Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thank You 2008

A year ago today, I made my first ever serious New Year's Resolution. I promised myself I'd write.

And I did. Right here at first. And after a few months, over on Posterous as well. And, of course, in emails and letters and late night scrap paper too.

Some of the writing was pure joy. Some was a struggle. Some I liked. Some not so much. But I did it, and it's all out there, and it's real, and it's me.

And I'm glad.

My Aussie fireman uncle told me years ago that if I wrote I'd capture thoughts that might otherwise drift and disappear. I'm pretty sure I've done that. And I'm pretty sure I'm never stopping.

And I think I'm on the New Year's Resolution wagon for the long haul as well.

So, starting tomorrow, I'm getting serious about sharing other people's reading experiences. If someone I love or respect recommends a book and shows some passion in the recommendation, I'll read it.

More specific than last year. Maybe not as time commitment ambitious. But I know it'll complement the continued writing, and I know I'm a better thinker when I'm reading and reading purposefully. So I'm excited. Especially now that I've written it down.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Touch and Transparency

Great to get a chance to hang with John from Acorn this morning. Always a high quality source of ideas and questions and book recommendations. And, apparently, a source of video blogging inspiration as well...

People that know how to treat a user:,,, and High touch 4eva.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Idealism, Infiltration, and the Metaphorical Car

I think I'm going to stick to video for a couple more posts. Test it out. See if I can handle it. See what people think. The writing'll definitely be back. But probably not until all these relatives clear out and give me a little more nighttime quiet.

The metaphor I often throw out there when trying to contrast my more perfect market approach to the crisis with the harder core, more activist approach is one involving a car on its way off a cliff. The hard core people want to stop the car: slam on the brakes, cut the engine, shoot the tires, blow up the engine. I want to yank the steering wheel as far as it'll go to one side and see if we can avoid the cliff and get moving in a sustainable direction.

Maybe we won't be able to turn in time. Maybe there are cliffs off in every direction. Maybe the car is destined to crash and burn, cliffs or no cliffs. But the car - sedentary communities, large scale agriculture, nation states, industrialism, capitalism - is a powerful thing, psychologically especially, and I'm not convinced anything's going to stop it.

I think we're stuck with this car. I think we need to make the best of it. And I think somewhere in this braintangle of humanity we have the creativity to make it run clean and happy.

Note: Eric McDavid is the entrapped co-conspirator from my totally incomplete story. The internets are a little thin on recent and recognizably reputable reports on what happened and where things stand now, but here's one clearly articulated take on the story.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Live and Breathe It Every Day

It's scary to question your commitment to your cause, but I think it's good. Confidence-doubt fluctuations are everywhere. No use pretending they're not.

And I figured I had to go video style with this one, because when you've coughed yourself a fully ridiculous voice, you gotta show it off.

I hope you can understand me...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Single Carrot, Freshly Observed

I've let the blogging slide a bit over the past few days.

I've been coughing. I've been in New York. I've been happily slammed by the flood of relatives rushing in for winter vacation. I've been inarticulately raving in my head about profit as an illusion. I've been asked where I'd fit into a world in which all businesses already operate sustainably. I've been listening to Cake.

And I've been keeping up an email correspondence that just revealed this link.

If you didn't catch it the first time, click again; watch closely; and read quickly.

Posted via email from Radical Transparency

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Note the Hairdo

If you want to watch me get all intense and excited while I rave on about carrots and dreams and trust and history and transparency and expertise and collaboration, click here.

It's silly. Not what I'd call a polished interview performance. But I do think I handled the moment in which I lost my train of thought like a champion.

The interview with me is just one little piece of the work that co-founders Jon Melhuish and Annesley Newholm have done to encourage collaboration between crunchy consumption projects.

See Jon's blog for more interviews and notes, and keep your eyes out in January for news about how people actually might work together.

It's a fascinating group so far. Ethical Consumer Magazine, GoodGuide, Alonovo, Buy It Like You Mean It, to name a handful. It'll take some masterful cat herding to yank us all out of our own heads and onto the same team, but you never know. Everybody's committed. Nobody seems greedy. Should be fun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

There Are Moments...

No Impact Man posted a letter from Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry today. It was an invitation to an anti-coal protest in Washington DC on March 3. The names are big. The ambitions are big. And the language is big too.

There are moments in a nation's—and a planet's—history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction.

I'm not sure how to react.

And I think a big part of that is that my generation doesn't know civil disobedience. We've heard stories, seen movies, read Howard Zinn. But not a lot of us have invited arrest or teargas or nightsticks.

Maybe we're weak. Maybe we're brainwashed. Maybe we're too comfortable.

But maybe we're better educated and broader minded. Maybe we see other paths. Maybe we have other tools.

I don't know.

It's definitely unsettling to see smart people so scared of coal and carbon and so fed up with business and government that they're asking their friends to march and sit and face the police. But it feels distant, a thing of another time.

And that makes me want to ask questions.

How well organized is this movement?

How will they spread their message? How will they grow?

How many people will make the trip to DC that day? How many won't because they're too scared?

What will the protesters do? Sing or scream? And will it make a difference?

Will there be fanfare? Drama? Press? Leading up to the protest? Or only once it happens?

And, of course, how will Don Blankenship and Barack Obama react?

Because I'm Lazy?

Video blogging about video blogging...

The rest of the Viddler experiment lives here.

Gary Vaynerchuk's blog lives here.

The Carrot Project blog is still under construction, but our feedback forum is doing its best to hold the fort down as we build. Come play.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Honest Market

I linked to Lester Brown yesterday, primarily with reference to language and metaphor. I think his ideas are important as well...

The key to building a global economy that can sustain economic progress is the creation of an honest market, one that tells the ecological truth. To create an honest market, we need to restructure the tax system by reducing taxes on work and raising them on various environmentally destructive activities to incorporate indirect costs into the market price. If we can get the market to tell the truth, then we can avoid being blindsided by a faulty accounting system that leads to bankruptcy. As Øystein Dahle, former Vice President of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea, has observed: “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.”

An honest market. A market that tells ecological truth.

Paul Hawken and friends called for it many years ago. Umair Haque brought it up last week. It's the market to which this blog's title refers. And, hopefully, The Carrot Project can play a role in bringing it into being.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When Green Turns Red

Alexa doesn't blog. She emails. But I get the emails. I do blog. I told her I might share. And she didn't object.

She wrote today that green is turning red. Environmentalism is adopting a wartime language.

When she watched Thomas Friedman speak a few weeks ago, "the tone and narrative was utterly cold war." And, as she reads, she can't but feel the drumbeat of an advancing new metaphor:

Saving civilization will take a massive mobilization, and at wartime speed. The closest analogy is the belated U.S. mobilization during WWII.

That's Lester Brown: quote from an excerpt from a chapter from a book. The excerpt is called A Wartime Mobilization. The chapter is called The Great Mobilization. And the book is called Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

Alexa wonders "if this is a necessary part of social change - if language must always be 'grafted' - the same old narratives with a new set of nouns."

And that is a fascinating question.

I can't say I have an answer, but I do think it's worth keeping in mind that world war is not only this country's only frame of reference for mass collective effort; it's our only frame of reference for economic reinvention and turnaround.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dick Cheney's Beautiful Face

I'm pretty good about filling out user profiles when I join online communities. I don't go all out and write an about us section until I've used a site a few times and figured out whether I think I'll participate in the future, but I do almost always add my name, a link to this or the other blog, and a picture right away.

I leave the name for transparency's sake, because it feels like the right thing to do.

I attach the blog link (A) because you never know where you might pick up a great new reader and (B) because I like finding blog links associated with comments and contributions (I think blogs are fascinating introductions to people and often do a good job of putting user generated content in perspective).

And I post a picture because communities are just simply more fun to use when users are all represented by meaningful images and not blurry gray question marks.

But, understandably, lots of people don't fill out profiles at all. Writing and uploading take time, and most people either want to dive right into a community they've just joined or dive right out.

And this is on my mind right now because we're pulling together the beginnings of a Carrot Project community; I'm seeing a high percentage of empty profiles and faceless users; I'm wondering if and how we might be able to creatively remedy that; I remember one trick that one community used to get me to switch my picture with the quickness; and I want to know what we can learn from the trickiness.

Horribly embarrassingly, I forget the community, but their tactic was brilliant in its simplicity. They had a default user profile image, an image that represented every single new user, and that image was a Dick Cheney headshot.

And, if I remember correctly, the tactic did have a noticeable effect. I remember being impressed by the fact that just about every single contributing user in that system was represented by an image to which he or she had a personal connection.

One question, I guess, is whether that's important, whether profile pictures (or profiles in general) are useful in the creating of a community culture that breeds smooth, honest information exchange.

Another question is whether a culture is really a culture if manufactured by top-down cleverness.

Another is whether cleverness like that reveals community management personality and whether community management personality contributes to a site's stickiness.

Another is what the heck that site was so I can give them due props for their humor and irreverence and due scolding for failing to turn what was in my case a fantastic first impression into a steadily contributing user (or at least a one night stand ex-user that remembers their name).

And another is why I'm rambling on about web community theory when I have Carrot Project feedback flowing onto the site and into my inbox.

*Note: The Orangutan is my go to profile pic, and the bunny is what's representing just about every member of the Carrot Project beta community.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tapping the SAFE

I made a little change on this blog yesterday. I took the list of TED Talks off of the right hand sidebar and replaced it with a list of people that inspire me.*

A few of the TED speakers remain on the Inspiration list, but I've cut most of them, and my last and most difficult cut was economic development statistician Hans Rosling.

I've cut him only from the sidebar, however, not from my heart, so I post now his latest: six and a half minutes of face in the handicam with Thomas Crampton, six and a half minutes of China and money and optimism...

Now pause for a moment and think about the fact that the value of the goods China produces every day is USD 1 billion higher than the value of the goods it consumes.

And, while you're paused, ask what those goods are and whether they have real value.

And ask how it's possible, with that surplus, that half of the people in China still live in intense poverty.

But stay paused and be reminded that big, meaningful surpluses do still exist. Be reminded that tiny fractions of those surpluses, if invested wisely, could fund the creation of technologies and infrastructure that will deliver abundant, sustainable energy to everyone in the world. Be reminded that we do not lack the resources** to create "a good world for everyone within one or two generations."

Thanks to Wiley for the sharing the video.

*Well. Mostly people. People and a bird.

**Yes this is Tony Robbins, and yes he is ridiculous, but he hooked me with that TED Talk. I absolutely love what he says to Al Gore.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Intrinsic, Durable, Human Value

Umair Haque channeled his inner Paul Hawken on Wednesday.

Why is industrial era business so destructive - why does it slash and burn rainforests, endanger entire species, vaporize culture and community, marginalize the poor and disadvantaged, and erode our health and vitality?

Because none of those have value in an industrial economy: none are capitalized. So the beancounters of the world are free to plunder and ruin them - because, economically, they actually don't exist.

Umair talked about capitalizing forests and animals and cultures and communities, about assigning them economic value, about turning them into assets, "assets with intrinsic, durable, human value."

And he suggested that we all wake up tomorrow, find something of real value, and start capitalizing it.

So I wonder. What is valuable in our world? What is real wealth?

Food. Water. Materials with which to build medicines and beds and buildings and tools. Energy.

Those are the fundamentals, I think.

But what else?

Information? Education? Skills? Wisdom?

Efficiency? Speed? Time?

Creativity? Imagination? Art? Beauty?

Connectivity? Community? Collaboration?

Hope? Confidence? Laughter? Love?

According to Umair, we should capitalize it. Not an easy thing to do. Nor an idea to throw away.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gotta Love the Man's Mustache, Though

One quote of many:

Jimmy Carter understood that there was a risk if we increased our dependence on foreign oil. But did it not sound similar to Obama? Turn down your thermostats? Buy a smaller car? Conserve? I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China, and that’s the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you’re walking. You go from your own apartment and bathroom to sharing kitchens with four families. That’s what socialism and the elimination of capitalism and free enterprise is all about.

That's Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest coal company in the United States.

It's fear. Fear of change. Fear that people are going to struggle in a new world with new challenges.

And it's sad that Blankenship and others feel that way. It'd be a bummer to live with those thoughts.

But I think a speech like that is a good sign. There's nothing calm and confident about it. It's pure desperation. A death rattle, perhaps. A horn. A buzzer. The end of Blankenship at the helm, the end of Massey at the top, the end of the coal era, and the end of those overblown fears.

Thanks to Frances Beinecke for sharing the Williamson Daily News article, and thanks to Alex for sharing the Frances Beinecke post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rankings, Ratings, and Philosophical Math

On Thursday, Carl sent an email telling me the time had come for some Carrot Project soul searching. Eric agreed. Wiley agreed. Brent agreed. I agreed. Emails flew all weekend. And it was beautiful. Felt like we were trying to change the world with a tiny little dot com startup or something.

So, last night, before bed, I talked to the webcam* for a few minutes.


Great sleep. Great morning. Heaps of anticipation as the day drifted closer to this afternoon's meeting.

I was all fired up to talk transparency, all fired up to figure out how to make sure that everyone that joins our little testing community understands why we're doing things the way we're doing them and forgives us for the potentially misleading incompleteness of our first shot at brand comparisons.

But the meeting never really made it to transparency. We looked at the problem again, and I finally admitted that we couldn't humble it away. In private beta, yeah, sure. But not long term. Not sustainably.

So we're going with Carl's big suggestion. We're taking a turn for the philosophically mathematical. We're calling on Thomas Bayes.

More to come. Soon I hope. Within the next couple of weeks anyway. Including what we expect to be strange and entertaining attempts at introducing Bayesian probability to a market segment Wiley just named "the lazy hippies."

*Note: Is the sound really bad on this video? Do I need a new microphone? It sounds ok to me, but I think I might be able to understand because it's my voice and my words and I know what I said...