I’ll have the lite version, please

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for months. I hesitated hitting ‘publish’ because I did not want the tone to sound jaded or become a rant. While re-reading the post outline, I felt I was being too harsh and not recognizing the various stages of an organization’s social media and community engagement maturity. And then yesterday, I understood why I was so exasperated with people looking for the easy button. Why? Because I was that person and it was a puppet that gave me a dose of my own medicine.

As part of a mother-daughter bonding experience, I registered my nine year-old daughter for a puppet information/creation workshop. The event was marketed as a family affair, but my daughter was the only person under 25 in the audience. For three hours we heard from a master puppeteer about how to create beautiful puppets for film. The instructor took us through character development before sketching and the questions requiring answers to identify all the materials needed before making the puppet to prevent finding out (later in the creative process) you did not have the proper direction, investment or resources. We learned about the structure of the puppet and how to create and deliver the unique character for yourself or a client.

Towards the end of the workshop, the instructor demonstrated how we could create our own patterns based on the knowledge of the previous two hours. He had us creating our own patterns. There were no right or wrong ways to create the body, head, arms or hands. I could not grasp this free form art experience and I underestimated my daughter, thinking she did not grasp the complex pattern making. So, I asked the dreaded question:

“Is there a resource online you would recommend for downloading patterns we could easily follow”?”

I saw the puppeteer’s expression darken and turn sad. It was an expression I recognized. My face contorts in this fashion multiple times a day.

“What you are learning today is what no one talks about. These lessons were passed down from master to apprentice. There are no go-to patterns,” he replied.

Instantly, I knew the fear and confusion felt of those people who listen to me drone on and on during conference calls about policy and playbooks. I was the person looking for the easy button. I was the person looking for the lite version and the solution requiring little original thought, but great reward.

And I was disappointed in myself.

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

The novel or the Cliff’s Notes?

The theory or the Spark Chart?

Alright, perhaps, the latter two questions are easy to answer. So why are so many people skipping the writing, reading of the long novel or determining and experimenting hypothesis to jump immediately to a lite version? Why? Because it is so easy to skip to the end of the book. When we flip to the final page, we miss what makes the character tick. We do not understand the motivation and jump to our own conclusion unsubstantiated by research. The structure of the hero and challenge are not realized. We read the end, but we cannot visualize how this event came into being.

For some organizations, social media and community is a big playground and creative freedom reigns. For others, social media and community engagement is explored because the organization thinks it is the next step and the white picket fence to make the company whole and similar to others in the neighborhood. Knowing what you want from an online community and preparing for the foundation of growth is a key ingredient for creating the character of the community and extent of the community lifecycle.

Miss Piggy came to life in the mind of Bonnie Erickson first. Then she burst to life on paper. Finally, she was molded into the 3D Muppet who stole our (and Kermit’s) heart. In this interview, Erikson addresses the creative process of creating a puppet character:

What does it take for a character to become a legend, as happened with Miss Piggy and the Phanatic?

Well, there are three factors. First, you need a good designer and a good concept. And in the case of puppeteers you need a really good performer. And then the client has to be very thoughtful and use the character well. When you put all these pieces together you have at least a shot at creating a character people will be drawn to.

We focus so much on the performance, we forget about the design and concept. We want to follow the dots for a quick and easy solution for a creative and unique product. We crave a pattern. We want the lite version.

There is no lite version. The pattern is one you have to create. You create the process to put the pieces together. You are the master of design. You are the puppeteer.

2013 is the Year of Passion

On New Year’s Day, my husband purchases four sets of roses, each a different color for each member of our family. Before we go to sleep the first evening of the new calendar year, my husband fills a bowl with scalding hot water and sprinkles the petals of a single rose into the bowl. Our instructions are to bathe our feet, wash away the old fears and defeats of the previous year and concentrate on positive goals and aspirations for the present year. This year, my husband sprinkled red roses into my foot bath as symbols of love, courage and passion and therefore infused into my meditation. He chose my color wisely, for I will need to love and have courage and passion to support me in achieving what I have in mind for 2013.

Author

Last year, one of my three words was ‘writer.’ I became a member of Grub Street and attended weekend sessions and the annual MUSE conference. I was blessed to have a writing group form out of a historical writing research workshop held at Grub Street. We meet one Saturday a month and exchange our writing achievements and challenges. There is no defeat in this group. There is criticism challenging us to put our best work on that Panera table each week.

This year, my word is ‘author.’ Whether the writing has been good, great, or indifferent, I have followed pen across paper and fingers across the keyboard for 25 years. Sharing my writing, the characters and thoughts that have lived inside my mind and only with me for such an extended time is difficult to share. This year, I resolve to find the courage to stop perfecting and share the writing, stories and characters and all of their beloved faults with the world. I will be published. Even if I have publish on my own, I will become an author and my name will be attached to a finished story.

Student

Also, last year, I made the decision to go back to school and begin my second graduate degree with the focus of museum studies. For once, I feel like I am able to focus all of my interests and previous education into this new industry study. As a child, I could always be found with my nose in a book and enjoyed every museum adventure. I lost myself in history. History is often written or influenced by the victor and I wanted to know the stories through the objects and artifacts of the voices of the average person of that age – those who didn’t have a voice in the spoils. I fancied that I could hear the calling of these voices asking for their stories to be told.

Museums are not about nostalgia. They give voice to the community of past and present. How can we learn from the past? How are we labeling, classifying, and describing current events that will shape the opinions of future generations? The community has power. The community has a voice. I want to explore how this voice resonates inside and outside the walls of a cultural institution. It is not so different than the questions and planning of other businesses across a plethora of industries. What is the common denominator? What is the root of community engagement? I don’t know, but I am going to seek answers. I hope you will join me on this adventure, share your insights and explore community in a new light.

Traveler

To be an author and a student, I cannot be confined to one perspective or physical space. I crave the exploration of other cultures and beliefs. I want to challenge what I think proof positive. Alone and with my family, I plan to place a priority on travel. We do not have to go far or go into debt for such adventures, we just need to…I just need to not get stuck and narrow my views or perspectives.

Resolutions are difficult to keep unless you look at these goals or changes in the context of a new life habit. This is what I will be doing one word at a time, calling upon the graces of love, courage and passion to see me through the good and tough times.

Happy 2013!

Buzzword Bingo

Buzzwords. You have a love / hate relationship with them too, right? If you say these words in front of the right audience, you gain creditability, and if you say them in front of a different audience, you are pandering and are quickly (and loudly) called out. Each year there is a new list of buzzwords that are “in” and like a bad pop song, they are repeated by everyone you know and cross networking circles while simultaneously being shouted from the rooftops by a morning show news anchor.

Yes, it is painful. I have inflicted this pain on others and have also been a victim. Buzzwords hurt, but they do help the uninitiated. Buzzwords are like a folk tale used to explain the unexplainable. We know these tales are not true, but they help us reason. Buzzwords are the sizzle of the story and often ambiguous, but when used in the right context, buzzwords can open the door to new questions and deeper conversation about the subject. The buzzword is part of the compelling hook.

I could roll my eyes at all of the mentions of “social business” and argue, like others that the topic is really change management. It wasn’t too long ago all of us were rolling our eyes when our bosses brought in a copy of Business Week to show us the latest article on this fad called, “social media.” Buzzwords are an entry point. And I will take whatever entry point I can find. It is there I can start to ask questions and build foundational elements that bring life to the organization’s mission and values. Buzzwords pave the way for policy and process. It is up to you to fill in the gaps and hold the story together.

Letter to the Younger Student

This week, I finished my first graduate class of my museum studies degree. It was a period of significant growth and reflection. Here is a letter to my younger self as a student:

And now, what pen did I use for this? Real or fake?

*Used G2 pens – Pilot Pens hired me to write this post as part of their Power to the Penproject. In addition to a selection of products, I was compensated for writing this post. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

Masterminding Presentations

Before I speak, I use the moleskine graph notebook to prepare the presentation. My PowerPoints are highly visual, so I need to have a keen sense of what I want to convey and ensure the timing syncs with the right image. Here is peak at my structure for the upcoming CRM Evolution conference next week.

Pilot Pens hired me to write this post as part of their Power to the Pen project. In addition to a selection of products, I was compensated for writing this post. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

The Glass Organization

Who does not love snow globes? You shake them and have complete control of the world in the palm of your hand. My daughter has a globe her grandmother bought her at a museum in Oklahoma that when shaken scatters sand and creates a mini-tornado. During the holidays, I am captivated by the snow globes department stores put on display. I imagine who lives in that tiny, little world. What happened if I were in the snow globe?

And then I realize, I am in that tiny, little world.

Exposed for all to see, our lives lived out on social media and reality television, we have brought the transparent, bubble world of a snow globe to life. The days of Big Brother fandom are back. Or at least that is what ABC hopes with the premiere of the summer reality show, The Glass House. You may not be bored enough to have watched the show, but the title of the show explains it all. Fourteen contestants live in a transparent space with no secrets, shame or fear. Viewers control the challenges and enjoy the control of pushing people out of their comfort zone and decides who is to be eliminated.

The community of viewers are shaking things up and they are expecting this same insight into organizations as they do their prime time television. We can debate the actual reality of reality television at another time and place because what is most important now is the perception of openness. Conversations are jumping across social media channels like wild fire. People want to have tough and sticky conversations in public places like Twitter and Facebook because that is their preferred method of communication. As organizations, we need to understand the ramifications of these mentions, know how we will respond internally and externally, and set expectations for future engagement.

When you shake a snow globe, the water does not escape from the confines of the glass bubble or solid base. This world, this community, in the palm of your hand has structure. The snow particles will never fall in the same place more than once or fall outside the container unless you become distracted and the globe becomes a victim of gravity.

So, what are you waiting for? Shake things up. Open your organization to the communities you serve. Just ensure you have a solid structure and focused team.