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The Occupy Movement is About Flaws in the “Progress” of Mankind October 26, 2011

Posted by Stephen Dill in Business, Life Experience, Observations, Spirit.
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Key to understanding the challenge I am about to relate is the opening phrase of the following blog post: “I am still reading”. That’s right, I had not completed my reading of the Occupy Bucharest Manifesto before I was moved to write a post about it. As a result, I offered an evaluation of this document based on an assumption that was incorrect. Instead of this being the compilation of a group’s thoughts, it turned out to be one person’s thoughts, someone who was quick to comment on this blog and reach out to me through Twitter, Luca Oprea.

While my premise—that this was a collective product—was premature, my respect for the quality of the ideas and delivery remain true and accurate. Luca is a remarkable thinker, and I look forward to learning more about his ideas and efforts.

I am still reading through this manifesto by the group at Occupy Bucharest, but this struck me as being a remarkable observation:

Occupy Wall Street can be seen as a basic, natural, global response to this fundamentally flawed state of things. The mindless segregation of life and energy flows from human consciousness is what led to the existence of the flowing crowds of Spain and Greece and Portugal and the rest of Europe. They have very little past and no apparent future, and as such cannot be understood through economic theory, although they are created by it. Fundamentally, human communities should cover the full spectrum of evolving life, from primary biological production, through innately collaborative social life, to consciousness and then mind.

Instead, the current state of things sees rural and urban areas feeding off of each other in production cycles that deplete the earth, social ties, and individual lives. The reason is simple – while they may appear to be separate and different communities, in fact they are only one community, its production and social flows stretching over very long distances. Capitalism speaks of competition, consumption, business and trade as essential factors which create value, but the reality is that these are low level processes which only make sense between partially developed communities.

The challenge of writing well is so large that most will never address it, much less accomplish it. But this manifesto immediately establishes itself as a record of deep

The National Architects Union Headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. Another well-designed manifesto.

thought. Cogent, succinct, and nothing short of visionary, that this document was developed by a collective is all the more extraordinary!

Have you ever wondered how it was the the United States Declaration of Independence was so well written? The language is refined, focused and accurate, so much more effective and compelling than the majority of all written work of that day, and ever since. I have often tried to imagine the mindset of Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the first draft, the level of concentration of John Adams and the others at they read it and suggested edits. What amazing clarity and understanding! We saw it once again in the US Constitution, but not as much in some of the amendments, and even less in the reams of legislation that have been generated by federal and state bureaucrats ever since.

I believe the key difference is in the thinking that comes before the word, perhaps that’s not obvious, given the vast quantities of words with no meaning that are published by the minute. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues were all focused on an urgent need for freedom from tyranny and how to make that happen, on this they thought long and hard.

No doubt, the people in Bucharest spent considerable time discussing what brought them together. The process of writing well—the distillation down to the fundamental issues and then to convey them in compelling words and phrases—is no mean feat. This evidence of those thoughtful conversations tells me that many of the Occupy sites are having similar conversations, and that alone could be enough to justify the movement, in my opinion. As a species, humans do not gather together often enough to tap into the astounding power within their minds.

Some points about the dark road where capitalism has taken us will be argued by those who feel it is a perfect system. Regardless, in my opinion the writers of the Occupy Bucharest manifesto have done what few writers, much less groups of writers, have done in recorded history. It is well worth your time to invest in reading this document for understanding. I would love to hear your thoughts on this (to include how long it took you to read it!).


A Portal Into The Future of Education May 5, 2011

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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As many of you know, my 150-year goal is to reboot Public Education and build a new system of education that starts at conception and fosters lifelong learning as a societal imperative around the world. The key success factor is this idea is to come up with a way to transition to a new system.

Salman Khan has come up with a way to do it. What if everyone could revisit topics they were no longer proficient in? What if anyone anywhere could learn new things in their spare time and have coaches and mentors available to help them when they got stuck? What if everyone could easily help anyone needing help in those topics they were comfortable in, no matter where they lived?

Watch this TED Talk by Sal Khan as he tells the story of the Khan Academy with a faculty of one. And see what the education system of the future may well look like.

“The Power Broker” Still Resonates Today February 21, 2011

Posted by Stephen Dill in Life Experience, Observations.
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In a high school English class I was assigned a book to read that was so daunting I can remember today the feeling of shock as it was placed in my hands. It was huge! Growing up along the Jersey shore, I knew for a fact that a book this size could function as a great drag anchor for a small skiff or rowboat. It didn’t matter that the teacher was telling us we would use this book the entire semester, it was over 1000 pages, for God’s sake!

As it turned out, The Power Broker was a fantastic read, and served well as the basis for an equally wonderful course. I ended up reading farther each day and week than was assigned, and the emotional high and feeling of accomplishment as I read the last words were totally unexpected. First, I had tamed the beast. But more importantly, I had persevered to gain insight that even at the tender age of 16 I knew would be important to me for the rest of my life.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Vintage)The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my first introductions to the power of good research. A fascinating look into the mind and life of a man who shaped the built environment of the state of New York like no other.

View all my reviews

As the book description out on Goodreads tells us:

…winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city’s politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today.

In revealing how Moses did it—how he developed his public authorities into a political machine that was virtually a fourth branch of government, one that could bring to their knees Governors and Mayors (from La Guardia to Lindsay) by mobilizing banks, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, even the press and the Church, into an irresistible economic force—Robert Caro reveals how power works in all the cities of the United States. Moses built an empire and lived like an emperor. He personally conceived and completed public works costing 27 billion dollars—the greatest builder America (and probably the world) has ever known. Without ever having been elected to office, he dominated the men who were—even his most bitter enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, could not control him—until he finally encountered, in Nelson Rockefeller, the only man whose power (and ruthlessness in wielding it) equalled his own.

Robert Moses was clearly a brilliant man on a mission to create beautiful recreational shorelines, parks, pools, playgrounds, parkways and pathways in the City of New York and the counties that surrounded it. The fact that he knowingly abused the laws to make these dreams happen could be argued as criminal intent or political genius. Certainly the millions of people who have enjoyed Jones Beach or the Triborough Bridge would never have suspected that the mastermind behind them and so much more had a racist agenda and a near-pathological belief that he was right and no one was going to stop him.

But the life story of Robert Moses was not entirely about manipulation and devious intent. Looking back, I suspect that the strongest impact upon this reader was the remarkable discipline he exhibited every day. He always worked later than his engineers, then woke earlier to have a stack of paperwork and plans ready for his secretary, who would stop by his house on her way into the office. Then he would work in the car as his driver took him to work (he never had a driver’s license, never had a job—instead writing himself into law … you need to read this book!). And while I have taken a much different perspective on life since, this was formative in my mental image of the hard-working world changer I wanted to be.

Certainly NOT what I was thinking as the drag anchor was handed to me in high school!

Do You Give Good Recommendations? October 19, 2010

Posted by Stephen Dill in Business, Observations.
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If you have asked for more than one or two recommendations on LinkedIn you have probably realized there is going to be a wide disparity in the product returned. This is not a post regretting the loss of English language skills, nor will there be an analysis of how to insure that people do right by you every time you ask. Instead, I want to offer a few examples of recommendations I have written for other people on LinkedIn, because I have been told I do it well. And seeing that most of what I read is nowhere close, I am going to step out in faith that these will be received in the spirit they are offered: to help others see the value of spending a little more time making sure their recommendation has impact.

To start, here are a few comparisons for someone else’s recommendation versus mine for the same person. You tell me which you’d rather receive and which one is more helpful if you were considering this person as a potential hire or partner:

A: “Michael is a true silicon valley entepreneur. He is very bright and well networked and has both a business and technical perspective.”

B: “As others have noted, Michael is a consummate networker. If you need to analyze a group of unknown people in a boardroom for potential investment partners, set him loose and he will come back having had deep, substantive discussions with each and an assessment of exactly who to focus on in less time than it would take to do the research online. He is remarkable in that skill!

But even more valuable, Michael is a non-lateral thinker. Sitting in a team meeting listening to the progress of the discussion on approaches to a business challenge, he will be engaged, yet thinking of many more possible solutions than those being discussed. When appropriate he will then suggest the top three he has come up with and the reasons they are improvements on everything else that has been discussed. You have to see this happen to believe it. Absolutely invaluable skill!

His training as an architect fostered in him an innate sense of structure from foundation to capstone for every business strategy and product marketing plan he has created. As a result, there are rarely surprises when his ideas are implemented.

Michael is on my “dream team” of people I’d like to build a company with. Until I am ready, I would take advantage of the opportunity and put him on yours right now.”

It’s your call, would you lean toward A or B? Which offers actionable insights? Here is another example:

A: “I would hightly recomend Jim.He is a very detailed and very organized person.”

B: “Jim was, and continues to be, a remarkable asset to me and to the businesses I have created. His tax accounting expertise has been invaluable, his business sense broad and deep, and his counsel calm and reasoned. I would be quite at a loss if he was suddenly not available to me. And he is always available, even though he serves many, many clients. That in itself is a testament to his management skills and commitment to providing excellent service. I highly recommend him!”

Let me be clear here: I am not making any of these up. Trite superlatives are rarely used and only if they can be backed up by examples. The substantive material I look for in my memory as I write, and for some I have not worked with them for years—even decades for a few, are the memorable differentiators. Why were they so good? What was behind their confidence, their prowess, their success? Moments, scenes, and exchanges come to mind; I have a visual memory. I then think about what those moments meant to me, and why I am able to recall them so clearly.

This mental recreation of recalling the experience of working with this individual produces the detail of the recommendations. Then it’s the influence of one man many years ago that helps me embroider these memories into a compelling tale. The US Army taught me how to write performance reviews—a lot of them! But a man I worked for taught me the importance of writing them well. When it comes to reviews, résumés, and recommendations, I owe much of my writing skill to Major José Pereles, wherever he may be.

A few quick examples in hopes they give you some ideas:

“Experiencing Chuck Goetschel speak as a member of his audience is a process of alignment, affirmation, and confirmation that culminates in excitement and deep learning. For those who have heard some (or many) speakers, you know that consistent results in a speaker is hard to find, almost unreasonable to expect, unless you want to hear the same thing over and over. I have had the pleasure of hearing Chuck at least a half-dozen times, speaking to crowds from one thousand to 20 thousand, always on differing topics or delivering completely unique perspectives on a similar topic. I looked forward to each with great anticipation and was never disappointed.

Another rarity in public speakers, Chuck conveys proven methods, first introduced as concepts or theories, so that his audience leaves with actionable ideas and steps they can employ for their own lives or business. Taking a break in my own copious note taking, I have often observed fellow audience members expressing their surprise at how much they are hearing that is worth writing down.

If you are searching for a speaker to inspire, motivate, and direct your audience, you need look no farther than Chuck Goetschel. Booking him repeatedly will only increase your attendance and the respect of your audience for your ability to serve them.”

“Bill is a man of focus. Never having done something before never seemed to slow him down. Enthusiasm for meeting new people, strength under pressure, determined to win – these are the qualities that I remember about Bill Tobin. It stemmed from a deep-seated belief in his product and service and his own ability to help people with those as his tools. Bill has a creative side that allows him to have fun and keeps him thinking. He has confidence in himself that allows him to share his ideas with those around him.

Bill is a great team player, but he readily took the lead when that was needed of him. I relied on Bill and he never let me down. I am sure he has only improved with age and experience.”

One last point, specific to LinkedIn. How many recommendations have you written? And how many recommendations have you received? LinkedIn has it wrong to ask you to recommend someone after they recommend you. The concept of “Givers Gain” says you need to go out and provide recommendations to those you know. It’s a high form of gratitude, and it will reap you rewards, some in the form of recommendations on LinkedIn (and good ones when you lead with a great recommendation), as well as heightened respect and esteem from the people you initiate a recommendation exchange with.

What’s Happening in America? September 12, 2010

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.

I have been wondering why so much disrespect, even hatred, appears to be rising in America, the land of the free, the country that embraced “Send us your poor” for so long, the nation that was founded on religious tolerance and understanding.

What is causing so many people to curse their neighbors, their leaders, even their President? Peace starts within, by first loving our selves. Is all this due to lack of self respect? Do Americans as a whole not feel confident in their own self worth?

To the media: we need to see role models of people who do love themselves and do respect others because they do not need to be defensive. Please, put the light on the right way to live, not the worst-case scenario you are focused on now.

20 Cottage Street Captured! March 11, 2010

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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Originally uploaded by phigphotos

One of the best shots of our house, not because it’s the whole house (missing the barn, but that’s not ‘the house’ in some definitions), but because it captures the 80-year old beech in the middle of the driveway, arguably more impressive than the massing of the house.

Nice shot by Ann Marie Ford!

The “why” of Social Media April 3, 2009

Posted by Stephen Dill in Business, Observations.
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19th C. American Community

19th C. American Community

A few years ago the name ‘social media’ was attached to things humans have been doing since living in caves: creating allegiances, or communities of similarity. Motivations for them were defense (picture “forts”), proximity (often called neighborhoods), convenience (babysitting cooperatives, carpools, time shares, etc.), or like interests (wine tasting and book clubs, sports teams, alumni organizations, and so many more). Communication within these communities adapted with the times. Grunts evolved to language, mud on cave walls became chisels on stone, ink on paper went to print, then going electronic with bulletin boards on dial-up services in the late 1980’s and much of the 90’s. The first inkling of what was to come was the launch of Web in the late 90’s. For nearly ten years electronic communication was constrained to relationships known through limited “word of mouth” capabilities. Awareness and growth of “online communities” was dependent on (offline) user group meetings or the chance mention in the only electronic conversation media available—email—limited then because we could count on two hands the number of people we knew with email addresses.

The Need For Networks

But that was then and this is a vastly different today. With the advent of online tools to capture profile information less than 10 years ago, then more tools to analyze that profile data to find the connections between people, a whole new path opened up for mankind. Just in time. As we are just now beginning to realize, subtle but dramatic changes in those same years were bringing the world toward a global economy unlike any we have seen in our limited lifetimes. And with the dawning irrelevance of familiar financial and economic models we are seeing more than ever the nation of free agents that Daniel Pink predicted, for large corporations cannot survive keeping a full complement of staff on salary to react any and all contingencies. Frameworks will remain—sales, marketing, infrastructure, and a relatively small senior management—but staff composition will fluctuate with the demand generated by that framework.

Your First Networking Tools

Enter social media. As with any other product, sales are directly affected by exposure to those who need the product. You are a product; we all are products. And there is competition in the marketplace that buys products like you. In order to be ‘purchased’ we must know who our audiences are, what they need, and then we must get good at making the buyers in those audiences aware that you are the answer to one or more of their needs. If someone was looking for what you do, what keywords would they use to find you in Google? Would you be there? How many ways could they find out what you do and whether or not you can help them? If you are feeling overwhelmed just trying to understand those questions, stop! This is where social media is your best friend. Two tools you need to learn about and utilize are LinkedIn and Facebook. I know these names are not new to you, but I am willing to bet you have strong feelings about one or both of them and they are less than positive for at least one. I recommend you get over it soon.

Overcoming Objections

Those preconceived notions may be holding you back from some of the most exciting opportunities you could ever imagine. I hear your objections already:

  • I don’t have time
  • That’s for kids
  • I’m retired, why should I do that?
  • This is not going to help me pay the bills
  • I will, but it’s not a priority

Time I hear these every day, often from people who should not be saying them – because they are in the marketing business! I addressed the time issue in a recent seminar called Social Media Jungle: Boston and others have told me that helped them realize the value of investing some of the same 24-hour day we all have to get some points of presence on the Web pointing toward them (instead of some other ‘product’ who does what they do). So take 15 minutes to watch that.

Youth Nothing about LinkedIn or Facebook is age restrictive any more. When companies of all sizes are advertising products attractive to all ages on a platform such as Facebook, that should tell you this is not just for younger generations. When the President of the United States is being petitioned on Facebook because he has made it known that he and his staff are listening to what Americans have to say on Facebook and LinkedIn, that should indicate a degree of value that transcends knowing what your college roommate from 20 years ago looks like now, much less when they are going on vacation.

Retired As I wrote to a cousin of mine who asked why he should be on LinkedIn if he has been retired for a few years, “Two good reasons to be on LinkedIn as a retiree: 1) People | For the introductions you could facilitate with the people who you know, and 2) History | For the help you might be able to offer others, sharing your perspective and experience.”

Return Remember, the best product out there will be broke if no one knows they exist. And if you hear, “but I have a good job,” coming out of someone’s lips—or even worse, your lips—then do it for the chance that you may need it in the future (and the odds are getting better every day you will need it). Setting up profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook and then building networks (‘connections’ and ‘friends,’ respectively) is just smart product management. Even if you are totally happy where you are and doing what you do, it makes sense to establish a record for those mysterious “spiders” that search engines use to catalog all that is on the Web. Who knows, maybe you just haven’t thought of something better and someone else has who would enjoy sharing the benefits of that idea with you! My suggestion is to read any of the many postings on how to put LinkedIn to good use and get your nets in the water. You can always say, “No, but thanks.”

Priority Life is all about priorities. It’s how we manage our time, constantly evaluating “what’s important now?” consciously or unconsciously throughout each day. Knowing that few of us are walking around with little or nothing to do, it is understandable that devoting time to something new with little apparent benefit would be forever relegated to the bottom of the “To Do” list. Some of you have started a Facebook profile because one too many friends mentioned that they had set one up. Maybe some of you started a LinkedIn profile with 2 connections years ago because you read about it somewhere and the intrigue was enough to create the page, but never enough since to maintain it. Consider this. Can you imagine it important enough momentarily to make it a NOW priority to get a profile started on each? And then can you devote a set period each week or a set amount of time every other day to maintain it? Even if only to peruse other people’s profiles to see what they are doing? You never know, you might find you like growing your networks, helping other people, asking for help and getting it – or any of the other benefits of communication in the age we live in.

In Closing

My wish for you is that these thoughts have provided an on-ramp to social media for you. LinkedIn and Facebook are the most mainstream of the SM tools – there are many more. But they are powerful! Do not sell them short for their ability to help you build large and responsive communities. Even if you never ventured further, you will find a search for your name coming up in the first page of Google results almost immediately, that’s how influential these two tools are. If being found for what you do rather than who you are is crucial to your lifestyle and paying the bills for that lifestyle, then you will have to do more. For that, there is Mashable and hundreds of bloggers willing to help you build communities to accomplish what you want to do. Most of these resources far surpass my skills, but I am here for you as well. Please keep me posted on your progress.

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Greatness Passes in Sharon, MA February 11, 2009

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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More and more I believe everyone is great in their own way. Sometimes a person’s excellence is easily apparent to even the most casual observer, sometimes only the most intimate friends know what makes a person uniquely excellent in one or more qualities. A friend of the town of Sharon just made his transition yesterday and leaves many who knew him to miss him, for now, and then to wonder how we will fill the gap of excellence that he leaves behind.


Some Other George Bailey

Some Other George Bailey

George Bailey (not the fictional one in the picture) was a man committed to his family, friends, town, and state—roughly in that order. He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of everything he had an interest in and an equally impressive recall to provide constant, ready access to his experiences and knowledge. In matters of civics, he  knew in detail the relevant sections of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then went about making them available to all those who needed his gift. I suspect that the town of Sharon benefited from George’s mastery of his interests more on a daily basis than did any of the other state agencies and task forces that called upon him to be a member or consultant. During the course of my first 23 years as a resident of Sharon I never served on a committee with George. However, one could not live in Sharon and profess even the slightest modicum of involvement in the town without becoming aware of the value of his amazing recall and total commitment to the progress of the town. He was a fixture at Town Meeting, all the nights of Town Meeting, and could remember key issues, votes, positions, proponents, opponents and virtually any other detail of seemingly every Town Meeting he ever attended – to include the incredible number of Town Meetings he had attended! George’s voice would emanate from the TV in the evening as I passed through the living room and I would know that my wife, Abigail Marsters, was watching a town committee meeting of some sort on the local access cable channel. Abigail and George served on the Charter Commission together and she would often tell me of the nights where George would gently remind the committee or someone being interviewed by the committee of a recollection of a meeting twenty or more years ago that became the foundation for an amendment of those General Laws so that they now define what the committee is charged to do. 


The Real George Bailey

The Real George Bailey

Abigail and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with George and his wonderful wife Lucy at a mutual friend’s Christmas party. This was one of the most extended conversations we had ever had with George, and probably the only one that included little to no town politics. The only current events we spoke of were his recent diagnosis of leukemia and the chemo treatments that were soon to start. For the most part, though, George regaled us with tales from that rich trove of memories he had gained as a sailor, a mass transit advocate, a college student, and so many other roles. More than anything I remember thinking, “This is a life well lived!” At some point in the evening before Lucy took him home to rest, George mentioned that he would probably need a mask the next time he saw us as the chemo would weaken his immune system. Karin and David Hagan, our hosts that evening, picked up on that and immediately thought that we should decorate masks for George so when he did host friends at his bedside, he could do it in style and with humor. So just last week David, Karin, Abigail and I met for dinner and a mask decoration session for George.

Masks For George

Masks For George

Unfortunately, the masks were not allowed into the hospital, but George heard about them from his family. And while George had invested heavily, and unwittingly, into being a truly great human being, he was still a human being. And that human left us yesterday. I have been blessing him and his soul that it may make the transition smoothly. I suspect as wise as George was, he knew well of his spiritual nature and was at peace with the process of going back to pure spirit. I now direct my thoughts to his family, and to the town. For while I know that grief will be replaced by joy in having been blessed to know this man we called George Bailey, the many committees of people, the entire town for that matter, will be feeling the loss of his experience for many years to come. 

I know there are some who never perceived the greatness of George Bailey. Being a man of principle he had to take a stand on issues and sometimes that positioned him in opposition to his neighbors. But for those who did, immediately or eventually, take heart. George taught us all that person with a calm demeanor and respectful attitude, embodied in a thoughtful listener, and motivated by an inquisitive nature could make quite a mark on this world. Thank you for that lesson George.

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