A Lesson after 9/11: Compassion

11 09 2011

At the software company I worked for, we watched in horror after the first tower was struck. With my co-workers, we watched as a plane drove into the second tower. We were in shock as was the entire nation. We were glued to the television…waiting for information. We saw people jump from the towers to their deaths and knew that many more had died as the towers crumbled to the ground. We saw the look of sheer terror on the faces of those present and running from the towers. It was an apocalyptic event being broadcast live as we watched.

To make it even more surreal, my manager at the time kept crossing through the lobby and glaring at me as if to say “Why are you wasting your time watching television?” My peers were all there watching. Something monumental was happening. We needed time to witness and attempt to cope with what we were seeing. Feeling the pressure from this demanding boss, I was one of the first to pull away and go back to my desk and it was incredibly difficult to focus and do technical marketing work. It was corporate America saying “You’re not human. Don’t feel. Just do your work…no matter what else is going on.” It was the birthday of one of my co-workers, but definitely not a day to celebrate.

Credit: TellingNicholas.com

Today, 10 years later, I am still disturbed by that glare. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work for myself. Yes, there are business demands and the software business is incredibly demanding. But people are not robots. Bad things happen and we have feelings. We need time and space to witness, to grieve, and to recover.

I just watched another one of HBO’s incredible documentaries. This one is called “Telling Nicholas” and first aired on May 19, 2002. Created by director/producer/writer James Ronald Whitney, it also won an Emmy.

It tells the story of how the mother of 7-year-old Nicholas died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and how the family struggled to accept that she is not coming back and is indeed dead. They also struggled with how to tell Nicholas. It his heart wrenching and I cried throughout most of the movie. The family is very sensitive to and protective of this little boy’s feelings.

I’m not a 7-year-old boy and I didn’t lose my mommy or anyone on 9/11. Still, we all grieve that day and the loss of innocence, security, and safety we had up until then. We grieve the loss of so many people who were doing nothing but living their lives and working and being mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters and children.

If 9/11 has had any positive impact, hopefully it has taught us to appreciate the freedom we have, to value life, to be grateful for the love of others, and to never take even one day of our lives for granted. And to stop the glares. We all need time to process when things happen…even if we’re at work…and we all need to practice and feel compassion.





Zappos: Delivering Shoes, Profits, and Happiness

31 07 2011

I’ve done it. You probably have too…bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.com. In 1999 buying a pair of shoes online seemed like a C-RAZY idea. Really? Internet entrepreneur Tony Hsieh and a few of his friends (and to-be colleagues), thought it would work, came up with the name Zappos, and started forming the company. Ten years later Amazon bought Zappos “in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing,” per Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in his excellent book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Just how do you go from zero to over $1 billion in annual gross merchandise sales…and of SHOES (not big ticket items)…in just ten years?

Tony’s journey was not for the lazy, weak-willed, doubting, or uncommitted. Many times the company came to the brink of collapse and he kept it afloat by infusing it with some of the considerable money he got from the sale of his previous company…banner ad network LinkExchange…when it was sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million. And as that money ran out, he sold his own personal real estate.

Tony and his colleagues made the decision in 2003 to make the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service possible. This meant some big, bold decisions like carrying their own inventory so they could ship shoes faster and more accurately. They decided not to outsource customer service overseas, even though that would’ve been cheaper, and they relocated their headquarters to Las Vegas. Tony emailed all employees in 2004 to ask them to contribute 100-500 words about what the Zappos culture meant to them and since then, every year a new Zappos Culture Book is produced, which is given to prospective employees, vendors, and customers. They encouraged employees to anonymously submit questions and the answers are posted in their monthly employee newsletter Ask Anything.

Oh…and they got a $100 million credit line from Wells Fargo and two other banks. All of these changes meant they went from the brink of collapse to $1 billion in gross sales in 2008…two years ahead of their original (and seemingly impossible) goal of 2010.

Zappos succeeds by delivering happiness…to employees, vendors, and customers. They offer free shipping both ways…if a pair of shoes doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, ship it back for free. And oh, by the way, you have 365 days to return them. Their call center and warehouse are staffed and running 24 hours a day every day. Sometimes they surprise (i.e., delight) customers and ship shoes overnight (sometimes 8 hours after they order them) at no charge. I’ve actually experienced this…so cool!

The company culture and the brand are intertwined…one feeds the other and leads to a lot of really happy people. They are thoroughly committed to the ten company core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

The Zappos mission became “To live and deliver WOW.” As a result of these values, the WOW mission, and the incredible results that Zappos was achieving, Tony Hsieh started to be in demand as a speaker. In 2007 he started studying the science of happiness. He found that happiness is evolutionary.

Tony Hsieh - Credit: DeliveringHappiness.com

The lowest level of happiness is all about chasing pleasure. The more evolved level of happiness is passion, which comes through flow and engagement. And the most evolved type of happiness is higher purpose, which is about being part of something bigger than yourself. The Zappos mission evolved to “Zappos is about delivering happiness to the world.

Tony wrote the Delivering Happiness book in 2009. It debuted in 2010 at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and stayed on that list for 27 consecutive weeks. There is now a Delivering Happiness movement, with information at www.deliveringhappiness.com. A Delivering Happiness bus has toured the nation and the CEO of Delivering Happiness Jenn Lim is also called the Chief Happiness Officer. In January 2010, a couple of months after the deal with Amazon closed, Zappos was ranked #15 in Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list.

Tony Shieh in action is an incredible example of conscious capitalism, which seeks to enhance corporate profits and also (and perhaps through the) advance the quality of life for people. He leaves you with these thoughts, which are his guiding principles in life:

What would happen if everyone in the world acted in the same way? What would the world look like? What would the net effect be on the overall happiness in the world?

He challenges us all to choose to “…be a part of a movement to help make the world a happier and better place.” WILL YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?



Here’s Tony talking about his journey:





Hip-Hop, Yoga, and Being Super Rich

30 07 2011

Think of the “godfather of hip-hop” Russell Simmons and you definitely think RICH. He founded the music label Def Jam as well as clothing lines such as Phat Farm and American Classics. With a net worth estimate of $340 million, he is the third richest figure in hip-hop, only behind artists Diddy and Jay-Z. But do you also think of yoga and spirituality when you think of Russell Simmons?

Simmons is the author (along with Chris Morrow) of Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. His business website www.rushcommunications.com relates his many business successes, which “have spanned music, film, television, fashion, video games, online and financial services” and his activism, which “has encompassed all of the areas touched by his businesses, including poverty, education, social justice and inclusion.”

It’s easy to daydream about being incredibly rich, but Simmons is more than just about having a lot of money. He grew up in a lower-middle class African-American community in Queens and recently was named one of the 25 most influential people of the last 25 years by USA Today. He has two beautiful daughters he adores (and a beautiful, well-known, and accomplished ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons). Not only does he practice yoga, meditation, and philanthropy, he also eats no meat. He believes that there is a connection between his spiritual practices and his worldly success.

The title of his book Super Rich might make you think it’s all about accumulating money, but to Simmons that term means “the state of needing nothing.” That’s powerful! THE STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING. Imagine being in that state. Surely, you’d feel super rich. But how do you achieve that state? Simmons says that we have to “clear out the clutter and quiet the noise” that keeps us from “hearing” or connecting with the happiness…or the richness…that is already inside of us.

He says that we attract the world to us by giving until the world can’t live without what you have to offer. Huh? To get rich, you just give away what you have? YES! He quotes yogis: “You never lose what you have given” and says that if you “just show the world a fraction of the sweetness and honesty that’s in your heart, it’s going to come running after you.”

What else can you do to attain the STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING?

  • Access stillness…that “quiet, peaceful mental state that allows you to be completely present in life.” Then you can become “totally connected with the inspiration and imagination that’s inside [you].”
  • “Stay focused on your work without any expectations for, or concern with, the fruit of your labor” and “operate out of a zone of pure focus and clarity” like Michael Jordan did on the basketball court.
  • Be a business yogi and “only do shit you believe in. Period!” Vegan Simmons, for example, says he would never invest in a restaurant that serves meat. If you are a yogi, you won’t do work that creates instability or suffering in the world. Let go of the results…and watch what happens!
  • “Be reborn every day.” Simmons went from being a drug dealer to a mega-rich businessman, yogi, author (he previously penned the New York Times best seller Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success), and humanitarian. How did he do that? He “began moving away from [his] unconscious state and toward enlightenment.” He says it is important to “get open”…to be fluid and creative and never rigid.
  • Build bridges…with people of other races, religions, beliefs, etc…that will bring people together. Recognize that we are all connected.
  • Practice and realize the power of acceptance and love of others and what is.
  • Enjoy and be grateful for the material things, but don’t become burdened by or attached to what you have. Instead, achieve balance in life.
  • “Make a real commitment to being conscious and compassionate.”  He quotes the story of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s final words to Lord Krishna: “Through your kind conversation, I’ve woken up and am conscious of who I really am.” Simmons says that even if you fall short in all the above things, if you are conscious and compassionate, you will…like Arjuna…become more awake, which is “central to all your success.”

Simmons says that, armed with the knowledge in the book, we can be like Arjuna and:

To fight not for what you can get for yourself, but what you can give to others.

To fight not for your own abundance, but for the abundance of others.

To fight not for your own security, but for the peace and safety of others.

To fight not for your own joy, but for the happiness of others.

To fight not for your own upliftment, but for the enlightenment of others.

Russell Simmons, hip-hop, fashion, and multi-business mogul, yogi, father, UN Goodwill Ambassador, vegan, and philanthropist, ends the book by saying:

When you are devoted to fighting for these things with a smile on your face and love radiating out of your heart, then all these things will be yours. You will have it all. You will be Super Rich.

How refreshing to see someone who truly is super rich in every way practice what he says. Thanks, Russell Simmons.

NOTE: This post also appears at http://project-prosperity.com/2011/07/30/hip-hop-yoga-and-being-super-rich.




Enchant Me(nt)

30 07 2011

Do you enchant others…in your personal life and through your work? Have you ever considered the value of enchantment? Guy Kawasaki, author of the book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” says that

“When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.”

Delight? How often do you come away from personal or business interactions feeling delighted? How often do you delight others? Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and CEO of other companies, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, founder of Alltop.com, and the author of nine other books including “The Macintosh Way” (which was required reading when I was a software product manager several years ago), says that enchantment is absolutely necessary when we want to:

  • “Convince people to dream the same dream that [we] do.” To do this, we have to “aspire to lofty, idealistic results.”
  • Effect huge change
  • “Overcome entrenched habits”
  • “Defy a crowd” and create our own path…and get others to join us
  • “Proceed despite delayed or nonexistent feedback”

Kawaski gives concrete and specific advice on how to be enchanting in the book, with chapters entitled:

  • How to Achieve Likability
  • How to Achieve Trustworthiness
  • How to Prepare
  • How to Launch
  • How to Overcome Resistance
  • How to Make Enchantment Endure
  • How to Use Push Technology
  • How to Use Pull Technology
  • How to Enchant Your Employees
  • How to Enchant Your Boss
  • How to Resist Enchantment

Although “Enchantment” is primarily geared toward business, the principles are equally applicable to how to be personally enchanting. Kawasaki has mastered the art of enchantment. He is prolific on Twitter and posts about an incredibly wide array of topics. For someone so revered in the often nerdy high-tech world, he is personally charming, accessible, and humble.

His advice for how to achieve likability include things like finding out what the other person’s passions are; in other words, do your homework. Do they like to travel? Do they have kids? Do they enjoy fine wine? What’s their favorite sports team? Find out and meet them at that place of commonality. You will instantly enchant the other person if you care enough to do that.

The book gives many examples of businesses that enchant and how they enchant their customers. An example is REI, which was started in 1938 by 22 friends and now 3.7 million customers shop at 100 REI stores (and online.) People go there to shop, but also to socialize with other active people and to get advice from experienced cyclists, campers, or mountain climbers. Kawasaki says that the goal of enchantment is “long-lasting change,” which is “what happens when you change hearts, minds, and actions.” REI has built community and this community of enchanted customers is loyal and enduring.

“Enchantment” is an easy read and is filled with practical and enchanting tips. It’s worth a read and to keep on your bookshelf as a reference book (think new product introductions, starting a new venture, or captivating and signing a new customer). Want to keep abreast of what enchants the ubiquitous Guy Kawasaki? Join him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/enchantment or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Alltop.

NOTES:
  • The photos of Guy Kawasaki and the cover of “Enchantment” are printed with the permission of Guy Kawaski. The REI logo is from the REI.com website.
  • This blog is featured on Alltop.com, which was founded by Guy Kawaski. As one of the featured bloggers on Alltop, I was asked if I’d like to receive a complimentary copy of “Enchantment.” It was my choice whether to review it and what to say about it.




Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking?

5 06 2009

I got a glimpse of the underbelly of fraudsters and organized crime a couple of years ago when I worked at a company that created software for online retailers to help them process good payments and weed out fraudulent ones. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world I hadn’t been exposed to and only knew about peripherally.

Hands and feet in Chains from iStockPhotoOnline fraud started out as pranksters or one-off transactions…individuals trying to get something for nothing. There’s still that happening, but online fraud progressed to being perpetrated by large organized crime rings, with a lot of it coming from eastern Europe and western Africa. Why the change? Organized crime can hide anonymously behind a computer, and with their organizations being so spread out geographically and across many jurisdictions, most law enforcement groups are not able to catch them. It’s an easy crime for many of them.

Analysts from my previous company monitored chat rooms where criminals sold stolen credit cards…or the information on your credit card or social security card… for $10 each. They got inside the criminals’ territories and learned the tricks of what they were doing…hiring waiters to take skimming machines and run credit cards through them to capture the information in the strip when you give them your card to pay for dinner, installing fake fronts to ATMs to capture the keystrokes of your PIN and your debit card number, etc. They had to find ways to put techniques in the software that allows retailers to stay two steps ahead of the criminals, who are very tech-savvy themselves.

As part of my work, I had several calls with the IC3…the Internet Crime Complaint Center…and the FBI and participated in the announcement of the www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com initiative, to help people avoid becoming a victim of online fraud. I was the press manager (one of the many hats I wore) for a large organization of retailers that came together to develop best practices to combat and prevent online fraud.

Okay…perhaps some of that is interesting…but my point of saying all that is this…organized crime got really savvy about how to commit fraud online. There have been a lot of businesses (including the one I worked with) that built software to prevent and stop this fraud and find these savvy fraudsters, which has led to many prosecutions.

Retailers banded together to pool their knowledge of how to outsmart the criminals. It’s a constant cat and mouse game; the fraudsters learn how to go around the software and the software companies come up with new techniques they hope the fraudsters can’t go around.

If all that is possible, why aren’t there businesses out there developing software…and maybe there are but I don’t know about them…that look for certain patterns and other things to detect that someone online might be engaging in child trafficking or sexual exploitation? There is software for keeping databases of sex offenders, but I’m talking about software that would stop this stuff from happening in the first place…that would disallow child pornography from being sold or a child being sold online.

Unfortunately, a lot of child trafficking is done the low-tech way…not online…so admittedly this makes it more difficult to track when it happens. But…just as fraud in stores orginally was mostly stealing stuff in stores (and of course this still happens) but progressed to online massive stealing…I suspect that child trafficking may also “progress” (if it isn’t already happening) to being done online.

Isn’t it worth it for someone to be developing high-tech solutions to stop and find traffickers? It seems at least an international tracking system is needed. I see so many stories about trafficking in so many countries. Is anyone looking at the big picture and tracking these occurrences across countries? In the retail world, that’s the only way they are beginning to find some of these organized crime rings and prosecute them.

Does anyone know if anything like this is being done? Isn’t it about time it was?

UPDATE 10/19/09: After writing this article, I received an email from the National Association to Protect Children. Read what they and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories are doing to stop child predators in the post I wrote on 10/19/09 entitled Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators.





Dear George Bush and Henry Paulson

14 11 2008

Bush and Paulson have misled the American public about the bailout and continue to do so. The market declined from 13,058 on May 2nd to 10,825 on September 24th, the day McCain suspended his campaign to rush back due to the emergency in Washington. Why was there all of a sudden THAT WEEK an emergency? The market was the same as it had been since July. CLICK HERE to continue reading





Craig Newmark of Craigslist is an Awesome Nerd!

8 10 2008

Today I heard Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder, speak in Austin. He blew me away. He has a calm manner, is soft spoken, has a wonderfully dry sense of humor, seems like a regular guy, and is a self-professed nerd. He is the founder of one of the most visited and impactful websites in the world and yet there is a humility about the guy.

I’m a huge fan of Craigslist. I have bought and sold cars, furniture, and household goods, given stuff away, gotten work, found a place to live, and joined groups and activities all through Craigslist. Craig said he is all about building communities and as I think about all I’ve been able to do through Craigslist, I’d say he’s succeeding.

One of the things that impresses me most is that Craig doesn’t do this to get rich or to build an empire. He started Craigslist because he wanted to give back to his community. He believes in the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and helping others out. He says that we are all pretty much the same and we experience more of a sense of community by remembering this rather than pointing to our differences.

Craig said that Craigslist has 12 billion page views per month and they have 567 cities throughout the world set up as communities on Craigslist. As a software programmer, he started Craigslist back around 1995 and did all the work on it himself for a few years. Now he sees himself as Customer Service and a lean crew of 25 people make up the whole company. Talk about efficient! Not only are Craig and Craigslist impressive, but Craig is also involved in many causes for good. I don’t know how the man has time to breathe.

After his talk and many questions from the audience, Craig was kind enough to greet people individually as they formed a long line. I shook his hand and mumbled a few words. He may be a nerd, but he impressed me and the crowd and I felt honored to meet him.