Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ringing the death knell? Try another path.

Think about personal gaming and what defines the space. Think about Nintendo. How long do you think they've been around? Since the 80's, maybe? Make that the 1880's and you'll be right. Nintendo was formed as a personal gaming company in 1889. They sold:

... playing cards. (Image: ShinyShiny)

The company struggled a bit in the 1960's, branching into love hotels, taxis, TV networks, and noodles, prior to stumbling upon light guns and developing their first home gaming console in the 70's.

Now, I originally meant to post this last night, before news of poor performance/ weak results came out today. Still, I like the transformation/ refocus story. (and apparently I like "/", too) The company was faced with a shift in the definition of personal gaming and found another path to success.

So often, we see posts nowadays exhorting readers to "just get going", and I so agree. It's easy to see obstacles. But instead of spending a bulk of time talking about the existence of the wall, let's find a way around it. X is an issue, get over it, figure out how to move on - something I'd like to think is a mantra of mine.

Another spin on this is covered in The Art of Possibility.
Downward spiral talk is based on the fear that we will be stopped in our tracks and fall short in the race, and it is wholly reactive to circumstances, circumstances that appear to be wrong, problematic, and in need of fixing. [...] Focusing on the abstraction of scarcity, downward spiral talk creates an unassailable story about the limits to what is possible and tells us compellingly how things are going from bad to worse.

Gloom and doom. It's pretty easy to get mired in it and the misery just becomes exponential.
Shine attention on obstacles and problems and they multiply lavishly.

The solution? Step back and look at the facts of the situation. They'll show the problem area, but they'll also show other paths and opportunities. Think different. And go!

It's a challenge. But I'd like to think that some really cool possibilities can come out of this.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Define "real work"

Last night, J and I went to a lecture at RIT by Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft. I read the back of the book when J bought it and was not sold. J was excited, though, so I went as a skeptic, trying to keep a relatively open mind.

First, the things that I DID buy.
- People have different skills, interests, and brains work different ways. We should not build an even remotely elitist system that might prevent people from pursuing careers they are passionate about. Vocational training can be as valid as a college degree.

- It's better for all around if you can land in a job that sparks your passion and helps you feel that you are doing something worthwhile.

Beyond that, I was insulted. J saw the points differently than I and I'll try to share his views here, but I'm really hoping he comments (nudge nudge) to spur discussion. There are 4 areas (2 major, 2 minor) that I totally disagree with and the enthusiasm of the packed room disturbed me a bit.
  1. Those of us who do not care to take apart washing machines, cars, or TVs when they break live in a state of "learned helplessness" - bereft of individual agency. Crawford also used "lack of responsibility" and, my favorite, "idiocy". To be a productive member of society, you should know every part of every device you own and how it works. - NOT ME! Sorry, I don't have an affinity for machinery and I would rather spend brain cells on other things that have a positive impact on my life and the world. It's just like those differences that send some to college and some to the trades...

    As a secondary argument to this, he cites the surge of interest in urban farming and craft as a search for compensating "self-reliance" or, as Crawford put it the "home-economics of Grandma". - NO. It's about creating and taking joy in that, not about being less dependent on others.

  2. Office work is not real work - only the trades are real work. Crawford would back away from this, saying that some office jobs are OK, then return to that dreadful phrase. - I do REAL WORK. My job may be frustrating at times, but I do cool stuff and creatively solve problems for our users and work to make their lives better, ultimately. Just because I sit at a computer or in meetings, don't assume I'm a drudge! You're just as biased against non-tradespeeps as you claim society is against the trades...

    At one point in the Q&A, after saying that college is fine if you have 4 years and the money to throw away, he urged a father to NOT let his son attend business school - "you'll never learn anything worthwhile there". Applause in the room as I repressed a bit of Hulk. Maybe B-school isn't valuable to everyone, but I am grateful for my time there - I had some great teachers and teammates who pushed me to my analytical and dot-connecting approach today.

J tends to take a broader perspective. That Crawford's main message is the one about fulfilling/ rewarding work. He feels that the principle can be applied to office workers just as much as to tradespeeps. I'd like to agree, but Crawford's turns of phrase were too negative, kept bringing it back.

What do you think? Is work done with your hands as part of a trade like plumbing, electrical, or mechanics more REAL than product development, marketing, social media? Has anyone read the whole book?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Punching holes in the walls that surround us

I recently watched a talk by novelist Elif Shafak on TEDGlobal 2010. She talked about her background growing up in a diplomatic life, about the expectation critics have that her books reflect Turkish issues, even when she's writing novels in English set in Boston.

She described the circles we build around ourselves, the walls we use to enclose our groups of friends who tend to live lives so similar to our own. How associating with others like ourselves can blind us to the way other people live, and the stories that they have from their own point-of-view.
One way of transcending these cultural ghettos is through the art of storytelling. Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls and through those holes we can get a glimpse of the other and sometimes even like what we see.

This is one reason why my bookshelf, Google Reader, and Twitter friends are so diverse (at least I think so, hope so). I love seeing the world thru different eyes, getting a perspective on lives so different from my pretty sheltered Western NY existence. Being obsessed with stories and language as I am, it's not just about the subject material, but how the stories are told - the language people use, the tone and meter of their prose. For more on the benefits of following a diverse Twitter crowd, see Twitter Strangers on The Frontal Cortex.

Now, Shafak is adamant that her work is "JUST A STORY" and doesn't have any underlying meaning other than what the story intends to say - no hidden messages. I don't think that holds true across all stories.

Explore, open your eyes, punch holes in your walls - see what life can be like beyond the circle of those just like you. And let me know what you find.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art in the Community

It's that time of year again. Humongo (formerly Plaid), the agency that is super-smart about everything social media and confectionery, is touring the US and visiting bunches of cool people on the way. My favorite stop so far was early on in the tour - the NuPenny store.

Image via boingboing

The store is an art installation in retail space by Randy Regier- a store of retro-looking, not quite real toys in shades of grey - that you can only see thru the windows.

I love this on 2 major points:

Unexpected Art.
As most of you know, my brother, CW Roelle, is an artist. While in Baltimore, he'd often show his work in a cafe. He did not want people walking into his show with "expectations" or preconceived notions about "art". Instead, he wanted them to see the art in "living spaces", to be surprised by it, and therefore elicit perhaps a more honest response. NuPenny is much like this, as it could be just another store on the street, but there's something special and unique about it.

Peering into someone else's dreams. Regier talks about the project as a dream space. Seeking to give people the impression they're peering into someone else's dreams. Giving an almost tangible essence to the experience, akin to the physical reactions we can have to vivid dreams. By not letting people into the space, he's keeping the experience at arm's length. It doesn't become "too real" so the dream-like atmosphere is not broken. This is awesome. It brings TOM associations with the film Inception and with the intense dream-communications Shadow experiences in Gaiman's American Gods. It is a physical embodiment of the principles behind good stories. I'd love to hear stories from visitors about the experience...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Won't you be.... my neighbor?

Neighbor is one word where the British spelling always seems better to me - neighbour - random note.

It was roughly 2004 when I really started digging into blogging - when the list of blogs I followed grew exponentially, I started RoelleKids, and I started noodling on a potential whitepaper "Personal Encounters in a Digital World" - shortly thereafter I was moved to a different assignment where I was not required to produce whitepapers and didn't really have time for that anyway. Not that I stopped obsessing, just never wrote the paper.

Part of the fodder for the paper was the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. It's been a while since I've read the book, so no extensive review here. My feelings for it were mixed. It's a great treatise, but also annoyed me enough that I lashed out in my margin notes. Part of the problem is that the social sphere of the web that Putnam described seemed dated to the days of primarily usenet groups and he didn't seem to get that people were connecting in ways that made it accessible to everyone.

I dislike the implication that if you're connecting online you're not connecting in the real world and society is going to pot. We all know the power of Meetups - that online connections become more valuable when you can meet face-to-face. And many people who are active online are active in other aspects of community as well.

Community isn't deteriorating, it's adapting.

The Pew Internet & American Life project recently released a report citing that, while face-to-face encounters and phone calls are still the top ways neighbors communicate, 27% of adult Internet users connect to neighbors or neighborhood orgs via online tools. I think that's cool. You're going to get to know neighbors faster if you start interacting with them online, rather than spending months or years waiting for friendly nods to turn into a conversation. People who may be bashful about in-person neighborhood meetings (me) may be more more comfortable speaking out/ volunteering from an online forum.

I'm pleased that there has not been a wave of concern or backlash around these findings - that people realize this is just one piece of the puzzle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TV conversations

I should have learned by now that it'd be tough to write a post while J plays Halo on the big screen. Yet here I sit.

The post on episodic stories got me thinking about changes in television viewing. Gavin Purcell made an interesting observation at the 140 Conference - that "living room conversations are now shared with millions". We've moved from raptly listening without uttering a sound to radio theatre, to silently absorbing TV, to cracking remarks with those in the room, to today.

Today's TV shows are enhanced when viewing by SMS, Twitter, Facebook, and various live blogs, fan boards, etc. People try to adapt language to avoid spoilers for the time-shifters, though that doesn't always work. As I type and J kills Covenant beasties, I'm seeing quick blurbs come in about a fellow Red Jacket alum on this season's Top Chef (since I don't have cable, I have to get the iTunes version, hopefully not too delayed).

Bringing in a community of fans to the living room conversation could be viewed by some as yet another distraction from the family in the room with you. To me, it makes the show and conversation with family in the room that much more interesting. Just as in the episodic reading of American Gods, in the collective TV viewing space, I'm keeping an ear out for good quotes, trying to spot subtle references, connections, plot points (and getting help from others when I miss something). And being part of a community of fans discussing it live gets me more excited - like being at a crowded gig for a band vs a practical private show - because sharing my enthusiasm is one of the best parts.

Plus, J thinks I'm weird if I talk to the TV. If I talk instead to Twitter friends about what I would say to the people on TV, he's none the wiser. ;)

Last fall, Fringe aired a Tweet-peat - a repeat episode where they invited live Twitter conversation. Certain members of the cast & crew were also tweeting live & answering viewer questions. A portion of the tweets appeared at the bottom of the screen during the show, or users could follow the hashtag elsewhere. The additional layer of information on a live episode is something TV has been experimenting with off and on for a while - special 3D moments or pop-up video commentary are examples that come to mind. I hope to see the Twitter experiment repeated, it was fun.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Episodic stories

My favorite TV shows are enhanced by sharing with people who love them [almost] as much as I. With Mom over the phone, with friends at work. Heroes was that much better for the Tuesday Heroes review lunches at work. We shared our favorite details, theories, I shared the scoop on the graphic novel backstories - alas, no more :(.

This is also enhanced by getting the story in bits & bites. It gives you enough to talk about but not so much that details are forgotten in favor of the overall gist.

I'm noticing the importance of this as I participate in #1b1t (One Book, One Twitter) - a twitter-wide bookclub started by @Crowdsourcing. We are reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods - there's a reading schedule that the general conversation (using the hashtag #1b1t) follows. Chapter-level discussions allow those who are reading faster to still talk about details without spoiling for others (hashtags #1b1t_1c, _2c, etc).
Because of this setup, I find myself pausing after I finish each chapter to spend some time in the discussion for that chapter, before moving on.

I've been in a bookclub before, where we'd read a book over a month (or a couple of months) and discuss it when everyone had completed the whole book. I'm afraid I wasn't a great bookclub member. When I read a book straight through, I'm finding that what I get from it is mostly gist of plot. I focus on language and tone and style of storytelling, rather than absorbing details about characters, placenames, and whatnot. (I also tended to take a much more critical view than others - sorry I just don't find Mitch Albom's style compelling)

In an episodic construct, however, the Heroes fan comes to the fore. I'm tracking conversations, doing a bit of research on my own, keeping threads at hand for when the story weaves them back in. Part of this could be that it's my second time through the book, but I really think it's the way #1b1t is running. The book is striking home more.

And it follows me around, so that I look at things through the lens of the book's premise of the gods we bring with us from our countries of origin - and what happens when those beliefs and traditions are left by the wayside.

It's those bits & bobs - the bite size story consumption rather than a massive binge. Hmmmm - Twitter-style storytelling (like the stories told by @AngelaShelton a few weeks ago to showcase abuse) is a bit like this - although it needs a bit more structure to accommodate varied paces and thread conversations a bit more clearly. Potential, potential.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Ecstatic truths" and everyday stories - some thoughts from 140

Returning from 140Conference, I got hit with a massive cold and slept two days then continued in misery several more. When that was over my parents moved. So now, here I am, finally able to share some of my thinking following the mega-meetup...

The night before the conference I shared the seed of an idea from Jonathan Harris - contrasting "accountant" and "ecstatic" truths and the type of stories that emerge. How the truly powerful and amazing stories are the ones full of emotion, the "ecstatic" stories that require something more than our day-to-day status updates. I headed into the sessions thinking about how to make the stories we share in social places more powerful, or how to transfer them to a place where the power could be put back in.

And then 140Conference happened and the wonderful people that took the stage had me hollering, wiping my eyes, laughing, and yes, making farm noises. The stories they told in the brief moments they took the stage ranged across a wide spectrum, but there was one huge point - Twitter and other networks & spaces provide a tool to share big emotions, too. To rally people to a cause. To save lives. To give voice to the voiceless. Pretty darn emotional.

I realized, too, that the day-to-day does not lack value. I skimmed an article recently on the similarity of tweets to diary entries from the 1800's (or earlier, I don't exactly recall), when ink, paper, and time were in short supply and people just conveyed quickly (in, oh, 140 characters or less) what they were up to. But imagine finding such a diary from an ancestor. It wouldn't be like reading American Gods for plot, but you'd find it fascinating to get the view on their life.
"Accountant's truths", the every day flow of life, have value, too.

There are so many stories we can tell and each day brings new ways to tell them. This is an awesome space!

The stories of objects

During each of the last couple of moves I've helped with, I've found areas of surprise & delight. Themes that keep popping up and bring a smile and giggle each time they do. Giggles that can be shared with the others in the house because the themes are so universal for that particular case. For dear Jenny, it was marveling at the sheer number & variety of her collections :).

At my parents, it was Dad's paystubs. For the past 20 years or so, he would collect his weekly paystub at the store, bring it home, and tuck it away somewhere "safe". We found them EVERYwhere, tucked into drawers, corners, shoeboxes... We took a paper-box of them out to a burn barrel in the backyard and fed them in bit by bit. And still found more.

I find it exciting that even such simple things can generate a story. Mom and I will be able to giggle about this months from now as we recall the move.

My parents move brought a lot more stories to light, especially because we had a little more time to pack than expected... The outfit I wore in kindergarten that our neighbors, the Goebbels had given me. Dad's Boy Scout uniform. Strange things from Danny's closet, like art projects none of us had ever seen before.

I think that's part of where I got my appreciation for story. When we were kids, we moved several times - the longest in one place was 4 years (until the house my parents just moved out of, where they had stayed for 20+). Mom asked this time why it was so much harder than when they had kids to herd and our stuff to deal with. I think the relatively frequent moves forced us to create a system. Each kid had a paper box of their important stuff. Each kid knew their room & stuff. There was a tomato box of pictures. As part of this system, we reviewed the contents of these boxes. We shared the stories of what was in them and why it was moving with us. All very informal, of course, and I probably see more of a pattern than my brothers might.

But I appreciate it, these stories of objects - important and trivial - in our lives. I'm adding them to the pile of story types that I want to explore further.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Psyched to meet some storytellers

I'm in NYC tonight for the #140conference - a gathering of hundreds of Twitter folks telling stories about social media, technology, education, and connecting. I'm very excited! I have interests in many of the topics, as I believe all feed into the storytelling strategy I'm about to start drafting - and to my general appreciation of and understanding of storytelling overall. (Plus I get to meet Twitter friends IRL!)

PSFK has a post about a presentation by Jonathan Harris. In it, he talks of Werner Herzog's two ways of viewing reality "accountant's truth" and "ecstatic truth". To Harris, gathering status updates and tweets provides an "accountant's view" of reality. For the storytelling that moves souls and mountains, we need the "ecstatic" - to build on the accountant's view with emotion.

Ideas are bubbling. I think I'll force some retreat time on Thursday, after my great encounters this week, with my whiteboard, colored pencils, and colored paper and see where the bubbles take me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The wonder of stories

I left ... that afternoon, marveling at how different stories can be, how some stories can make us laugh, while others make us cry. I thought about bedtime stories, which send us off to sleep, and Zen stories, which wake us up with their strange paradoxical twists.

In his book, The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, Joel ben Izzy explores the power and meaning of story. As a travelling storyteller who loses his voice, ben Izzy takes us along on his journey of discovery. A wonderful, quick read - interspersed with classic tales that have a direct relationship to his path.

It's the beauty of stories; whatever you give, you get back more - if you listen.

I am excited to listen and absorb the stories of those around me - and learn from them how to help others build their own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where I'm headed right now

A couple of events converged recently to get me seriously thinking about career stuff again. I grabbed my favorite bright paper and sat down to map out my thoughts in an effort to figure out where I should be going.

As I worked, it became clear that a common thread ran through both my external interests and my highest passion points about my career. Storytelling.

If you read this blog at all, which I know not many do [YET, Aprille, YET], then you've seen that fascination here.

As a kid, I thought I'd become an author. I still might, although I don't feel the nugget of a unique, unborn story rattling around my head at the moment. In high school, I wrote many Twilight-style short stories - typically an underappreciated witty, spunky village girl who wins the affections of the sarcastic on the outside, but really quite sweet prince.

My years in market research were focused on building stories from the data we gathered from our potential customers. The real plus to me about working in the company I do - we are a significant player in helping people to build & revisit their own stories. (Insert Italian handgestures here).

My fascination with stories is broader than creating or telling them, though. It's how they're told, what they mean, how this changes with technology and multimedia mashups, across geographies. What are the psychological principles behind them? How can companies help? Besides the straight-up reliving of memories and bed-time imagining, what role do stories play in how people learn? Heal? Grow? How can stories be used to better communicate what people need in products to companies? To better share what companies have to offer to people?

I'm really excited by this discovery, which was really right in front of me. I think becoming a storytelling subject matter expert (or storytelling "master") is something tangible that I can do for my current employer and it lays out potential opportunities ahead, if that is the path I choose or need to take. I can also see it shaping the crafting and reading I do in my personal life. Oh, this will be fun!! Let's go!

In that light, I reach out to you readers and those I'm pointedly sharing this post with.

Any book recommendations? Conferences? People to connect with? I'd love to hear suggestions. I have some initial ideas, but want unbiased suggestions first.

More to come!
[Funny, as excited as I am, I'm nervous too, and sat on this post for a day after completing it]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ghost stories

In Haunted Providence, Rory Raven talks of his penchant for collecting ghost stories. Even though he is very much a skeptic, he enjoys the tales people share. He sees ghost stories as a "gateway" to spur interest in history.

He also touches on the impact our beliefs have on the volume and impact of ghost stories in a culture. In discussing Native Americans (and he admits this is a generalization and is not based on knowledge of all tribes):
"Most tribes have a tradition of feeling very connected to the spirits of their ancestors in general. This tradition is often a source of great comfort and even strength. Their spirits are there to help, not to haunt."

Raven has found little evidence of Native ghost stories prior to the arrival of the white man. After their first encounters with Europeans, ghost stories increased - where ancestors returned to warn their kin of the danger and evil of the whites.

This fascinates me - how would a different perspective on death, a different perspective on what, if anything lies after, and different encounters change what we share? That needs more thought and another post.

Ghost stories thrill me. Partly because I love the idea that something unexplained and funky is out there. Partly because of the personal histories they reveal - the personalities of those who once occupied (and maybe still do) a certain spot. They give depth to a building more than the 5 senses can reveal. And partly because of the oral tradition they represent. Gathering around the campfire and scaring each other exercises our minds, our imaginations, and brings us closer to the people we're sharing with.

So pull up a stool, and let's tell tales. To start, let me tell you about an apartment I lived in ...