Stories are just data with a soul

I’m more and more certain that the most profound changes ahead of us will come from focusing on the most basic truths about human behavior.

That the communities we frequent, be they Facebook or Slack or your favorite blog, will platform shared impulses and surface the most basic elements that connect people with each other.

The why behind a share. The emotional memory behind a tap or a swipe.

That when you hit on something simple and true, it connects you broadly to the rest of the world. Sometimes unstoppably so.

I’m reacting and simply in awe of the overpowering human truths that are reverberating through my head after watching and rewatching the Brene Brown Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability.

She has surfaced something deceptively simple yet powerful that is personally a large challenge for me.

Something that I practice as a marketer and brand storyteller but been unable to put my finger on in words. Something I do, but not with enough self-awareness or individual intent.

Something that I’ve been challenged to come to grips with as I work to make myself a better person, more open and flexible as I get older with a longer legacy of experiences that shape my forward looking thinking.

An ongoing awareness that as an expert in my field, I need to apply knowledge and perspective while being completely open to what I don’t know, to audiences generationally different and unique.

Brene brilliantly brings out that there is a natural friction between who we truly are and how we present who we want to be. And that this is why authenticity is so difficult to obtain and so powerful when you do.

How with groups, we conceptualize an organizational culture on top of the innate messiness of the human condition. How we naturally create an ongoing tension between the drives of individuals to connect and the basic incongruity of placing order and structures on those connections at scale.

She describers herself as a hacker of the condition of human messiness, searching not for order but for behavioral data that pinpoints the why of why we feel certain ways about ourselves.

She talks poignantly about love and beauty and happiness.

Not as a self help lecturer, but as a social scientist. As a storyteller putting soul and chutzpah into understanding the data. The empirical observational facts from her extensive studies of the human condition.

She’s created language around the behavioral needs of people, their relationship to creativity and how it impacts an individuals ability to be happy and productive.

Focusing on how if you strip away all of our veneers, we as people and a culture are simply wired to connect. That our genetic makeup is to couple and span outward atomically to make new relationships.

How that drive for connection and human touch in most people is sadly defined by its absence.

You ask people about love and they tell you about heartache.

You ask people about happiness and they define it by the loneliness that exists when it is not there.  They are defining what they need through a fear of not having it.

There’s some Zen in the humorous casualness of her expressions.

But there’s also a bit of new world, scientific Existentialism as well. She’s in some way channeling Camus to me in a light hearted way.

I need to say that I’m both embracing her words and fighting the implications of her ideas.

First because she is talking about letting go as the source–no the prerequisite–to being both strong and creative.Vulnerability as a state of power.

About the core of beauty as personal vulnerability. Happiness as the acceptance of who we are, not who we want people to see. Nor even who we aspire to be.

This is hard stuff for me to internalize on a personal level.

Wrapping my control freak head around letting go is a humongous leap for me on so many levels.

But my gut tells me she is more than partly correct. I’m listening hard.

The second takeaway from her thesis is the unavoidable analog between the empowerment of people and the dynamics of the communities they belong to.

Communities thrive when each person is empowered to the fullest extent possible. When they feel at ease, in control and wanting to share and express their opinions without fear of reprisal or need to be right. She is acknowledging in behavioral terms one of the core principals of community design.

And thirdly–though she never uses the word–her criteria for happiness and being at a place that fosters strength—self acceptance, authenticity and the lack of fear of rejection are the key elements of leadership. Within or without of community itself.

This video is simply a great watch. There is something so powerful here.

Whether indeed it’s a lasting epiphany—as it appears right now—or simply a truism that I acknowledge and file away, we shall see.

What I’ve decided to do is dig in and see where it takes me.

See how what she says about interpersonal quests have analogs to the behaviors of groups.

See where each of us can bring the social data we discover from understanding ourselves and our relationships to deepen the stories we tell about the things that matter to us.

See if by internalizing this I can indeed be a better person, more flexible, connected and productive.

Stories as data told with soul is simply a brilliant way to express this.

More is coming on this.

Episodic storytelling

How we tell our stories, lionize our heroes and iconize our beliefs is emblematic of who we are as a culture.

What’s fascinating as a step beyond Marshall McLuhan is how this speaks not only to form as content, but how form itself is a reflection of how we as a society embrace these heroes and share the stories that mythologize them.

Back when McLuhan was explaining his thesis, he called out movies as a form that in itself, created icons by the very closed nature of the medium.

How movies demanded a collective suspension of disbelief, people crowding into theaters in the dark to be willing subjects to a tale.

The very idea of a movie star’s persona was both emblematic and indigenous to the format. We had a static relationship to our icons, taking them as an idealized image of themselves not the living people behind them.

They were literally on the silver screen, we in our seats with popcorn.

Times and the medium have shifted completely.

It’s dawned on me that episodic storytelling is possibly not only the medium of our times but in some ways indicative of the changing morality and ethics of how we live.

Think about your relationship to the episodic series that are important to your lives. That stylize your evening’s entertainment and the blog communities that drive the pulse of your days.

Think about how you internalize a snapshot of what you take away from a movie classic and how that differs from your relationship to Frank Underwood or Walter White, even Tony Soprano.

How if you are a movie geek like myself you may have watched the Jeanne de Florette duology a dozen times, but you’ve spent weeks of your life living with these characters.

And ask yourself whether you are that close to them in spite of their moral and behavioral ambiguities–or because of them?

Why week after week, or during a weekend binge, episode after episode you want more, even when an episode is a complete fail.

This is not an individual character hiccup or one soured emotion that you take away from a movie.

This is like a family member gone momentarily stupid. A friend on a bender seeking solace.

These are our stories, the collective mythos of our lives actually in a strange way by how we connect with them.

You accept them with the tolerance of a communal experience or the embrace of a friend who has done something dumb but you are still there to support them.

I’m fascinated where this is taking us as a collective generation.

We are closer to our heroes and inspirations as part of our daily lives. And this proximity bridges the gap between ourselves and our ideals of who we can be and the acceptance of our collective shortcomings.

We are in a way, redefining beauty as something more approachable and common to us all.

Genius as an attribute we are all capable of at moments.

And the reality that the best of us can act like total asses at times, the most attractive of us simply imperfect.

This is a potential behavioral change with long cultural and societal legs.

We live in a well lit stream of public awareness, almost a social cam, that has shifted our views on privacy. Even more telling, it has transfigured our sense of what perfection means to each of us personally and how we’ve remythologized this through our fictions and stories.

How this has casualized the idea of beauty and the normalization of perfection that have permeated our daily lives. Not mundane but casual, not less sexy or special, just more grounded to the real human experience.

And with this our scales of value have become more graspable and real, reflected not only in how we act to each other but in the art that we create.

How the web and our always-connected status quo is the culprit and each of us the recipients of the positive upside of this shift.

The culprit because it makes episodic life possible and the norm, and the upside aftermath because as a result, society becomes more open and more tolerant.

This has occurred as a slow evolution, not a revolution.

It is not because of a huge collective moral aha, but simply we all live in glass houses of sorts and have mythologized this in the art and ethics that define and guide us.

This change is moving horizontally touching just about everything in the fabric of our lives.

From images in fashion, to mollifying the ideal of perfection in food and wine. To how we tolerate foibles and imperfections in our business and political leaders and super stars.

This is goodness.

Goodness that this is by definition breaking taboos, crashing professional glass ceilings and making the possibility of diversity and heterogeneity the norm.  It’s not there obviously but the awareness of the need to get there certainly is.

I am not choosing episodic storytelling over movies.  Although I’m a bit at a loss to think about them side by side.

I am not thinking that the Underwoods or the Sopranos are the new Beaver Cleaver family. But maybe in a weird and interesting way they really are.

I do know that this medium is real and emblematic to who we are today. An expression core to our changing culture.

It’s been a huge aha for me.

I’ve struggled to get this down but it’s important to me. Less about understanding the why of this connection, more about how its changed language and personalized the medium of storytelling.

How with the tools at hand and the networks we live on, we have the ability to connect storytelling and community building.

The freedom to be more bold and open as a way to forge deeper bonds with our communities, be they personal or business.

When culture changes, language and marketing need to change along with it.

That’s the theme I’m going to explore next.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in 2016

There has never been a more exciting time to do what I do.

Never have the markets been more fluid, more atomic and never has the need for clarity in intent and brand value been more essential for a company’s success.

Being able to connect globally with businesses on a daily basis and add my own point of view to their decision-making process is honestly a gift. The market’s personal one to me.

There is a renaissance of marketing happening right now, redefined for a new era.

Grounded in but something new from what preceded. Grounded in but something more simple and basically behavioral than the data driven imperatives that drive most of our business decisions.

I realized mid last year that I’m squandering this opportunity for myself.

Throughout 2015 I had been spending a lot of time working with my investment LuliTonix from an operational perspective.

I seriously love what this company is doing.

It’s making a difference and riding the massive swell and influence of the wellness trend. Forging a true community brand with corresponding revenue in a still evolving market.

But I’ve decided to change–not my support or board level ties with LuliTonix certainly –but my operational involvement.

At the core, I want to do what I’m great at and what makes me happy. I’m fortunate that they are the same.

I want to move big ships in game changing ways. Provide strategic direction for exploding ideas through gravity defying upswells.

By DNA I’m a brand and market builder in the tech space.

I thrive where tech innovation meets emerging markets.

Sometimes this means selling stuff made out of atoms, sometimes it’s a platform. Very often it’s been business-to-business and consumer software but always creating a runway for the dream of a different world.

That’s the world I work in, crafting communities that can become markets.

And LuliTonix has a visionary CEO who can do better with me as an advisor rather than an operator.

So—

For those in the food world, LuliTonix is recruiting a president. Ping me if you are interested or have ideas and I’ll connect you to the right people.

For myself, I’ve been hard at this change for months now. And flexible as to where it takes me.

I’m forging relationships with some contemporaries, both on the financial and bigco brand auditing fronts to do some joint projects.

I’m refocusing my thinking, doubling down on my core intuitions on how to create and leverage communities.

And a pet project figuring out a structure to work with seed and venture funds to advise cross their portfolios adding what I do one on one in a more scalable way.

I’m simply stoked.

Getting up at dawn every day, blogging, doing intervals at the gym with This American Life as my daily mantra of storytelling in my head.

And—rewriting for the third time now—chapter one of a short ‘something’ about my decade long love affair with artisanal and natural wine.

To everyone, and to the unknown opportunities that are always surfacing, I’m raising my glass to a truly great year.

One month in and already over performing.

Homage to my grandfather

3312md-004

I woke up very early to a raging blizzard outside and the quiet flickering of the Yurseit candle in my dark apartment.

Forty years ago today, Pop, my grandfather passed.

One hundred eleven years ago, he climbed down the ladder of a ship from Russia, a very young Yiddish speaking boy who had traveled alone to New York to find a better life from the shetls of Eastern Europe.

It’s been so so long—and my mom’s recollections are shrouded in very aging memories—that fact and fiction are blended together.

In truth, my memories of him and a few black and white photos are all that I have.

He was, along with my dad, the epitome of what it meant to be a good man growing up.

Pop entered Ellis island as Ycze Ruvyn and walked out and made his way to his relatives in Philadelphia as Sam Rubin.

He lived on Rivington Street when it looked like scenes of early New York in the Godfather. He moved to the South Bronx, then to the West Bronx off the Grand Concourse where the picture above was taken in the 30s.

This was a guy who drove a horse drawn cab in the early days and spent the majority of his life working on sewing machines in the garment district.

3312md-011Who dressed like a businessman in clothes he tailored to work on the line, sewing pieces of clothes together year after year.

He worked hard, loved his family with a passion, loved life and seriously considered himself the luckiest person in the world.

He considered America the land where dreams came true.

Never went to school. Never got an education. He never complained about anything.

Stories and memories abound.

How during WW2, three families lived together. My mom pregnant with my older brother, her brothers wife, Pop and his wife and of course the dog. It was over two years till the men came home from the war.

How he walked to Philadelphia by himself, just a kid speaking only Yiddish to find relatives when he got off the boat.

How on summer weekends, we would pile into Pop’s Oldsmobile and head upstate to the Catskills where my Uncle Harry had an old summerhouse. The extended family meeting there, cars full of kids, bringing bialys and smoked salmon, crumb cake and  lox. Pickled Herring and OJ.

Old lawn chairs, Yiddish banter, cigars and pipe smoke, singing and yelling and a melting pot of generations.

This is the stuff of great movies that our lives in retrospect look like if we are lucky.

Pop was the only babysitter I ever had. The man who occupied one end of the kitchen table, my dad the other every day of my life growing up.

Who early every Saturday morning insured that food from the Jewish deli and bakery were piled high on the kitchen table before anyone awoke.

Who bought the first black and white TV the family had and we would crowd into his room off the kitchen to watch–Bonanza, Million Dollar Movie and Rod Sterling.

I so loved this man.

I still do.

And he so loved his family and his life.

Quiet. Large and strong. Cigar always smoking and dangling from his really large hands.

He stands for what it meant to be brought up in the middle class.

The focus on education from people who didn’t have the privilege.

The insistence on being happy by people who found it without huge economic success. The value of family and what it meant for sacrifice, for support of the members in the face of any circumstance.

I think how fortunate I was to be brought in an age where your grandfather was a part of the life dynamic of the family.

Not down the street or someone you saw on the weekends but who was there from day one, in the room off the kitchen, at the head of the table.

There is something reverential. Something unbreakable and powerful in that connection that bridges you to the parent of your parents. To generational values and wisdom. To something that feels just so right and strong and uplifting.

To something that you lean on when you are young to bolster you. To something that you take care of as all of us get older.

I’m a bit teary as I think of this.

Even today, I can see myself as a very young boy in striped pajamas, sneaking into Pop’s room, sticking my arm in the pocket of his great winter coat, all the way to my elbow, to find the quarters that he always had there for the kids to find.

This is the very good stuff of life.

My homage to a truly great man who will live forever in my thoughts.

Rediscovering storytelling

There is something about the oral tradition of storytelling that pulls the strings of memory, personalized emotions and undivided attention in a uniquely uncluttered way.

I’m not talking about sitting around a campfire weaving tales where the touch of the flickering flames meets the curtain of darkness as the storytellers canvas.

I’m talking about the full immersion of listening to an Ira Glass podcast with buds in my ears at the gym at 5am to start my day.

I was raised in the era where radio gave way to TV, where we listened to baseball games while we did our homework. Where talk radio on car trips was the backdrop to our family life driving discussions about science and sports.

Where the natural cadence of speech and the craft of the repeating refrain, the ending with a take away summary became—and still are—the cadence of a well told yarn and the dynamics of finding the pulse for a thought.

It made me want to be a writer.

It drove me to work in pirate radio during my college days. It was my view of global politics and culture during my hippy back to the land phase in British Columbia where radio was my sole listening post to an outside world.

And for all the years of building businesses and communities on the web, driving engagement around blogs and idea walls, designing conferences and workshops, and weaving in video as a shareable object, I had simply forgotten the power of this quietude.

Till just recently.

A series of year-end promises and randomly searching out an old Ira Glass podcast that had been in my head for years have opened a perceptual door for me.

I’m rediscovering the power and whispering eloquence of waking up to shared stories in my head.

Stories that waft into my very being in ways that unfathomably fill my head with innuendos and language cues that are driving me in unexpected ways.

It is the complete opposite of starting your day looking for something of interest on the social nets.

Podcasts are an oddity in today’s fully visual world.

It’s not at all like listening to the audio of a video stream while working.

It’s more like committing to a call, yet unlike a call or a  post or movie, it requires no suspension of disbelief. It’s immediately real.

It’s yours from the first moment of silence and embrace of the words.

After a few weeks now of starting my days with tales of Sinatra, or a Taliban prisoner, or a father who recorded every phone call of his kid to manipulate reality to keep him off drugs—it’s changing my attitude completely.

It’s like food for your brain that makes you smarter.

What’s unique about this medium is that besides the cadence of thoughts and language, it encourages you to do something else with your body (like workout or walk).

The mental takeaway is also counterintuitive.

I listened to the famous Ira Glass podcast on Sinatra from the mid 90s yesterday while doing intervals at the gym.

Beyond the amazing story of how he redefined himself  from a struggling torch singer to a rhythmic super star and became the jazzy epitome of cool masculinity for an entire era, my takeaway was almost orthogonal to the subject matter.

With oral storytelling the medium is the message completely.

It’s like understanding the power of breathing in athletics or playing a wind instrument.  Or the importance of relaxation and poise when presenting.

What I learned is less about Sinatra and more the embrace of nuance, of rhythm and the importance of saying less when telling a story or communicating an idea. Of insuring that you embrace the pauses in language and the vagary of thought.

It’s akin to the communications truth that you need to allow the reader to find themselves, not you, in their response to what you are saying.

It’s the craft of sharing subtlety and innuendo by inpsiring the listener with open expressions of your thoughts that invite them in not shut them out.

I make my living as a communicator. My mediums are blogs, emails, the social nets and often a stage with a podium. These settings encourage too much synthesis, too many lists and a fear of leaving things open for interpretation.

I’m relearning the power of leaving open spaces and things unsaid. The importance of sharing the innate subtlety of ideas as the true power of connecting.

I’m liking where this is taking me.

I’m not inspired to become a podcaster but by listening to others—and please share your favorites—it’s made me a more careful communicator.

And a better listener not just to others thoughts but to my own.