Saying goodbye to my mother


We buried my mother this past week.

Next to my father in the tiny Ozorkova Cemetery in Paramus, NJ.

Thirty-four years almost to the day that I stared down at my father’s coffin and listened to the dull thud of dirt against a pine box as I shoveled the traditional three spades of soil to honor his passing.

Ninety-seven years and 21 days from her birth in 1919.

This cemetery where we laid her to rest is a place out of time.

A diorama of 18th century Poland created by the original immigrants from the village of Ozorkova who came to Paterson in the early days of the last century to work in the silk mills. Cheap labor to work industrial looms powered by the Passaic River.

My father’s family was part of that group.

My mom and dad, his mother and father and his grandmother are all there amongst the weeds and tilting grave stones. Yiddish phrases chiseled in stone.

My mom’s resting place next to my dad is like a chapter closing in her large book of life.

She outlived almost everyone she touched in life except for the 18 people gathered to honor and bury her.

Her passing has been very tough for me.

A palimpsest of sorts, peeling back memory after memory of her life, mine along with it.

Waking dreams distracting my days. Sleeping dreams that have been waking me up.

My mom was in the corners of my memories when I was growing up.

Very much in the shadow of my father at one end of the kitchen table, his pipe constantly in hand, a physicist who dedicated his life to teaching in the high school he attended as a way of giving back.

And of Pop, my mom’s father, at the other end of the table, cigar perpetually smoking, who came from Russia in 1905 at 13, and worked in the garment district his entire life. Without a day of education, he was a rock of strength to us.

In retrospect, beyond these dominant and wonderful patriarchal role models, beyond the barking of the family dog, the perpetual horsing around of my two brothers and I, there was always my mother.

Working as a secretary during the day till 3, then in the kitchen making home made soups, kasha varnishkas, tongue and brisket. Chopped liver and food made to please her husband and father, and to keep all of us healthy and strong.

She made the Jewish home we lived in.

It was after my dad passed away that we grew closer. After my divorce and her friendship with my son Asa deepened that we started to talk.

It was then that I began to truly understand the formative part she played earlier in my life. It was then that we became friends.

It was also then that I started to put together the strings of our family history as part of who I am.

Pop’s family from Russia and the migration from Rivington Street to the East Bronx. The sacrifices of my mother and Uncle Herb to not pursue college but to work and help move the family to the West Bronx on the Grand Concourse where I was born.

The stories of three families with children and my grandfather living in one apartment waiting for the men to come back from the war. And the deep bonds of sisterhood amongst those women that was the center of all extended family activities throughout my youth.

It was then that I started to internalize the importance of my immigrant roots and the dedication of my parents to family, to extended friendships, to community and I think also to the country.

And in the face of everything, I began then to look back to my childhood as being really happy and unsoiled. And to my personal connection to my mom over the last 30 years as a rare gift.

To me she was a role model to my son Asa above what I could provide on my own.

To me, someone who basically her whole life had sacrificed anything and everything for the family with never a complaint.

To me, someone who would support me no matter what. In trouble for smoking pot and endless stupid things I did that required the family to fix.

Someone who truly loved people and celebrated life with endless gatherings and parties. Food and laughter, yelling and crying. She was at one and somehow in control of both the supreme joy and eternal messiness of life, and made it seem right and normal.

I’m going to miss her terribly but I’m not sad she is gone.

She was so proud. So spunky. So stylish that when I had to help her the weekend before she died with mundane physical tasks, she told me this was not a life she wanted to live any longer.


Rest in Peace Mom.

It is a very long and worthy life that ends with laying you down next to your husband.

A great story that should be akin to the oral tradition of our family. And passed down and retold.

From Osorkova Poland to Paterson. From the shtetls of eastern Russia to New York’s Lower East Side and the West Bronx.

To here today.

I’m a tough character by nature but this is tearing me at my very core of my soul.

I keep reaching for my phone to call her and say hello.

That will pass but the pain of this, the joy of her–this is something to hold onto forever.

It’s a large part of who I am and I simply won’t let it fade away.


Snapshots of my mother

Picture at the top of the post
My mom standing in front of their trailer in Hondo, Texas on the Army base. They knew my father was shipping out the next day. They did not know that she was pregnant and that my brother Jay would be 2 years old before he saw his father for the first time.

1930, the day that parents met in Oakland,NJ, Shirley is 20

The day my parents met in Oakland, N.J in 1930.



Mom and Dad in Grand Rapids when Dad was commissioned and becam a 2nd Lieutenant

My dad and mom.


Mon in the West Bronx with her mother at 18.

Harry with Shirley and Molly. Anna, Shirley's mom is in the background

My Uncle Harry and his place upstate with my mother and Aunt Molly, my mom’s closest friend.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 4.50.15 PM

Probably ten years ago at one of our favorite spots.

Reimagining the Internet of Things

The core promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is that everything that can be connected, will be.

That contextual data including location and proximity will become building blocks for our social channels and potentially a controllable way to capitalize on the complex reality of our mobile workforce.

This is a huge promise and one that is well under way with some 4.9B smart phones in peoples hands this year, and projections that within four years 213M geo-locations will be connected and 20.1B dynamic things networked and programmable.

What’s fascinating about IoT is that usually when we pioneer future-looking solutions we are invariably hacking our way around the newness of the ecosystem, the holes in the technology, the limitations or messiness of the data.

With IoT, it seems just the opposite.

Actually we have is a huge (albeit raw) capability and a massive market that can’t seem to connect in an interesting manner.

If you spend time talking to the enterprise, you will run into a multitude of proprietary single-point solutions addressing operational needs with bolted on new twists.

Instrumented shipping containers and connected fleet management systems. Every possible variation of asset management replacing the manual scanning of bar codes with connected systems tracking assets from heavy equipment on a job site to shopping carts in a Walmart parking lot.

An ocean of beacon companies, wayfinding and ad serving apps verticalized to campuses or airports, stadiums or security systems.

In some ways the Internet of Things is already part of the fabric of our lives yet it feels unfulfilled and unsatisfying. Or maybe simply suffering from a lack of imagination.

IoT defined as everything with an on/off switch connected to the internet, with includes people, becomes a lot more interesting –and formative–when you shift this to mean, adding trackable things to the broader mobile internet of people.

This is not simply semantics. It is a shifted point of view and where it gets interesting again.

Think about what Uber really does as IoT under a different flag starting with people first.

Connecting the location of users and cars–places, things and people–into redefining transportation in urban society. They take commoditized location data and make it useful not to where things are but where they are in relation to one another.

To me we should either bury IoT in a time capsule or redefine it in this more useful way.

In concept, every person (through their phones), every place (through their mapped geo-location) and every thing (dynamic objects) are trackable and always on. They are not static blips on a map but the dynamic piece of raw dynamic data to create solutions from.

In concept, it is possible to know where every person is, who they are with, what they are doing and where they are going. This is where the idea of location meets the dream of proximity, addressing location as not where things or people are but what they are near to.

Potentially this is the largest canvass for creativity built on both the reality of a connected world and the changes in our culture itself. This may be the defining piece of what the next generation of mobility looks like.

Imagine for a second:

-That every instance where there is a car crash, it is auto located and help instantly deployed.  (More on some one who is quietly doing this today in a future post.)

-That every emergency circumstance can instantly provide navigational solutions to each person, contextually-sensitive to where they are at the moment.

– That all communications to individuals, groups, specialized teams are by definition context sensitive. People only receive information that is relevant to them where they happen to be.

The internet connected us as one community of people, changed fundamentally how we lived and spurred a dramatic shift that flattened time and transformed shareable culture for all of us cross the globe.

Mobility flattened space on top of time. If everything is in motion, then location becomes a function of relevance and a component of design in everything we do.

IoT can become the step towards true relevance that uses where, when, what and for whom as building blocks.

This is a huge storm of change brewing.

This is a gift for marketers and developers. Management and the enterprise workforce alike. For cultural evolution itself.

How often do these align and get handed to us as an opportunity?

Marketing to the enterprise

Marketing begins with assumptions.

Assumptions about the dynamics of the marketplace itself and how we can play to our own strengths. About core values and how to iconize them through positioning and branding. About how to craft a story and communicate it organically across customers, communities and partners.

In large companies, each uniquely different with their own siloed systems and innate group politics, there is one core assumption that crosses most of them as a starting point.

Be they Disney or the NBA, the City of New York or Whole Foods Markets, Dell. Or for that matter Google or Facebook.

Their brands are their single largest asset that each and every one of them is wired to control at every touch point that surrounds it.

Sometimes this means owning the entire ecosystem on both sides of the supply and delivery chains.

You really need to internalize that the enterprise is the polar opposite of a startup from this perspective.

In startups, we wake up every day to build our market and scratch our way to market fit any way we can. Our brands are the sharp edge of our aspirations.

The enterprise wakes up in a multitude of places, well resourced and carefully working to insure that they aren’t losing market share.

They live by trend lines–even innovation is as much a gateway to new customers and channels–as simply creative fodder for reconsolidating what they already have. To them their brands are nothing less than the aggregate of their market value.

That’s a place to start.

You need to step back to understand this strategically, discovering a selling and marketing point of view that can get you a seat at the table where decisions are made. And equally, a spot in the minds of their end customers all the while respecting the control that they demand.

Direct to customer sales are honestly so much simpler—in concept at least. You have to visualize only one behavior in one vernacular.

With the enterprise, you need to understand not simply them as your customer. But the behaviors of their customers. The dynamics of their developer community down on through distribution and support.

You need to think this through strategically from the very top down. Then tactically from the bottom up.

Large companies are really complex but they are understandable.

They are slow to move but once in motion, can create an endless waves that roll onwards indefinitely.

I know this to be true but we also need to be cognizant that the very markets around the enterprise are in flux and changing.

Less than a decade ago, marketing was simply an adjunct to sales. Not the case today.

As a rule, we still sell one-to-one vertically into big companies but we market one-to-many or often many-to-many horizontally across the various communities that comprise their supply and delivery chains.

My buddy Tom Critchlow, who knows this market as well as anyone, thinks that how we market to the b2b segment and the enterprise, is almost indistinguishable from how we market b2c direct to consumers. And the differences are blurring fast.

He’s right on.

But along with the consumerization of the broader marketplace, there are at least two other pieces that feed into this.

First is how we position ourselves.

I’m a believer in gathering the team in a room and tearing the different pieces of the market apart one by one, value add by value add. Thinking through every piece of the value chain through every permutation.

Then wiping the board clean and starting over to discover the one that fits them all.

It takes a diversity of understanding to graph out how your product or data type plays in the market. How it touches the wants of the consumer. The excitement of the developers and the brand loyalty of the enterprise customer.

But at the end, in many cases, when captured right, they are very much the same.

Brands are simply living and breathing beliefs, captured in time in an image or idea. Crafted with meticulous care but honestly beyond our control. Owned by the end user and as malleable as the personalities who embrace them.

Second is that community is becoming the marketplace.

In many ways this has already happened.

There are platforms and groupings cross the web for every affinity and enthusiast group. And any number of discrete developer communities but the communities themselves and the market are becoming more horizontal and atomic by their very nature.

They intersect.They cross pollinate on shared momentum and inspiration. They are platformed and interconnected.

While how you market to enthusiasts and developers appears at times different, honestly, the similarities are greater than the distinctions.

The intersection of where you find customers and developers is not as disparate as you may imagine. Unique perhaps at times but often adjacent.

There is no accurate GPS that shows us how to get from a great product to the hearts and minds of enterprise customers and their end users.

But there is a blueprint of sorts.

Directional and built on learned perspective and core assumptions.

Try on the ones I’ve shared as a general starting point.

Do the work to understand the dynamics of your unique situation and craft something built on your own understanding and interpretation.

Be flexible and aware of the changes happening right now in the market. In the rising of community as a core structure of communications.

And don’t underestimate the unstoppable power of a story well told that touches a collective imagination across all your customers and communities.

With that, a great product, potentially even better team and your fair share of luck, you have a good place to start.


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.