Houston

If you say Houston is 4th-largest, be prepared to be disappointed by our influence

Yesterday I was talking with some friends who were trying to raise publicity for a project and they tossed out the "4th largest city" meme with regard to Houston. 

When we are trying to be influential, we have to understand our status. Houston city limits may provide the meaningless 4th-largest designation, but in terms of influence, Houston is the 10th largest metropolis in America. As a metropolitan area, we are smaller than Dallas, WashingtonDC, Boston, SF and (OMG) Detroit. (Okay, we may be able to displace Detroit soon. But not Dallas, and certainly NOT Chicago.) 

Houston's weight in controlling the destiny of people is in tune with being TENTH-largest city. FOURTH-largest makes people outside Houston frown with confusion... 

JUST STOP. 4 million residents is NOT a big deal. We are NOT about to displace Chicago. That's BS, and if you try to defend this idea outside the city limits, you'll be recognized as a FOOL. 

Not-4th-but-10th

P.S. There is one way that "4th Largest" is not meaningless, and that's if you are Annise Parker. She can boast about managing the 4th largest city. But if you want to talk about the influence of Houston, you have to recognize it's only 10th largest U.S. metro area. City boundaries don't make that much difference. It's all about being a population center, and we're the 10th largest. 


Putting ourselves in the place to be creative

As a creative professional, I have struggled to find a place to work where my creativity is supported. If I had seen myself as a creative when I started my career, it might not have been so challenging. But I knew that I was not an artist, nor a writer, nor even a software developer, so the right career path was elusive. I have never fit into any pigeonhole. 

The turning point for my self-image was the birth of Fast Company magazine, which profiles professionals like myself who develop business ideas, not artistic ideas. In the 1990's I ran a local readers' club for Fast Company magazine, and through that club I met Durwin Sharp and Rolf Smith of the Virtual Thinking Expedition. They helped me understand my creative process and how I could work with other people to realize my ideas.  Tq-120910-dm

Over the last fifteen years I've gone back and forth trying to figure out if I can found my own company or find a place where I can contribute from my strengths. I still haven't figured it out but I am discovering more about what makes an environment that supports creativity. 

NoahBrier's Creativity Requires Networks points to this old Kevin Kelley article that I missed: Scenius, of Communal Genius, which reminds me of John Hagel's Creation Spaces. (The last one is a Harvard Business Review article, and in case you missed it they have a great new free membership program.) 

All these articles point out that creativity flourishes where people can share and support each others ideas, while friendly competition ensues and the outsiders (non-creatives) tolerate unusual behavior (like job-hopping). I hope we can build a "creation space" in Houston. We have a few companies, like Blinds.com, which make it happen for their employees, but we have a lot more companies wielding non-compete agreements and enforcing corporate conformity. The preference of Houstonians for doing business with buddies and scratching each other's backs is also a hindrance. But we have a core of wild-and-crazy types who are finding it easier and easier to get together. 


Houston Shared Vision Salon

Tq140807chThis morning I attended a meeting hosted by the Center for Houston's Future encouraging input for the upcoming Cultural Plan being written for the city. The Arts & Cultural Heritage Indicator Report from the Center was distributed.

Most of the people attending were arts organizers rather than just artists or citizens. These were the people with the most at stake in the Cultural Plan which will be written over the coming year.

As long as I've been following Houston's struggle to develop as a major art center and to change its image as an energy-focused center of commerce, most of the ideas proposed were very familiar.

I gained two new perspectives:

1) The cost of working for artists in Houston has been going up to the level where Los Angeles and Brooklyn seem just as affordable places. This news came from Joseph Havel, Director of the Glassell School of Art and one of our leading educator of artists launching their careers.

2) Suburban demand for arts organizations is surging, as well as a desire for higher visibility for their cultural institutions.

The desire for a better art market in Houston, with higher prices being offered for locally produced work, and more opportunities for selling work also resonated.

We also discussed whether the art market in Houston is depressed by a desire to avoid exceptionalism, a fear of singling out high talent and maybe snubbing other hardworking and popular artists. If we do want to keep artists in Houston (and I'm not sure we do), then we have to let their prices rise to the international level.


Finding a tribe in Houston's entrepreneurial community

I stumbled into the Red Labs coworking space at UH last night and since I have no one on my team, by definition, none of them can be UH students, therefore I wasn't supposed to be there, HOWEVER, they were very nice and I appreciated the pizza and support.

Tq131123f2b1I was interested because they are a member of the Founder2be network. During my last entrepreneurial venture, I knew I needed partners, but I was lazy. THIS time, I'm going to make sure that I'm not working in isolation. Partners and customers are key.

I attended with Karen Aptekar, (@K_A_Productions) who's an MBA student at University of St. Thomas. Tq131123kaAbove is Karen's hand as she pitches her new documentary, which is planned to include a game launch. She was successful in getting access to future partners.

The coworking space for RED Labs at Melcher Hall is very nice. Red Labs drew together an impressive range of students from STEM areas. If they can leverage the Founder2be network, I think they can raise the visibility of UH students in the startup community nationwide.


Why I joined the CXPA and how you can benefit

Most marketing activities are about targeting and capturing customers. But as a target, I don't want to be captured, I want to be captivated. Unlike other marketing networks, at the CXPA you can share and promote great experiences. You can give credit to a front-line worker who brightened your day. You can study campaigns that engendered deep and lasting loyalty. You enjoy being a customer as well as trying to acquire them.

Houston, meet the Customer Experience Professionals Association. Cxpa_avatar_02_bigger

Join us for a global celebration of companies and people that are creating great experiences for customers... CX Day, Tuesday evening, October 1, 2013. We are meeting at the Tasting Room, 1101-18 Uptown Park Blvd, in the Galleria area. The event runs from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, and you are welcome to arrive late.
Please RSVP.

Learn about the Awards, the online support and the CXPA at CXDay.org.

In Houston, we'll have networking, introductions, discussions, and brief presentations by two local customer experience experts:

William Clayton
VP of Customer Care Operations
Reliant Energy

Angela Schmeidel Randall
President and Founder
Normal Modes

As Vice President of Customer Care Operations, Bill Clayton is responsible for leading Reliant’s customer care and service operations for mass market customers. In this role, he oversees the company's call center and mid-office operations. Clayton also serves as the company's energy expert in matters related to energy efficiency. With nearly two decades of experience, he has in-depth knowledge of the utility and retail electric industries. Clayton has managed a number of specialized consumer programs for Reliant and has held various roles within residential load management, field operations, retail marketing, program development and retail operations. He graduated summa cum laude from Abilene Christian University with a BA in Political Science.

Angela Randall's Houston-based firm, Normal Modes, specializes in user experience design and usability testing. Angela has more than 15 years of experience in user interface design, user experience development and usability testing with complex, data-driven websites and applications. She began her career with AIM Management Group, then worked with Continental Airlines to redesign and upgrade the airline’s customer-facing systems, including the first voice-automated flight-booking engine. All systems remain widely used today. Angela is a member of the Usability Professionals’ Association. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas, and a master’s degree from Rice University.


Dim-witted Behavior

Dim-witted behavior is the obverse of the DIY 'do-it-yourself' culture. Think of it as the "do-it-myself' stubborn denial of opportunities to collaborate. I see it in myself all the time, and I watch it unfold across Houston. Mz130904tb

Houston is a great place to start something. The culture is open to people with new ideas. No one expects you to ask permission. People take a friendly interest in each others' projects. No one will put you down for promoting your ideas and asking for support.

Now, being someone important in Houston, to some extent, means being able to point to something tangible that you put together. The most important people have built big companies. Or big non-profit institutions. Or started movements that created landmarks. This pressure to build your own glory can lead to territorial behavior or to isolation.

These days I check myself frequently for dim-witted behavior. I encourage you to do the same.

Alliance magazine: Networks, money and meaning, 2012-Dec-1 by Harald Katzmair and Chet Tchozewski

How many projects fail because people do not cooperate due to status rivalry, a do-it-alone mentality or mistrust? How many projects get stuck because of lack of openness and innovation? How many resources are wasted because projects never reach critical mass?