Monthly Archives: June 2003

I just upgraded to a

I just upgraded to a new beta edition of MediaMap Online called Performa. Instead of being a mere database of media outlets, editorial calendars, and media contacts, Performa is a high-powered contact manager and work flow solution(www.mmperforma.com).

When I first became a user of MediaMap, I was at Intel and the software was called Media Manager. Media Manager was a replacement for thick books of research about editors and what they covered. It wasn�t on the Internet, and it was pretty simple. Over the years, it has gone online and gotten more complex, but also more useful. I�ve always liked the company�s approach to gathering intelligence about media contacts and outlets, so I�ve always invested in the annual updates, even though they are pretty pricey.

I haven�t had any training in the software in about two generations, although it has been offered to me; I�m too lazy to schedule the conference call with the representative and listen to it, so I probably use about 50% of the functionality. But now, MediaMap offers its training online, in five-minute segments that you can take at your own pace. In short, MediaMap has shifted to e-learning.

Well, I�m on the board of GELIA (Globalized E-Learning Assocation); I�m down with the concept of e-learning. So I decided, since the software had changed dramatically, that I would e-learn it. Or perhaps e-re-learn it.

Bummer. E-learning sucks. It is not fun. No wonder my foster kids did not jump for joy when provided with computer-assisted education. It�s pretty damned dull sitting in front of a computer screen, watching slides of screen shots with highlights on them, and then answering five multiple choice questions at the end of every lesson segment.

One of the problems with customer online training is that everyone starts at a different point of familiarity. I, for instance, do not need to be instructed on what �screens� are. The things I would like to know are probably not even in the online training, because they are subtle.

MediaMap also offers a webinar. That�s probably better, but of course I will never sign up for it because you have to exercise some self-discipline to take part in a webinar: you must calendar it, and then be present physically and intellectually when the moment comes to view it. Knowing me, I�d be getting a phone call one minute before it started.

So I decided to download the �Quick Reference Guide,� a .pdf that I could print out and read at leisure. However, it crashed my browser three times, and I gave up. This is the meaning of �beta.�

So back to the online training classes, which get longer and longer as the material becomes more complex. Now I can�t even force myself to go through those. It brought back memories of when I enrolled in a yoga e-learning course on the BarnesandNoble.com site, and I couldn�t finish that one either. E-learning, in the current format I see it, is intrinsically boring. And not because I find the computer boring. I spend hours on medical web sites looking up diseases and conditions I may or may not have; I spend more hours looking up film sites and submitting my nascent screenplay. I also read Google News on an hourly basis, so I don�t miss anything. I search for furniture; I buy shoes; I make reservations.

In fact, I do pretty much everything online, and I am constantly learning � except when I try to go to an e-learning class. Even Continuing Medical Education classes, which are available to me online and are about things I want to know (much as Performa classes are) do not hold my attention.

I think we�re still not there yet on how to educate people using the computer as a tool. We are definitely there on the research side. But how do we train on software, or teach language?

What�s missing from e-learning? Is it multimedia? Streaming video? Audio? I don�t think so. It may be interactivity with the instructor, which automatically personalizes the instruction. I think when I am searching the Internet and reading what I find, I am able to select what I need to know and eliminate the rest. I�m in charge of the learning. But when I�m taking an e-learning course, a curriculum designer is telling me what s/he thinks I should know.

Perhaps simulation is the answer. That might be why kids play online games (and so do adults); and it may be why kids who play online games improve their skills. Playing the game is learning. And it�s learning on their own terms. Big difference between being taught and actually learning.

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I love discovering things.

I love discovering things. One recent morning I was listening to NPR and I finally *heard* something that had probably been broadcasted to me for years. �This program is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, encouraging entrepreneurship across America.� As someone who works with entrepreneurs every day, I was totally unaware of the Foundation and what it did. But I thought I should know.

So I went to the web site. This Foundation does a lot! It hosts a web site called http://www.entreworld.org, which is full of resources, including an Entrepreneur�s search engine, articles by entrepreneurs, pieces about creativity, and even a Women�s channel. One of the coolest tools on the site is the Kauffman Business EKG, a free financial benchmarking service provided by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Kauffman Business EKG provides a comprehensive assessment of a company�s financial vital signs. If you use the tool, the Foundation says you will discover insights about your company�s financial well being and how you compare to the �best of the class� in your industry. The assessment requires only a few minutes and also gives ideas and strategies for improving a company�s long-term financial health. Who knew?

There is also a Kauffman Fellows Program, which is an educational program designed to educate and train future venture capitalists and future leaders of high-growth companies. Ultimately, the Fellowship aims to increase wealth and job creation in the United States by supporting the development of high-potential start-up and early stage companies. Finalists in this program go on to be mentored by VC firms throughout the world.

For kids, The entrepreneurship experts at the Kauffman Foundation and the creative team of Disney Online have joined forces on Hot Shot Business � a fun, fast-paced Internet simulation that allows kids to experience the adventure of starting and running their own businesses. The entertaining and educational game launched May 7 on Disney.com’s Kids Island site.

The Foundation also conducts a research program called �The Entrepreneur Next Door,� a national, multi-year study that tracks a group of emerging entrepreneurs as they progress through the entrepreneurial process, revealing that attempts at new business formation are more widespread than previously disclosed and involve all racial and ethnic groups.

Among the resources available to entrepreneurs on the Foundation�s site is a report on the growth of angel investing in the United States that you can download (I have it) as a .pdf.

But most interesting to me was something called FastTrac, a practical, hands-on business development program designed to help entrepreneurs hone the skills needed to create, manage and grow a successful business. FastTrac participants don’t just learn about business, they live it. They work on their own business ideas or ventures throughout the course – moving their ventures to reality or new levels of growth.

In a state like Arizona, brimming with entrepreneurship and short of resources, I couldn�t believe we didn�t need a resource like this.

Only one person in Arizona that I know of has been through FastTrac, and Arizona doesn�t even have a state administrator or facilitator. Jim Packard, the owner of Scottsdale-based MouseBungee Corporation (www.mousebungee.com) told me the FastTrac program was the best kept secret in the world, and that he had been through it and would be willing to help me offer the course.

So, guess what? I called the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. They were thrilled to hear from someone out west, and told me �after they read my resume � that I could be trained to be the Arizona-New Mexico administrator of the program. I�m going to Kansas City for three days of training in mid-July. Then I will come home and make available to entrepreneurs in Arizona and the surrounding areas what I�ve learned. I�m really excited about the opportunity to participate in the Foundation�s work, because it has such a great reputation. And I�m more excited to try to bring another resource to our local entrepreneurs.

I bet you want to know who Ewing Marion Kauffman was. Well, he founded Marion Labs, a pharmaceutical company that was nearly a billion dollar company when it was sold to Merrell Dow. He chose his middle name for the company so no one would think it was a one-man show. And he bought the Kansas City Royals in 1968, bringing major league baseball back to Kansas City. He established his foundation to promote economic self-sufficiency and education, and the foundation became fully funded in 1993 upon his death. Next time you hear about it on NPR, you�ll know.

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For all of you who

(For all of you who wanted to download Bullfighter last week and couldn�t: Deloitte is making the site live on June 13, after they send out the press release and get their article in BusinessWeek. I just sent you too early to the download site, but after Friday you can get it at http://www.dc.com/bullfighter.)

This week I finished my screenplay. I have been working on it for the past couple of months, because the production company I have started with my daughter needs �content� that it doesn�t have to pay for. My life provides enough good content � or perhaps it�s best called fodder � for about fifty different screenplays. This is just the first. This one�s about my foster parenting and the lessons it taught me about the meaning of success and failure.

Trying to get into the movie business (�the industry,� for those of you who thought there might be others) has been a real exercise in teaching an old dog new tricks. First of all, I went to that McKee Story Seminar, in which I learned the structure of the screenplay. (The last thing you think about when you�re watching a movie is the structure of the screenplay.) Then I bought a camera, taught myself to use it, and �lent� it to my daughter (I haven�t seen it since) so she could learn to use it. Next, I taught myself to use �Final Draft,� the software that is used by professional scriptwriters.

As a piece of software, Final Draft is nothing short of hilarious to people who like software. Instead of trying to improve the process, Final Draft�s goal is to preserve the past ways of doing things as best it can � including sticking to the old Courier font used by IBM selectric typewriters in the sixties. But never mind: I decided to follow the rules and let Final Draft have the last word.

With the screenplay written and the camera in hand, and twenty years of experience starting businesses, I feel as if SoftiePooftie Entertainment, LLC (we named it after her dog, because we want to do family movies) is already a going concern. It�s incorporated. We�re working on the web site, on which we will stream our first attempts at filmmaking. We are shooting our dogs. They are the only things in our lives that don�t mind being experimented on. Actually, I lie. We�re shooting our golden retrievers. My chow has opted out of the film school. He thinks we�re nuts.

Along the way, I found a website that markets screenplays. It�s called Inktip.com, and it links writers with producers. You aren�t supposed to submit a screenplay until it is finished, but I am an optimist, I always knew I would finish, so I put it out there when I was half done. About sixty producers have looked at the log-line (a one-sentence summary) and rejected it without going further. The log-line comes up in searches, so if they are searching for drama, they�ll automatically have to see my log-line. A few have gone further and looked at the synopsis and my resume, and one actually asked me to send him the screenplay. He asked me on May 8. I sent him an email telling him he had called my bluff and it wasn�t completed. I finally mailed it to him (no, they don�t want it electronically, they want it bound between cardboard and held together by fasteners like in the old days) yesterday. He�s probably out of business by now.

I also found out that Sundance Institute holds a Producer�s Workshop every year for independents. I wrote what I thought was a stunningly amusing application and bio, and was rejected out of hand. Nicely(�we have had more applicants than we have spaces�), but firmly rejected from something that costs a couple of grand to attend. Where are all these indie producers getting all this dough?

I am now in the process of applying to the Chesterfield Writers Film Project, because I haven�t had enough rejection in the past six months and I am going to try for more. At my age, I can�t get enough of people telling me they had more applicants than they had space for; it brings me back to my gay mad youth, when thimgs like this happened to me every day. For too many years I have been lulled into thinking I was a success at something, and that my success was transferable. One should always re-career at age 60+ to find out what life�s really like for the rest of the people.

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That Ain’t No Bull

The vocabulary of consulting has been the basis for entire books of Dilbert cartoons. Words and phrases that have entered the language via management, strategy, or IT consulting firms include such all time favorites as �leverage,� �human capital,� �customer relations management,� �take it offline,� �thoughtware,� �wordsmith�(as a verb), and �strawman.�

The marketing department of one of the big four consulting firms had been selling authenticity and straight talk for some time when one of the firm�s own consultants challenged marketing to get serious about it, and �create an application to filter out bull.�

The marketing department responded, assembling five of the firm�s best and brightest to create such a tool. Chelsea Hardaway�yes, a familiar name to those who follow the foibles of my family — headed up the underground effort, and describes the 10-month project as being �conceived and created by our people, for our people. If you look up bull in the dictionary, you�ll find a picture of a consultant. So who better to lead the charge against it?� The result? Bullfighter, a helpful utility that runs in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, checks for jargon, offers alternative language, and gives every document a score. You should try running your own documents through it; you�d be surprised how much consultantspeak has filtered into your vocabulary.

To populate Bullfighter�s dictionary, Deloitte launched the �Serious Bull Contest� inside the firm. Within three weeks, nearly 10,000 submissions and 5,000 unique bull words were suggested. One consultant alone sent in 832 words. �Leverage� was voted the most hated word, followed by �bandwidth� and �touch base.�

The contest�s winner won a trip to the California Academy of Tauromaquia in San Diego and Mexico for a course in non-lethal bullfighting. A very funny short film of his trip can be found at http://www.dc.com/bullfighter.

As for the software itself, once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell check feature. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use those words, suggests replacements, and then assigns a Bull Composite score.

There is also a screensaver that cracks me up: it�s a plain black screen with white words dropping from top to bottom. The words land in a pile at the bottom of the screen. Soon, a fly buzzes above the pile. Then a bovine tail swishes in from left to right. Last, a broom comes by and sweeps away the pile of words. It�s hysterical.

Deloitte used the Bullfighter software tool to examine a wide range of communications from companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and found � not surprisingly — that straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications. (Thank goodness this was true. Imagine if it were not?)

Some of the other Bull findings:

� Among the 50 DJIA companies analyzed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications.
� The computer hardware and software segments suffered the lowest readability scores and used the most jargon overall. Apple Computers, Inc. is a notable exception, proving that even technical companies can speak clearly.
� Consulting firms were slightly ahead of the technology segments � but earned no bragging rights when it came to clear communication.
� Consumer goods companies, even those selling complex products, were very clear communicators.
� The emergence of �bull� in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron�s communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

Deloitte�s conclusion � that straightforward communications can be linked to financial performance � mirrors the findings of two accounting and finance professors, Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England�s Cranfield University. Their independent study concluded that clarity of communications can be a very good indicator of corporate performance.

Now Deloitte consultants who fancy endless sentences sprinkled with multi-syllabic words, or who populate their documents with heaps of jargon, can count on a good humored lashing from Bullfighter. And in conversations, the consultants hold each other to the “no bull” standard with a friendly flogging any time a Bull word is used.

You are getting this message shortly before the Bullfighter story will be released to the world as the central piece of an effort to create a challenger brand for Deloitte Consulting. If you want to try it on your own documents, Bullfighter is available as a public service from http://www.dc.com/bullfighter. Like mother, like daughter.

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