 24 hours.

You guessed it. The first immersion on my list would be Snapchat.

I wasn’t a Snapchat super user, but I knew one of my team members actively snapped. In vain, she had tried to get her teammates to join in her obsession. No dice. This immersion day would giver her a chance to demonstrate how and why she uses Snapchat. She would be the perfect teacher for my team. I asked her to compile a super simple training session two weeks before our scheduled immersion. This gave team members enough time to download and play with Snapchat without the fear of first snap learning in front of a professional audience.

There was some grumbling. Snapchat is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some folks communicate better with words than pictures. Using Snapchat forced our team to use whole-brain thinking. Pun intended – this assignment required one to look at the world through various lenses and document the experience.

Yesterday, our team immersed ourselves into the world of Snapchat.

For some, caffeine intake was the sole focus of the day. Others used animal superstars to convey humorous captions to the workday. Snaps are fleeting, but the impression of the immersion is not. Whether we continue to use Snapchat personally or devise a way to use for our organization, our team now understands the friction points of the experience and how each of us viewed the world so differently during a 24 hour day…just as each member of our communities. If nothing else, this invitation for a team immersion was a wakeup call for empathy across all channels. It is so easy to become comfortable in our routines on mainstream social media networks. There are other ways to tell stories. Emotions are captured beyond emojis. We know Snapchat better and can think strategically about how and if/when we encourage snapping.

An added benefit? We know each other better. This is the foundation of success for any team…especially a virtual team!

Follow me on Snapchat: VargasL / VargasLMV

Our next team immersion is in September and we will be using Periscope.

I need more space

11218188_10153384409850218_1303557751318412164_oI am constantly trying to cultivate a beginner’s mind. It is so easy to coast and get caught up in the monotony and easiness of doing the same thing again and again. OK, well it might be easy for some. Not me. Many of the conferences and continuous learning sessions I attend do not push my boundaries of comfort or learning. My itinerary last week was the exception. I didn’t just step out of my comfort zone, I jumped out of myself and created a new space for me to digest and reflect.

Last week, I joined a collection of over 90 museum professionals and artists at Museum Camp 2015. This is where everyone was trying to up the weirdness factor. I usually stand out like a sore thumb in a conservative room of suits. Not this time. I blended seamlessly into a group of people I felt comfortable referring to as my tribe by the conclusion of the weekend. I refrained (or hope so) from being a fan girl when I finally met Nina Simon in-person. As I have stated before, Nina’s book is one of the reasons I decided to reclaim my path as a museum professional. She did not only get me excited about the museum industry, but about my current area of expertise.

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & Natural History and staff reflects Nina’s enthusiasm and understanding of the Santa Cruz community. The atmosphere of the museum was laid back and inviting. The staff and interns were warm and inviting – each person had a unique personality and style. I am sure I was not the only one who felt both uncomfortable and envious of the workplace.

I could not refuse the call to Museum Camp 2015 when I found out Nina would co-lead the event with Beck Tench. Beck is the antithesis of Nina. Whereas Nina cultivates the abstract thoughts and extroverts, Beck is a complex thinker who speaks to introverts and puts them instantly at ease in unfamiliar environments. Nina and Beck complimented each other well and facilitated a weekend packed full of activities focused on the importance of space making.

The weekend included individual and team activities studying the impacts of creating and maintaining spaces devoted to ourselves and the communities we serve. I am bummed I did not take part of the camping experience at the museum, but the introvert in me desperately needed my own space in the evenings to recharge and reset. Many of the activities during the day required an openness and trust that was draining. This is not a negative observation. Conversations with like minds challenged me to bring my A-game to truly listen and think before I speak. I met such talented artists and laid the groundwork for some great friendships. Nina and Beck were free with their knowledge and lessons learned. Before Museum Camp 2015, I dreamed of working with Nina and Beck in some capacity. Museum Camp 2015 only amplified that desire!

I came back to Boston with ideas about how I could apply what I had learned and practiced over the weekend to my current job / industry and my PhD studies. I was looking for and attempting to identify all spaces (or the lack of) space around me. The time in Boston was brief because I jumped on a plane to the Happiest Place on Earth – Walt Disney World. From one coast to the other in a single week, my main objective was how to amp up my creativity levels. I was lucky enough to score a seat in the new Creativity and Innovation class at the Disney Institute. The class is loosely based on the book Creativity, Inc. (I gave this book to friends and team last Christmas) and the successes and failures of Disney over the past five decades. The class explored how to cultivate and implement creative ideas and included a behind-the-scenes look at The Disney Event Group. After the class, I explored the Magic Kingdom and challenged self to look for and identify as many different spaces (as defined in Museum Camp) as I could. I discovered there aren’t many easy-to-find spaces cultivating stillness!

Returning to Boston on Friday, I could not shake the Disney fever and took my husband and daughter to explore the new Museum of Science exhibit, The Science of Pixar. In this one exhibit, it was plain to see how Pixar was building spaces for their external and internal communities. My favorite hot spots were the video testimonials of the Pixar employees. This gave the space authenticity and a source of encouragement for any budding animators. All of us are space makers. Museum Camp, D-thinking and the Pixar exhibit encouraged the urban planning principles I have been exploring in digital community-building. I am validated. Inspired. Ready to take on the world. This past week challenged my comfort level and knowledge in ways that no other recent conference or events have been able to and I am thankful.