Monday, February 20, 2012

Moving Day

Moving over to Tumblr today. Going to focus on food related posts. Check it at

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interestingness - Looking at how we use tags to describe ourselves and our audiences

I am in the middle of helping a new client build a set of words (tags) that will be used to drive our matching engine and help them match talent to tasks within their organization. In setting the tone for the challenge of picking the right words I am constantly looking for metaphors and analogies that will help them understand.

I was just reading the forward to Malcolm Gladwell's new book, What The Dog Saw, and he spoke of 'interestingness' - which reminded my of that term as it applies to images, and how Flickr has a search term: interestingness. This got me to thinking that maybe the best way to help my client understand that the best tags for their audience would be those that pass an 'interestingness' test.

In the networks that we build, we have a set of tags that are presented to each user during the profiling process. These words are considered by the user, then selected by them - each word being given a weight, or importance. The collection of selected words shown on the persons public profile and used by our matching engine to match them with others of similar interests, passions, values, experiences, skills, strengths and objectives. You might think of the tags as brand characteristics. And in this particular client's case, I am strongly suggesting that they should consider them exactly like this, as developing brand identity is something this client is very familiar with.

Which brings me back to interestingness.

When you complete an online profile, you typically are not thinking about this dimension - "What of this profile makes me more or less interesting?" Why would someone want to get to know me better as result of the tags I have selected?

If we believe that a population can be defined by the language they use (Kevin Kelly says that communication is the heart of our culture) and that language in today's' Everything 2.0 world can be distilled into a set of tags or keywords, then is it logical to conclude that you can come up with a set of tags that can be presented to an audience, and if the tags have been considered correctly, they in fact will resonate deeply with the audience and in fact describe them nearly perfectly.


My counsel to clients to date has been literal and encyclopedic. Give them words that make a lot of sense, that describe them in detail, that challenge them to think deeply about the choices they make, to think about how they are seen by others. Yet, today, with this notion of interestingness in play, I wonder if my counsel to them should be:

Are they interesting enough?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Using your network to find answers to those pesky day-to-day problems - three recent examples

I had occasion the past two days to reach out to my network to get quick answers to some questions. The process was so effective I thought it would be good to share, as it illustrates the power of your network.

I used two networks this week for my questions, one, LinkedIn, the other, Twitter. I have 500+ in my network on LinkedIn and another 1000+ on Twitter (yeah I know, I'm a slacker). So, it seemed like someone ought to have the answers. What was interesting was that my questions were extremely different from one another, so I need to reach a diverse set of people.

The first question: "What have you seen as an effective way to market Webinars? (Then I gave a list of what I am already doing). I posted this on LinkedIn Answers (go here to see). Once you have posted your question (note: I think it is odd that it's called Answers, when what you post are Questions), you then select people in your network to be notified that you have posted a question. 

So, in this case, I looked at all of my contacts in Marketing, selected their names and sent the question along. It was also cross-posted on the main Answers site and within 30 minutes I was getting some really good feedback. Best answer and one that I implemented immediately was Tell A Friend. I added a button on our Webinar website and will be monitoring it to see how well that goes. 

When someone answers your question, you get an email, so you don't have to keep checking LinkedIn, and you can reply directly to the person (etiquette suggests that you at least say thanks). Once you have the question answered, you can close the question, it auto-closes after a week I believe.

My second question was, "I am building a map of all of the Marketing Communication companies in the known universe - I know there are more than 2500 subsidiaries to the 8 big holding companies, does anyone have a map, graphic, listing or pointer to help me in this project?" 

I received my first answer (and the best one) within 1 minute after posting - seriously, one minute. Within an hour I had several more pointers to roughly the same information. Seems that AdAge is famous for producing a map of the big companies once a year and it just came out last month, so was fresh in everyone's mind.

Again, the network came to my aid better than Google did, as I tried and tried and couldn't get my search terminology correct and was wasting valuable time.

I thanked all of my (new) helpful friends and it was even suggested that the Map I am creating become some sort of Creative Commons shared resource, as there really isn't anything out there with the completeness I needed for this project.

Finally I had a question today about managing my TODO list and I turned to Twitter as an experiment. I posted this:
@marksylvester Struggling with massive TODO list - tried tons of tools, none really worked. What's working for you? Stickies are threatening to bury me
Within 5 minutes I was sent plenty of suggestions of ways to deal with my list, and pleas from other followers to share the answers. It was interesting also to see that people who follow me on Facebook also posted replies (comments), as my Tweets are cross-posted to my FB account.

So, what's this all mean? Your network is a great place for informal learning and in that learning an ancillary benefit is that you get to meet new people and grow your network even larger.

I gave back to the community this afternoon by posting a fix I found to a troubling problem with Snow Leopard on my Mac and my HP Scanner - seems that tons of people have this problem and all of the fixes were tragically difficult, I was able to find something simple, sweet and tweetable. 

What goes around comes around.

How are you using your network to learn - what are you teaching your network?

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Communication Framework

How well do you communicate? Here are the 6 steps I use nearly every day that help me be more effective.

Fifteen years ago I learned from Andy Blum of The Trium Group how to craft an effective communication. I can honestly say that I use this technique several times each week and it has become 'embrained' in me (note: this word comes from an email exchange between myself and @monster344 Stefan Bucher)

So, what's the secret? First, you have to want to improve your communication skills. Seeing as how everything I have been reading lately speaks to being able to communicate, with peers, employees, partners, clients, the markets - it's a part of 'being social' that we could all become better at. I thought I would share something that has helped me tremendously.

Here is the framework. You can use this on any communication, to any audience. I will give an example or two at the end.
  • Context (of the communication): The overall purpose, what you are trying to acheive
  • Vision (of the communication): A clear and compelling picture of the future situation you are trying to create through the communication
  • Strategy: How you propose to get to your desired future state, specific tactics
  • WIFY (What's in it for you, the audience): How the purpose and vision will benefit the person receiving the communication?
  • WRFY (What's required from you, the audience): Specifically, what you are asking the person recieving your communication to do, to get to the goal
  • Next Steps: The most immediate and specific next steps that will be taken to move toward the goal (including by whom and when)
I guarantee that if you were to outline your next letter, sales brochure, employee newsletter, speech at the Chamber of Commerce, etc and used this technique you will get kudos for your well-prepared content. This technique really performs.

Simple example.
  • Context: I am really hungry, I didn't eat breakfast or lunch and it's almost 3pm
  • Vision: I am thinking that a Salmon Ceaser Salad at the Harbor would be perfect right now
  • Strategy: How about we finish our meeting offsite and strategize while enjoying a salad
  • WIFY: You have been really helpful during this session and I want to buy lunch
  • WRFY: It's a bit chilly outside, so why don't you grab your coat and tell your team you're out
  • Next Steps: Let's go, I'll drive
Simple, to the point and covers everything a communication should, but let me put something a bit more business-like out there as another example:
  • Context: I think that we need to have a more 'socially focused' marketing plan for 2010.
  • Vision: We ought to be able to attract 5x more qualified propsects if we did this right.
  • Strategy: I have 'to-do' lists from several reputable books that I have just finished that would give us a great roadmap.
  • WIFY: Sales wants more qualified leads and these 'social' strategies seem to be specifically geared to helping us in this area.
  • WRFY: For the next week, we are all going to talk with our existing clients, and current prospects and find out how 'social' they are. What blogs, groups, twitterati, forums they pay attention to, this will help us in our targeting.
  • Next Steps: We will have a kickoff meeting this afternoon, followed by a series of workshops all week to layout an action plan to get our marketing much more social.
Notice that this was not a lengthy process, it's simple, to the point and easily communicated. In fact, looking back over it, you could almost tweet it  ;-)

I would love to hear from you about your communication tips and tricks. I can always learn a new one.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Virtual Conferences need Virtual Communities to boost Virtual Connections

On Monday, February 22, I am going to be at the Virtual Edge 2010 Conference with my partner Kymberlee Weil (@alohakymberlee) who is on a panel speaking to the issue of Online Communities and Virtual Events.

We have been in a constant conversation about this topic for the past several weeks as she has been preparing her thoughts. There seems to be a flux in the force this past several months as we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of inquiry's from clients that want to integrate private social networking technology into a virtual event they are producing.

We first encountered this technology five years ago when Ziff Davis was doing a series of virtual events using the iCongo platform. I believe we did seven shows with them that year. The problem we were solving was simple - connect people that would never meet in person. That's the promise of social networking, making connections with people you do not know (yet). At an in-person event it is easier to make these connections, but just as difficult, as the basic premise is the same - you don't know them.

So, how do we learn more about people we don't know before we meet them, either virtually at one of these events, or in the realworld at a conference? I think that social media has given us some fantastic tools that can help us understand people in ways never before possible. Here are a few ideas that you might use in preparation for your next event;

  1. See if there is a list of attendees, either on a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, a private online community (such as introNetworks or one of the others.) Look for people you would like to meet for whatever reason - business development, professional development, potential employee or employer, or simple peer-to-peer discussion. Make a list of the ten people you want to meet.
  2. Armed with this list start by Googling them. You will be surprised how much you learn in one search, but you may need to add Company name, City, Title, to narrow down the results, as you still don't know them, so won't know you have the right person ;-)
  3. From these results look for links to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or their profile in the private social network, sometimes these are customized to include questions that are specific to the event. Read up on these folks, do your homework. Read their last 50 tweets, see what's posted on their wall, read their blog if they have one. This information will either give you valuable insight that will aid in your first meeting, or let you know that maybe this person will not be able to give you what you think you need from them.
  4. Engage them before the event. Write them, email them, call them, @reply them to say that you are looking forward to meeting them at the event (either virtually or live) and give them some indication of what you want to talk about. However, here comes the tricky part, as up to now this has been all about you and if you have been paying attention to the 100's of blogs, articles, podcasts and seminars circulating out there, you should know that it is not about you, it is all about them!
  5. So your plan now is find a way to serve them, how can you help them in what they are at the event for? What did you learn about them? What might they be interested in that you could point them towards, or introduce them to someone you know. This concerted effort to focus your first encounter on them, and not you, seems counter-intuitive, yet, trust me, this approach may give you the most interesting conversations that lead to amazing new relationships. Seriously.
People go to events to network and learn. We can talk about learning another time, but as far as networking goes, if you have a well thought out strategy before the event, you will get the most out of your time investment. Don't be the person that sifts through a handful of randomly collected business cards from people you bumped into. Be deliberate and be giving.

Note: I am reminded of my good friend David Nour's book, Relationship Economics, as he talks about investing in your relationships. If you have not heard of the book, you should check out his site and frequent postings on 'meeting people' and 'making connections.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

An Evening with Chef Roberto Cortez

Chef Roberto Cortez

Each New Years' my wife and I exchange a present that has an importance and significance to each of us and has become a cherished tradition that we look forward to during the week between Christmas and New Years. This year she found the most amazing gift and something that I can share with everyone. It was a three hour private cooking lesson with Chef Roberto Cortez. You may not have heard of him - but you will. He was featured in Santa Barbara Magazine in December '09, which is how Kymberlee heard of him. He is known for his cooking classes in Montecito and private dinners for no more than 20 guests. He is also famous for the celebrities he has been a private Chef for including; Paul Allen, Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith and Eddie Murphy.

But he had never done a one-on-one lesson until now. Kymberlee convinced Chef that it would be a great experience for him and me, as I was a chef for many years before getting involved in software in the mid 80's (at Wavefront and now at introNetworks).

It started with a pre-class phone call on New Years day. Roberto called to asked what the focus would be on, as he was creating a lesson plan specifically for me. I said that I really wanted to focus on presentation and plating, as that is that part of the meal that typically eludes me. He said he would bring everything he needed and all I had to have ready was an open mind and willingness to see things in a different way.

Chef Roberto preparing Fontina Cheese w/Black Truffle Sandwich Garnish

The idea for the evening was to think about food differently, and to think more about the plate and the composition of the foods on it. To think of it as a palette for that anything else. One tip that was counter intuitive to me was to not think 'small plates' for the artistic 'small' portions, but larger plates to 'frame' the food.

He produced a series of six dishes and two desserts with ample instruction throughout the entire process. Over three and a half hours later we had consumed some amazing tastes and I had learned a lot of new tricks.

We started with the simple of idea of how to transform a soup into something more magical and interesting. Of course with this class being on plating and presentation, we didn't skimp on taste, as Chef had prepared most of the ingredients in advance, so that we could focus on the last steps of the process. He had prepared an artichoke broth made from roasted fresh artichoke hearts. From this he taught me the first trick, Foaming. He took the warmed broth and added about a tablespoon of unsalted butter, then using an immersion blender (stick blender) he worked on the edge of the broth and quickly whirled up at least a cup of foam on the top of the broth. He stressed that you really want small, tight bubbles, as they will last ten minutes, enough time to plate and get the dish to the table. The garnish for the soup was a simple grilled cheese sandwich made with fresh brioche using Fontina and black truffles (yea, I know, grilled cheese will never be the same).

The trick here is in the presentation. Using a pair of Bodum tea cups, he ladled the broth into them, then topped with the foam and finally the sandwich, cut into a finger sized bite, poised on top of the cups.

Artichoke Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The effect was perfect. The flavors sublime and the perfect start to our evening.

The next course was a salad, but I think that I will be thinking differently about salads going forward. This was a combination of many elements and gave us a better glimpse into Roberto's philosophy of dining. He suggests that after three bites of most foods we become bored. He calls it pallate fatigue. So, to combat this, he thinks hard about 'how' someone is going to eat the food and suggests that I do the same. Here is the final dish, and I show it now to illustrate this point. He serves the plate vertically positioned in front of the diner with the expectation that the salad will we consumed from the top down towards the diner. The flavors then combine in layers from light and sublime, with an emphasis on changing textures throughout.

Pear and Brie Salad ala Cortez

The first thing to go on the plate was a long drizzle of Maple Syrup, he says that the woodiness of the syrup would provide a solid base. On top of this he positioned a Pear Panna Cotta (small mound at the top of the plate), then a Brie/Basmati Rice Creme shaped in a quenelle form (the idea here is a playful deconstruction of the classic Brie/Pear Salad).

At the top of the plate you see a single line of walnuts, drizzled with walnut oil to further accentuate the woodiness of the salad. A simple vinaigrette was prepared with rice wine vinegar, fresh thyme and olive oil - it has exactly the right consistency as the olive oil was drizzled in drop by drop as Chef rapidly whisked it in. Finally a fine dice of fresh pear was scattered along the line of vinaigrette and syrup with a few sprigs of microgreens at the end (so it could be called a salad).

The idea then is to start at the top and work towards you, experiencing each flavor in combination, the textures blending smoothly together, giving the crunchiness of the greens and nuts a stark contrast to the creaminess of the Brie/Basmati quenelle and the zestiness of the Pear Panna Cotta.

Amazing, and we were only two courses in.

Chef then asked if I liked Risotto. I answered with an enthusiastic 'Yes!' and he then went on to say that he was going to change how I prepared Risotto forever. He started by saying to never use Arborio Rice, but instead to use Carnaroli Rice instead as it had much better quality for absorbing liquid while retaining it's shape and texture. He had par-boiled some earlier in the day and taught me how to finish it off at service.

He warmed the rice and slowly added stock to it, "cooking it like pasta," he said, constantly checking it until it was al dente. He then drained it and returned it to the pan and over the period of five minutes stirred in butter until a smooth emulsion had formed and a creamy texture had emerged. He added about a half cup of grated (domestic) Parmesan to to finish the Risotto. He noted that aged Parmesan tends to be too strong and overpowers the dish.

Next he showed me how to use the foam trick again - this time on a mushroom broth that he had made from Shitake Mushrooms. The broth was heated, a nob of butter added, and the immersion blender proceeded to do it's job, quickly.

He had also prepared a Syrah and fresh Ginger sauce as a garnish as well as small bit of Italian Salume diced into 1/4 inch pieces.

Risotto with Mushroom Foam, Syrah Ginger Sauce and Salume

Notice how the Risotto is covered in the Mushroom foam and encircled with the Syrah Ginger sauce. A straight line to offset the circles is made with the Salume and microgreens are added as a counterpoint and contrasting color.

The dish was amazing and probably the best and lightest Risotto I had ever tasted. Kymberlee does not eat Risotto (usually) as it is heavy and filling, this was the complete opposite.

But we were not done. Now it was time for a lovely bite of Foie Gras.

Here was another chance for him to go deeper on his philisophy of taste and texture. He had made a caramel that was barely sweet, but perfumed with Thai White Cardamom. This caramel was warmed and whisked to silky smoothness at service and placed in the bottom recess of the platter. He then brought out a small square of Fois Gras mousse that he had leftover from a Tasting Menu he prepared in LA on New Years Eve. What a treat. He finely minced some chives and dipped the square into the chives and set it into the swirl of caramel. He then took out a container of 1/2 inch squares of cooked bits of puff pastry. He makes all of his own puff paste (He was also trained as a Pastry Chef). He selected the perfect red bit of microgreen and perched it atop the chives and then put a pinch of sea salt on the top. (I offered him our hand harvested Kauai Sea Salt that we brought back from our recent trip to the Islands for our Anniversary).

Fois Gras with Cardamom Caramel

This may have been one of the most intruguing morsels of the evening.

Next, Chef wanted to teach me a technique called Pan Roasting. The idea is to slowly (on medium heat) cook a piece of protein (in this case a lovely piece of Black Cod) and build of layers of caramalization without overcooking the meat (or fish). Once the protein is 80% to temperature, you add in 2 nobs (tablespoon sized pieces) of butter, 2-3 smashed pieces of garlic (skin-on) and fresh herbs (this evening was thyme from the Santa Barbara Farmers Market that I had on hand).

Tilting the pan towards you, you use a spoon to baste the protein with the melted butter, you do this rapidly, completely covering and finishing the cooking of the fillet. This has the wonderful effect of doing what a few hours in an oven do with thorough basting. It imparts a sublte flavor and thin coating to the meat that is quite amazing.

We also did a Chicken Breast in this manner and I captured the technique using my Flip Camera.

After the meat has cooked, he takes it out of the hot pan and lets it rest on a plate for 5-8 minutes. This allows the meat to complete cooking. He had a great little tool that he used to check the internal temperature of the fish - a cake tester - a thin piece of steel that could be inserted into the cooked fillet, then placed against his lower lip. If cold, it was not done, if warm, it was done perfectly, if hot, it was overdone and he would have started over.

Black Cod with Ponzu Vinagrette

The assembly of the plate was to place the fillet in the recess of a large platter, then he added a bit of Ponzu to the thyme Vinaigrette and put a few spoons around the Black Cod. He then brought out a prepared mixture of Panko bread crumbs that had been roasted off with some Serrano Ham and Pancetta. (Just a hint of the meat in the crumbs). This was then sprinkled on top of the fish, giving it a crust that was exactly the right counter balance to the silkiness of the Cod.

I have to say, I have never tasted a fillet like this in my life. The chicken that he did alongside the Cod (so that I could see how the technique would work on a meat) was perfectly cooked in the same Pan Roasting manner, however with fresh Rosemary instead of Thyme in the butter basting.

This concluded the savory portion of the evening and so far I had learned quite a lot (and no I am not telling all in this blog.)

It was now time for Dessert.

The first dessert was an opportunity for Chef to talk more about his plating philosophy. That is to integrate surprise and uniqueness whenever you can. He brought out a small (four inch oval) Dutch Oven and placed it on a napkin in the center of the large white plate. This was then the palette on which he presented the dessert.

The dessert was compsoed of a simple square of coconut gelee that he had made earlier. A few toasted sesame seeds, a sliver of candied lemon peel and a chiffonade of mint leaves were placed on top of each square and then placed into the Dutch Oven. The cover was attached as the plate set before us. He suggested that this be served to each couple at a dinner party and the surprise of opening the oven to find this two incredible morsels would be a fitting end to a meal.

But, we were not done yet. Chef has a fascination with Chocolate, so much so that he has a chocolate sponsor Amedei and raves about them, as well he should. The final course and lesson for the evening was an amazing composition of sweets and chocolate that was stunning.

Chocolate ala Cortez

There was an amazing amount of complexity in this dish, but it was all about the final composition as our focus. In the upper left you see a quenelle of chocolate creme placed on a bed of chocolate cake powder. Three white dollops of thickened Yogurt are drizzled with Maple syrup and a trail of Malt Powder intertwines with a Glace au Chocolat Noir (dark chocolate sauce like you have never tasted before.).

The colors are enchanting, the yellow of the Maple contrasts with the white and darks and all pop off the plate. This was what I wanted to learn about.

After three and half hours of instruction, two hours of video and quite a few stills we declared victory. I wish that Chef was not leaving for his next adventure, this time to Berlin to work with a group fo designers on a completely new concept in high end dining, as I am sure I would love at least another class and a chance to have him prepare a meal for a group of friends. I hope that he returns to Santa Barbara, as he has quite a few fans here, and now two more.

We are convinced that we will be reading more about Chef Roberto Cortez in the coming months and years and will now be follwoing him on Twitter and reading his Blog.

Thanks Chef.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Social Search in the context of Social Learning

(Written as an explanation of introNetworks' Smart Search for @marciamarcia)

Do we know what are people looking for?

Thinking of how someone would potentially search the enterprise network before the network is built is a critical piece of the puzzle for those contemplating putting in a social network (or more appropriately, a knowledge network).

This thinking comes in the form of a series of Users Stories that articulate how a variety of people will take advantage of the knowledge network in explicit detail. What types of problems will they expect to solve, what type of knowledge can they easily extract, how effectively can they sort through thousands of individual profiles to find a finite set of skills in seconds? Every organization is different and one size will not fit all situations, making these User Stories as targeted as possible.

Is there a better way to capture profile information?

Extracting information that will be the basis of the knowledge network and searchable as described in the User Stories becomes the next challenge for the network designer. It is important to be able to customize the user profiles so that experiences, skills, challenges, values, expertise, personal and professional interests are user-submitted in an environment that is trusted and doesn't leave users feeling vulnerable. In this type of environment they are open, honest and forthcoming. It is vital that the profile be rich in content and completed in the context as described by the various user stories that have been compiled. When users give weight to each attribute in their profile by attaching importance, the overall quality of the network is increased tremendously.

Searching smarter.

With thousands of these nearly encyclopedic profiles that have been designed to capture the essence of what’s important to the specific needs of the organization, the potential to drill down with finite search criteria becomes a matter of a few clicks of the mouse. Imagine being able to isolate the population of 12,000 employees down to the 145 people with expertise in task management, and further tighten the criteria to those that also have a background in the energy industry and have taken a course in Delegation – which nets a much smaller list of 12 people. This is a much more actionable list and also allows the searcher to learn even more about these 12 people before reaching out to them, as the profile contains much more information than was searched for – this allows the user to use reasoning and experience to find the one or two perfect people for a project, or to pose a question to, in minutes, not hours or days.

Planning for actionable business intelligence

We believe that thinking ahead, knowing what your users will be searching for, and how you will use that information to further the goals of the organization are critical to the success of the design, implementation and sustainability of an enterprise knowledge network.