28 October, 2008

What people really think about brands

I'm enjoying brand tags, a site that aggregates people's one-word associations with major brands as tag clouds. It's a fun and also very useful resource for anyone interested in brands or marketing, giving a quick and clear view of what people really think of those big brands. Essential, not mention addictive, and highly recommended!

25 October, 2008

Conversation with the Planetwalker

Wonderful meeting with John Francis, the Planetwalker who spent 17 years in silence while he was walking across the US and Latin America. I met John originally at TED2008 and it was a pleasure to catch up in London, where he is on a short visit for the launch of his book. John is a gentle man who has achieved amazing things: during his long walk he took a degree and a PhD in land resorces and then taught at degree level, all without saying a word.

In the 22 years that John walked, and the 17 years that he refrained from speaking, he found a gentle yet potent wisdom about our way of living. His message is simple but challenging: saving the world starts and ends with respecting ourselves and the people immediately around us - for if we care about others, we will behave in ways that don't create bad consequences for them, or for the planet. John is now United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to the world's grassroots communities, and a leading figure in the global environmental movement. he's also an inspiration to us all, and I heartily recommend his book Planetwalker.

Naturally with my sound-based perspective, what fascinates me most about John's remarkable story is how he was transformed by his elective silence. Within 24 hours of deciding not to speak, he discovered that he had never truly listened. With no possibility of answering people, he found that instead of planning his next remark, or judging his degree of agreement or disagreement, he was simply listening. For most people, the silent part of conversation isn't really silent at all: their internal voice is judging, assessing, cross-indexing, selecting potential replies, or working out how to impress others or to win the contest that often underpins conversation.

In my book I write about the different qualities of listening that exist, and distinguish three dimensions: active-passive, empatheric-critical, and reductive-expansive. Active listening is designed to make the other feel heard, using techniques such as reflection and summarising; passive listening is non-judgmental, akin to the way we listen to music. Empathetic listening is designed to make the other feel emotionally understood; critical listening has conscious filters in place. Reductive listening is selective, discarding whatever's not on-target for the listener's goals; expansive listening is simply curious, open to whatever comes.

What I think John Francis discovered as he walked in silence and listened to the world is the richness of passive/empathetic/expansive listening, the polar opposite of the most common position in the Western world, which is active/critical/reductive. When speaking is taken out of the equation, all that remains is experiencing the words of others in the here and now. It's no coincidence that many spiritual masters and religious orders have adopted silence as a practice. (For more about silence as a whole see my previous blog on silence here). The difference with John is that he undertook the practice in the real world, not in a walled community where it was the norm. His experience sheds unique insight on the value of silence. I think all children should spend at least a week in silence as part of their education. What a different world we would inhabit if we all learned to listen in this way!

19 October, 2008

Simplicity v Security - and whither privacy?

Well here goes... this feels like attempting a triple toe loop or a double pike, but I am setting out to post to my blog from ScribeFire within Firefox, with an automatic feed from my blog to Twitter via Twitterfeed. Then I will be trying to clip some material from the web with autopost to my blog via Clipmarks, and thus to Twitter... then the final step will be to set up some subscriptions on my blog. All that and I still won't have integrated Facebook, socialmedian, Evernote and many other tools that all promise to make me a nexus for all the universe's relevant information.

The odds of all this working are about 50:1 and it's taken what seems like (and probably is) days to learn about it, subscribe to all the various websites with their individual user names and passwords - OpenID notwithstanding. I know I'm verging on geriatric at 50, but I like to imagine that even the highly netted-up younger turks of my acquaintance like Mike Butcher, Thomas Power and Mitch Joel have their moments of overwhelm. There must be a great business out there for somebody who can integrate all this stuff and either configure or manage it for clients.

Meanwhile the main trade-off still seems to be between simplicity (one easy-to-remember username and password on all sites, with full auto-completion) and security (a different, secure name and password on every site, manually typed in every time). For most people the latter must involve buying and diligently using a secure database for all those passwords (I use a great little app called SplashID which syncs between my Mac and iPhone) - but these databases can presumably be hacked... not to mention the investment of time in retrieving the passwords and, even more annoyingly, finding that this website is yet another one you forgot to enter into the database and having to open a duplicate acccount! I suspect millions are choosing simplicity over security.

And then there's good old-fashioned privacy. I saw a talk at TED 2008 about the future of social networking. It was pretty scary. At the end I asked: "What about privacy?". The answer was: "Forget it - your children have already left it behind." While those over 30 agonise about what to post on Facebook v LinkedIn, what to tweet and who is a real friend, the teenagers are already out there sharing everything. Maybe it's the end of masks and role playing, and the dawn of a new, integrated and wholly honest age. Or maybe they will all get badly burned and find new ways to silo their personae online. Being British and my age I still value privacy, which is one reason why I react against the audio pollution in train carriages, where I receive all sorts of personal information I don't want about my fellow travellers as they rabit away on their mobiles, seemingly oblivious to the existence of those around them. The other day a man paid his builder in just such a carriage, reading his credit card details out for all to hear. Maybe privacy is indeed a dying value. I for one will mourn its passing.