It's Thanksgiving day. I'm cooking up a storm with my sister. The wooded view from her kitchen in upstate New York is blurred by snow flurries. Pies are cooling on the counter. I tried my hand at making a squash and Gorgonzola gratin that smells divine. Next up I'll whip up a fresh cranberry relish. I rarely get enough down time to cook like this. It's part of why I love this holiday. Hope wherever you are, whomever you are with, you're loving it too.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
A year ago, I started writing down my wishes onto little note cards and placing them inside a fancy wooden box. My friend Jennifer encouraged me to do this. Pray over them, she told me, you'll be amazed.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
We've all suffered death by Power Point. My gripe is that most PPT's are tortuously ugly. Zero design aesthetic makes everyone who presents with the templates look like a CPA who double majored in musical theatre. So I was inspired when I encountered Hypothesis, a design firm in Providence, Rhode Island. The principals are RISD grads. Their provocative designs seem well suited for screens. All types of screens--lcds, television, PDAs. Wouldn't it be great if more Power Point slides looked like this?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I have been invited to join the Huffington Post's blogging family. It seems my first post for the Chicago bureau stimulated a lot of conversation about the future of auto sports. Here it is:
Dear Brian France:
It's time to retool NASCAR. While your family guided the franchise through good times, there's no denying that times have changed. The economic crisis means the bottom is falling out of pricey sponsorship deals that fueled the NASCAR machine for years. With corporate sponsors accounting for roughly 80 percent of the typical NASCAR team's budget, the $30 million in fees that drivers such as Jimmie Johnson command are a thing of the past.
Americans are waking up with hangovers from our energy addictions. We're feeling queasy at the sight of NASCAR drivers circling the track burning colossal amounts of precious fuel. Yet, we still love cars. So there remains an opportunity here and it includes the sport doing its part to deliver a return on investment to its most generous sponsors--the Big Three automakers.
It's time for NASCAR to pull a U-turn. Leadership needs to get on board the green express and point NASCAR in the direction of sustainable, renewable auto sports. Why not create races for hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles? Make it about low emissions, speed and duration. This would be a boon for American auto makers who could use it as a platform to innovate and create excitement for the alternative vehicles they are feverishly bringing to market. Imagine that, NASCAR could help save jobs and keep the Big Three relevant, while perhaps saving tax payers from having to pick up the tab on another costly bailout.
And it's not just about being green, it's also about being trustworthy. The NASCAR smoke machine that would have us believe auto racing appeals to a large swath of college-educated women is kaput. Companies bought into the myth to justify paying outrageous sponsorship fees while passing the costs along to suburban female shoppers in the price of goods. It was a fable that made putting Dale Earnhardt's picture on a box of children's cereal seem like a no-brainer. And it was, more or less.
Turns out the NASCAR audience is a beefy niche, albeit a loyal, beefy niche. The hard cold fact of the matter is that grocery store managers are some of NASCAR's most adoring fans. They willingly grant NASCAR sponsors more shelf space in exchange for all manner of freebies.
NASCAR has earned a rightful place in American popular culture. But as we fall deeper into this downward spiral, it will be important for the people who create the culture, whether that be the France family with its NASCAR juggernaut, or Robert Redford with Sundance, or Oprah Winfrey with her media empire, to lead the way to a more enlightened way of life. It won't happen by looking in the rear view mirror. We all need to look up from the ditch we've dug and conjure a new society--one that is more environmentally sound, more inspiring and more innovative.
Friday, November 21, 2008
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson understands the power of the blank canvas. People feel the urge to fill them. Make their mark. Leave some small, sustainable legacy behind. He recently unveiled plans for empty spaces in the city to be transformed into vegetable gardens.
To promote local food production and the protect the environment, Johnson aims to have 2,012 green plots in the city by 2012 in time for the athletes of the 2012 Olympics. Chair of London Food, Rosie Boycott, launched the ‘Capital Growth’ project at a vegetable and herb garden maintained by a charity for disabled people in Battersea Park. ‘London has a good deal of green spaces—some derelict or underused—but they are not being used as well as they could be. We also have a veritable host of enthusiastic gardeners who are well equipped to turning derelict or underused spaces into thriving oases offering healthy food and a fantastic focus for the community.’ Boycott said.
The RenGen want to change the world and believe small, personal acts have collective impact. Not to mention that raising fresh, local edibles in tough economic times fuses pragmatism with altruism.
photo courtesy of RiverMarket, England.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I bumped into Jenny Levine yesterday and she pointed me to the MacArthur Foundation's newly released findings on youth and digital media. The year-long study led by Mimi Ito flanked by girl wonder danah boyd, is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the deep cultural change that's underway. The two-pager is a quick snapshot. But what struck me was the packaging of their findings. (This week the new President of the Carnegie Foundation announced he will be favoring applied rather than theoretical research.) It all made me wonder, is academic research getting practical?
It seems so. Especially with regard to education, foundations and thought leaders are getting real about speaking to people outside their inner circles. Their ideas and discourse are becoming more accessible. Are we entering a time of "open source" thinking? I hope so! It's a necessary evolution when we consider that re-inventing education is so crucial to sharpening our competitive edge in the world, that many minds, many voices and many perspectives will now rally. This excerpt from Mimi Ito's recent paper presented at AERA (Association of Education Researchers) gives you a taste of what I mean:
What characterizes learning in settings where kids are engaging in popular, networked, and viral new media cultures?
First, there is very little explicit instruction, and learning happens through process of peer-based knowledge sharing. People engaged in a practice seek out information or knowledgeable peers when it becomes relevant to their work, and in turn, they help others when asked. Although there are people acknowledged as experts, they are not framed as instructors.
Secondly, rather than working to master a standard body of material and skills, participants in these practices tend to specialize. Much like we see in academic life, there are opportunities to develop status and a role as an expert in a particular, often narrow specialty. Alternately, this can involve developing a particular style or signature in creative work. It is not about trying to acquire the same body of knowledge and skills as all one’s peers...
Finally, these environments are based on ongoing feedback and reviews of performance and work that are embedded in the practices of creation and play. These groups also have contexts for the public display and circulation of work that enables review and critique by their audiences. Competition and assessment happens within this ecology of media production and consumption, not by an external mechanism or set of standards. In other words, individual accomplishment is recognized and celebrated among peers in the production community and other interested fans, providing powerful motivation for ongoing learning and achievement.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Have you ever come across a scam and considered yourself naive for not having seen it coming? I do it all the time. For example, I still scratch my head over the sub-prime lending mess. I recall the very first mortgage for which I applied. It involved hours of interrogation about my financial records, income, credit and all manner of personal information. I remember sweating through the whole affair, so much so that my blouse and skirt clung to me when I stood up mortgage in hand.
Scanning the comments on Crib Chatter, a Chicago-based real estate blog, I got a glimpse at the consumer fraud that played a role in the debacle:
"Darn its too bad zero down or ridiculous loans are gone. Had this thing been on the market last year I would’ve ‘bought’ it and squatted on the place living there while I skipped payments. I bet I could’ve strung it out for over a year of rent free living in this awesome house."
Is it just me, or does anyone else find this scam shocking?
Here's hoping that the decline we're in brought on by the mortgage crisis involves the readjustment of people's morality. Because honestly, I have no desire to bail out these greedy so and so's.
photo courtesy of Jamie Barras
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It's time to re-evaluate our opinions of U.S. automakers. Over the years, I've witnessed a certain smug dismissal of the big three. Bloated, sluggish dinosaurs, right? Perhaps. It may seem to many that they deserve their fate and should not be granted federal assistance. But consider that in the plea for bail out assistance, U.S. automakers have already achieved some critical turn-arounds.
Unions are now considered part of the solution, as they have partnered with management to raise quality. Innovations in design and reliability have created cars that perform competitively and reliably. Prices are within reach of most consumers. And the industry spawns a range of economic development in parts and services that creates jobs. Advertising has been robust, fueling $4.6 billion in measured spending, reports Ad Age.
The problem lurks, it seems to me, in the industry's collusion with our collective denial as consumers. Heavy production and promotion of SUVs kept people deluded about the real state of oil dependency and the impact of emissions on the environment. The auto industry kept us asleep at the wheel of the larger issues we now face.
In this time of renewed nationalism, it's time to reconsider our shared role with American manufacturing and become citizens first and foremost. If U.S cars are reliable, well priced, and hybrids are preparing to roll off the line, then what is our true beef? Do we want to bash Detroit because it failed to be visionary? That's a fair criticism, I suppose. But in reality, people bought a lot of SUVs. So we all share a bit of the blame.
As free-market, un-regulated consumers, we've believed for years that we can bash American companies and it won't make a bit of difference to the national economy. We've separated our lot from the companies that produce goods here. Especially the big three. Now we are facing having to pay for bailouts. Rather than debate the size and conditions of a bailout, I'd rather pose a simple proposition: It's time that we as Americans reconsider the power of buying American goods.
Sounds old school, I know. But I'd rather live in a world with jobs, great automobile brands and some semblance of a GNP. I am a citizen consumer. In that order.
Full disclosure: I drive a 2005 Mazda 6 wagon. It was made in Flat Rock, Michigan by Union workers. Based on past experience, I'll drive it another few years.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Breaking news: Johnson & Johnson just passed on the chance to renew its Olympic sponsorship deal. The IOC confirmed that the giant health care conglomerate would not renew its top-level sponsorship worth up to $100 million reports the Sports Business Journal.
The problem is that Olympic deals for Beijing helped sponsors break into China's colossal consumer market and get on shelves in China. The next two games are in Canada and the United Kingdom - mature economies that combined have about a tenth of the population of China.
To reach cultural consumers at the Beijing Games, Johnson & Johnson set up a pavilion for fans to come see terra-cotta warriors from the time of emperor Qin Shi Huang - though tight security on the Olympic Green kept many visitors away.
Friday, November 14, 2008
As the Chicago Public Library's Charlotte Kim Scholar, I took a tour of several Chicago public library branches yesterday. I spoke with librarians about the trends they are seeing among their patrons. Just a few fascinating findings:
1. People still love games. Hi-tech or low-tech, digital or analogue.
2. Vampire fiction enjoys a cross-cultural audience, cross-generational, but rarely cross gender. It's a chick lit phenomenon, it seems.
3. Librarians are starting to become the curators of ideas. They can tell a patron the whole cycle of an idea, and bring the patron across a spectrum of formats. "Oh, this started as an essay, then a book, there is a YouTube lecture of the author and a fan blog..."
4. DIY is going cross-ethnic and generational. In a library branch where the patron base is a mix of mostly Latino and Polish, older Polish women with serious knitting and crocheting chops are teaching younger Latinas their tricks.
5. Electronic music is being created in libraries where young RenGen have no other access to the technology. A "Beat for Dummies" class is SRO, and these young composers check out books on rhyming, Saul Williams and Hip-hop to inspire them.
I also wanted to post for those librarians who might stumble on this blog, the video I mentioned about Barack Obama, arguably the most tuned in politician ever to the RenGen movement. In case you have trouble finding it on YouTube, here it is:
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I've been out speaking about the RenGen for the last six days. I've been so busy schlepping that I almost missed the fact that my book RenGen: Renaissance Generation, was ranked in Amazon's top 25 business books. Wow! Check it out here.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Over 600 business people turned out last week for a luncheon to hear about the RenGen. The Houston Arts Alliance and the Greater Houston Partnership collaborated on the event. Houston is a remarkable city in many ways. Ed Mayberry from Houston Public Radio covered the event. To hear a :30 audio snapshot of what I mean about Houston's potential, or if you want to hear the voice that goes along with the Culture Scout blog, check out the interview here.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Yesterday, our staffer Katie Darr announced she had landed tickets for the Obama event in Grant Park. We were all thrilled for her, and a little jealous. I asked her to blog about the experience:
Last night, I was among the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together in Chicago's Grant Park to participate in one of the most historic events in our nation's history.
Earlier in the day, I found out I was one of the lucky few (65,000 or so) to receive a ticket for the Obama Rally, I was ecstatic. The gates technically opened at 8:30pm, but by the time my spouse and I arrived at 7:30 the line was over a mile long. The crowd was a mix of old and young, indie and traditional, black and white. It was beautiful. A sense of connection lingered between us as we cheered for every state Obama conquered (even if we found out via text message). Cars with "OBAMA 08" permanently etched cruised by honking, eliciting roars from the never ending line of ticket holders. Chants broke out, American flags littered the scene, and every three feet a vendor displayed a vast array of Obama paraphernalia.
A little after 10:00PM (2.5 hours after beginning our wait) deafening cheers broke out around us. People started yelling that Obama had secured the celebrated 270 votes needed to win. Suddenly the line dissolved, and thousands of us were running toward Grant Park. It kind of felt like plowing through the beginning of the Chicago marathon. People were pushing, shouting, celebrating, and security guards were herding us along like cattle as we scrambled through the checkpoints.
Finally, we made it to Grant Park. Although I could barely see the jumbotron, I knew Barack would be in the same general vicinity as me and that was enough. When he finally took the stage, the sea of people erupted in joyous celebration. "Yes we did!" echoed throughout the masses.
Overall, I'm just thankful for the chance to stand in the midst of a crowd packed shoulder to shoulder and be part of the experience. History was made last night. History will be made in the coming months and years. I'm proud to be a part of this pivotal moment in American history. We have a lot to do as a nation and we have a long way to go. For the first time in a long time, I'm hopeful.
Photo credit: John Kannenberg
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
This just in from one of our Culture Scouts in Los Angeles.
"Hold on to your butts! This is it. We'll either be dancing on top of the Hollywood sign or barricaded in the hall closet with the cats and a bottle of absinthe."
Monday, November 3, 2008
Yesterday was the New York City Marathon, and ING, the Dutch financial-services giant, was everywhere. It purchased the title sponsorship for an estimated $2 million a year a while back, and it was no doubt a relief for race organizers to see ING's stalwart commitment despite tough times. The New York Times reported that ING was being shored up by the Dutch government with $13.4 billion to prevent a possible collapse.
ING is not planning to cut its commitment to the marathon, which goes through 2010 says Tom Waldron, an executive vice president for ING Americas. He told the NY Times he is sticking with it because it makes good business sense. “We see it as a real sweet spot for us. Our studies show runners are more likely to seek financial advisers.”
Sunday, November 2, 2008
In our office this week, we brainstormed on the idea of renaissance vs dark ages. Let me explain. While there's plenty of evidence that conditions are ripe for a renaissance, it's not guaranteed. We could fall into a dark age.
What could tip the balance and hurl us into a dark age? Hasty planning. ($700 billion bail out with few restrictions). Insidious greed (financial services execs. who took the bailout money and paid themselves bonuses and went on acquisition sprees). Poor judgement, (legislators who think Wall Street can be trusted with tax payer's dollars).
Here are the notes from the white board:
Which brands will usher in the renaissance and which may propel us into the dark ages?
Renaissance vs Dark Ages
Progressive vs Regressive
Whole Foods vs Kroger
Yoga vs Nascar
Clean fuel vs Big oil
Local vs Monopoly
Indie Bands vs Rolling Stones
Target vs Wal-mart
Etsy vs Sotheby's
Inner peace vs Plastic surgery
Power vs Happiness