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We are truly a global community

[Re-post from August 4, 2009]

I am sitting here in wonder at the amazing power that the Internet has to bring people together from around the world. Just now, I had a Facebook chat with my nephews’ grandmother who lives in Colombia and doesn’t speak English.

She had posted on her Facebook profile some photos of my six-year-old nephews on their first day of school and I commented on how cute they looked. She initiated a chat with me on Facebook in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish so I hurriedly went to Google’s online translator tool and copied in what she was writing. I then used it to translate my English to Spanish and pasted that into the chat window for her to read.

As easy as that, we were communicating a half a world away, in real time, without having to know the other person’s language (granted, I’m sure some of the translations were imperfect, but they were good enough for our casual chat).

Imagine even 10 years ago how difficult that would have been. Google was barely a year old, Facebook didn’t exist, and I most likely would never have had any direct communication with her. Now, with a few clicks of the mouse, we can stay updated in each other’s lives, share photos and memories, and communicate regardless of distance or language. What a wonderful experience!

To those who lament that the Internet, and technology in general, has made us less social and more isolated, I say, hardly!

The advent of social networking and sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr, and their rapid adoption by people of all ages across the globe, shows that technology can act as bridge, not a barrier.

Eating Your Own Dog Food

[Re-post from June 25, 2009]

Last night, I gave a presentation at Ignite Orlando on “Eating Your Own Dog Food”. It was an outstanding event with a huge turnout and the presentations were informative, entertaining, and inspiring.

There should be video soon and I’ll post a link once it’s up.  In the meantime, I have posted up the slideshow with my narration on YouTube at

Eating Your Own Dog FoodHave you ever heard the expression, “Eating your own dog food”, and wondered what exactly it meant? The term became very popular during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and is generally used by technology companies in reference to the need to run beta, or test, software throughout the organization.

You might be asking yourself, “I don’t sell software, so what does this have to do with my company?” But, the concept of eating your own dog food can be applied to any product or service, not just software. It means that you actually use what your company makes or provides, whether it’s a physical product or a professional service.

Imagine that you went to Oxi-Clean headquarters. We’ve all seen the ubiquitous commercials starring spokesman Billy Mays. Now, what would you think if you happened to wander into a supply closet there and notice that there’s no Oxi-Clean on the shelf? Would you find yourself thinking that the product was not that good if they don’t even use it themselves?

When you eat your own dog food, it shows that you have confidence in your product or service. Plus, it can be like a calling card for your business – people can see your product or service in action. You’ll immediately find yourself focusing more on the benefits, which will naturally help you sell them to your prospects.

I got to thinking about eating my company’s own dog food because I have been spending the past few months putting together curriculum for a new course I am teaching at Full Sail University on Designing Websites for Conversions. I did a lot of research on the best ways to increase the likelihood that a website will generate more leads and sales.

I then took a hard look at my company’s website and realized that we were not eating our own dog food. It wasn’t easy to admit to myself that we were missing the mark. Our website was very attractive and professional, and we received a lot of compliments on it. However, it wasn’t converting; it simply wasn’t bringing us new leads or sales.

At first, we wanted to try to modify our other site design, but then we realized that doing that was going to keep us boxed in. So, we re-designed our site from the ground up, using the principles I teach my students.

How can you make sure you’re eating your own dog food? First, truly examine your business inside and out and ask yourself what you could change to make it more apparent that you are using your product or service. Brainstorm with your team. You might find yourself discovering new ways to market what you offer.

Then, make a plan and start implementing your changes. Don’t be afraid to throw out the old and start fresh. Let the world know what you are doing and why – write about it on your blog and Facebook account, send out a targeted press release, and email your customers and prospects. Analyze the results and feedback you are getting and tweak as necessary.

You’ll then realize that eating your own dog food can be very rewarding! It can help you to make your product or service better and it can increase your revenue. It will also help you to pinpoint more quickly any weaknesses so you can correct them before your competition takes advantage of them. So, I invite you to pull up a chair and dig in!

Can Divisiveness Be Good?

[Re-post from April 17, 2009]

This morning, I taped a political TV show called “FlashPoint” that airs on the local CBS affiliate here in Central Florida. One of the topics was the current divisiveness and infighting within the local (and to some extent the national) Republican Party. (I am the former chair of a county Democratic Party, so I was on as a Democratic analyst. Also on the show were Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor, and Deon Long, an attorney and local Republican activist.)

The host, anchor Lauren Rowe, asked us if such divisiveness was good or bad for the party. Professor Jewett answered that it can be both – it’s good to debate ideas and understand one another’s different viewpoints, yet it can be bad if everyone doesn’t come together at the end once a direction or compromise has been established.

After the show, I got to thinking that this applies not only to political parties but really to any organization or company, and especially to start-ups:

How can a company successfully deal with differences of opinion so that no one is left feeling unheard, dismissed, or unimportant?

I think that, first and foremost, the company must be completely open and transparent with its employees regarding the issue at hand. That means ensuring that all meetings related to the subject are open to all and that everyone is given an opportunity to share their ideas and concerns in a structured and professional way.

Second, the CEO or founder must be actively involved throughout the process – not as the dominant voice in the debate, but as the person who acknowledges and respects everyone’s opinions and seeks to build consensus.

As I was writing this last sentence, it reminded me of an article I recently read in The Washington Post about Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and his approach to group decision-making and leadership. According to the article:

“Every six weeks or so, around a giant mahogany table in an ornate room overlooking the National Mall, 16 people, one after another, give their take on how the U.S. economy is doing and what they, the leaders of the Federal Reserve, want to do about it.

“Then there’s a coffee break. While most of the policymakers make small talk in the hallway, their chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, pops into his office next-door and types out a few lines on his computer.

“When the Federal Open Market Committee reconvenes, Bernanke speaks from the notes he printed moments earlier. ‘Here’s what I think I heard,’ he’ll say, before running through the range of views. He sometimes articulates the views of dissenters more persuasively than they did.

“’Did I get it right?’ he says.

“The answer, in recent months, has been a resounding yes. And Bernanke’s ability to understand and synthesize the views of his colleagues goes a long way toward explaining how he has revolutionized the Federal Reserve, which under his leadership has deployed trillions of dollars to try to contain the worst economic downturn in 80 years.”

Now, regardless of whether you agree with Bernanke or with the Fed’s policies, you have to appreciate his ability to take in what everyone says and then build a consensus for action. That is leadership.

So, the next time your company faces a controversial decision or a group of dissenters, embrace the opportunity to have a spirited debate, generate new ideas, and ultimately find the best solution.