Heart on your sleeve

How to be a good listener on Zoom

I just realized that I've been making the dumb mistake of looking at someone's image when they're talking on Zoom. I should be looking at the camera often. 

Fast Company: How to do a better job of listening when you’re remote, 20-Aug-12 by Judith Humphrey

Listen with Your Body

Use your physical presence to listen. This goes far beyond using your ears to absorb what people are saying. Our entire body needs to convey attentiveness.

For starters, turn to the person who’s talking on the screen and physically align yourself with them while they’re speaking. This makes a huge difference. I recently attended a Zoom meeting and the host was talking to a small group, and one person was turned away at a 45-degree angle. She probably didn’t realize that the message she was sending was, “I’m not interested in what you’re saying.”

Use your eyes, too, to show that you’re listening. Don’t stare, but keep your eyes centered on the person who’s speaking by looking into the camera. Maintain an open and interested expression in your eyes. Avoid the temptation to look down at your phone, or around the virtual room. Focus your eyes on the chat line from time to time, but don’t let it distract you from the audience you’re addressing.

Use gestures, too, to show you are listening: nod when you agree with the speaker; move your body forward to listen to something you find particularly interesting, and gesture with open arms to acknowledge agreement.

When you’re speaking, bring physical energy to your delivery. The individuals you’re talking to are probably suffering from Zoom fatigue, and they need your energy to stay engaged and alert. 

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Creative Houston is a 'modern brand'

Creative Houston is a venture to support Houston’s creative economy by providing evidence and experiences that help creative professionals in their work and their lives. We publicize information about resources in Houston. We also foster a better understanding of how Houston offers a superior environment for making a living through one’s ideas.

Since I started reading the writings of Ana Andjelic, a marketing consultant and sociologist, I've come to see Creative Houston as a "modern brand." Our goal is to leverage culture, build relationships, and spread awareness of a unique experience. Our customer is someone who has the time and resources to think about improving the quality of life for their community. 

The Sociology of Business: The modern brand OS, 2020-Jun-22 by Ana Andjelic

A “modern brand” is simultaneously a concept, a sector, and a business model.

As a concept, modern brands exploit things like culture, taste, creative identity, or one’s social standing. Modern brands gained prominence when the economy shifted from manufacturing to experiences, travel, luxury, and art and design. Modern brands remove nuisances of modern life for a privileged group of people. They invent products, like Thinx or Casper; services, like Uber or DoorDash; or experience like Airbnb or WeWork. They also feature cheeky OOH and social media ads. Modern brands’ hidden function is to create a social and economic distance between the culturally and tech savvy and the rest.

As a sector, modern brands capitalize on the shift from consumers’ accumulation of products to consumers’ desire to demonstrate appreciation for these products.... 

5 criteria for "modern brands," according to Ana Andjelic

  • Awareness over accessibility
    • Instead of aggressively pursuing purchasers, modern brands focus on attracting fans who appreciate the brand's cultural contribution and will spread the word. 
  • Identity over positioning
    • Instead of comparing themselves to their competitors, modern brands strive for a unique identity that speaks to sophisticated tastes. 
  • Creative over commercial operation
    • Modern brands do not claim to manufacture a high-quality product, but rather to represent an exceptional product that raises the bar and establishes new experiences. 
  • Brand is part of the balance sheet
    • Modern brands are managed as long-term investments, and all employees are expected to build trust with audience, helping realize a future for the brand. 
  • Value creation over cost reduction
    • Instead of just scaling production to drive down costs, modern brands are constantly adding value, expanding the product line, improving service, and increasing the interaction between employees, customers, and fans. 

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Learning to use social media wisely, with Amy McGee

I've known Amy for a long, long time, although I haven't seen her face-to-face in years. She used to send the most fabulous emails--she probably still does--but I see her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram now. 

What I enjoy about following Amy is that her use of social media has evolved over the years. If I had faced what she faced a few times, I'd have thrown in the towel. I'll never be as outgoing and open-hearted as she is, but I hope I follow her in using social media to enrich our lives. 

Go follow Amy somewhere: 

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Visiting The C. Baldwin hotel, which commemorates discrimination against women

Yesterday I attended a networking meeting at a hotel in downtown Houston called "C. Baldwin." Since the massive renovation, the space and furnishings are quite beautiful. I really enjoyed meeting everyone with Sesh. However, the hotel disappoints me in several ways. 

  1. It makes me feel cheap. Everything seems over-the-top expensive. At The Houstonian, I can see value in the money I might spend, but at "C.Baldwin," I feel pressured to throw money around for show. 

  2. The name is from an important woman in Houston's history, Charlotte Baldwin Allen, the wife of one of the city's founders. When her husband left town (permanently), she had to manage the family business, and because women weren't allowed to sign business contracts, she signed "C. Baldwin." So they're commemorating discrimination. 

  3. The designers try to make it 'honor Houston,' but it feels like Dallas. There's a big image on the wall in the reception area that shows Charlotte's face imposed over a map of Houston, but it's apparently not a work of art because there's no credit to the artist. Why couldn't they have thrown some money to a local artist to do something special??? 

Anyway, I like all their decorative moss. I will be referring to this hotel as The Charlotte. I expect they will have to make some changes. 

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Half Price Books shows the way in instituting loyalty

Half Price Books is the perfect example of a company that deserves our loyalty, not because they care, but because they care enough to institute systems that preserve their values. 

Retail Touch Points: At Half Price Books, Empowered Associates Create Curated, Store-Specific Assortments, 2019-Apr-19 by Bryan Wassel

Half Price Books is unafraid to take its time when expanding to new markets. The retailer needs the right combination of demographic makeup, population growth and size for a city to become a good target, and it recognizes that not every scouting mission will be successful.

“Unlike a shoe store, we need lots of people, just because such a small percentage actually buys the printed word,” said Thomas.

With such a small audience, the key to success is making sure those that do shop there are dedicated. One way Half Price Books achieves this is through its ambiance. The retailer builds its own wooden shelves for a “homey feeling” inside the store, and its eclectic selection of both popular and unknown authors recalls the experience of visiting the famous Strand, an independent New York City store that claims to house 18 miles of books.

“Stores are a destination,” said Thomas. “If you’re a reader, and you live in New York City, you go to Strand. You want to browse their sections and discover new authors and discover new books, and we are a browser’s paradise. People love treasure hunting.”

The other key to the Half Price Books shopping experience is the staff. These associates aren’t just passionate readers who are experts on their favorite genres — they are also the ones purchasing used books from customers to further develop their relationships. Half Price Books uses a comprehensive onboarding process that includes author and category tests, as well as training on how to price incoming books.

“We give them a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility and authority,” said Thomas. “We’re giving our employees a pot of money and telling them, ‘You decide how much to pay for this book.’ So they feel an ownership, they love it, and they know how important it is. We have to train them thoroughly because we have 3,000 employees, and over 2,500 are deciding what to buy that book for, and what to price that book at.”

The extra effort and responsibility gives the staff more to do than the average retail associate, creating a deep sense of investment in the company. 

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Loyalty in relationship to other values, such as justice

David Brooks just published a NY Times opinion piece where he praised American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916) for developing a meaningful way to relate loyalty and tolerance. (See money quote below.)

About 5 years ago I started studying customer retention practices and became fascinated with loyalty programs. Many marketers these days worry about 'true customer loyalty' versus loyalty which is bought through financial incentives. So I decided to look at loyalty as an abstract human value and made many surprising discoveries. 

Loyalty is usually perceived as a conservative value, but the abstractness of the concept opens it up to many interpretations. Progressives are naturally reluctant to say loyalty doesn't matter because it clearly builds community. 

My own view is that loyalty is a natural impulse which is subject to abuse. I resist the idea that we should 'redefine' it. Loyalty has given me great benefits but I exercise it with a strong consciousness that it often comes in conflict with other values such as justice and truth. We each have to figure out what loyalty means in our lives. 

NY Times: Your Loyalties Are Your Life, 2019-Jan-24 by David Brooks

We should despise those causes, based on a shared animosity, that destroy other people’s loyalty. If my loyalty to America does not allow your community’s story to be told, or does not allow your community’s story to be part of the larger American story, then my loyalty is a domineering, predatory loyalty. It is making it harder for you to be loyal. We should instead be encouraging of other loyalties. We should, Royce argued, be loyal to loyalty. 

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Defining and maintaining our communities

As people get busy they are unlikely to maintain their community, so if you want someone in your IRL community, you have to take responsibility to get them out there. I recently began scrolling through my contacts and reminding people to come to events with me, or to see me for coffee, wine or a walk. The response level is surprising. I used to focus too much on specific people. Now I'm finding out who shares my desire for more community. 

Outside: It's Okay to Be Good and Not Great, 2018-Oct-16 by Brad Stulberg

Foster an “In-Real-Life” Community

Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences of digital technology is the illusion of connection. We think that if we can tweet, post, text, e-mail, or even call someone, we’re good. After all, digital relationships save us the time and coordination of meeting in person, which in turn allows us to be überproductive—or so we tell ourselves. But here’s the thing: nothing can replace in-person community, and our failed attempts to do so come at a grave cost.

In their book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century (2010), Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz profile the rise of loneliness and decline of meaningful relationships. An increased focus on “productivity and the cult of busyness,” they write, has led to a sharp decline in deep communities and a rise in social isolation and related mood disorders. Other research shows that physical touch itself is critical for happiness, comfort, and belonging. In-person community is also key to performance. Multiple studies show that wearable technologies don’t come close to the power of “in-real-life” friends when it comes to making positive behavior changes. And this is true at all levels. Defending New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan has repeatedly credited her training community (not her Instagram followers) for her longevity and success. “I don’t think I’d still be running if not for my training partners,” she says. “These women support me through both highs and lows.”

Bottom line: The extra effort it takes to regularly be with others “in real life” is worth it.

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