Friday, May 31, 2013

Curbside Conundrums

Durham, North Carolina has by all accounts, a very successful single-stream, curbside recycling program.  But unlike similarly-sized and inclined Madison, Wisconsin, a new contract unfortunately won’t include recycling of plastic bags used for newspapers, carry-out, produce, bread wrappers or plastic film used to cover dry cleaning.

However, this really doesn’t explain why 190 volunteers working at just 14 sites along 18 miles of urban streams recently recovered nearly 12 tons of discarded trash, much of it recyclable.  Similar efforts statewide collectively pulled 207 tons of trash from watersheds.

Plastic bags and film, as well as polystyrene such as Styrofoam, are highly visible, but only a tiny sliver of the litter or waste stream.

Even with curbside recycling up 40% in Durham annually over the same span, this week of stream clean-up still retrieved two tons more this year than was recovered during the same week in 2010 and a ton more than last year.  And this is far from the only stream clean-up here during a year.

Unfortunately Durham neglects to forensically examine the trash and litter recovered from urban watersheds or other illegal dumping grounds, so the community is unable to trace it back to its origins to make the perpetrators as visible as their litter.

But using national studies of littering, it is tossed by just 4% of the population deliberately and by 17% when you count those who were too far from a receptacle and too lazy to find one.

It is likely that a greater proportion comes from the 3 out of 5 people who work in Durham but aren’t residents.  Seeing themselves more as renters than owners, they may be more inclined to litter.

Durham itself is also a kind of renter, trucking its waste and recyclables to landfills and sites in other communities, including nearby Raleigh.  This may, in part, explain the lack of urgency here by officials to incorporate plastic bags and polystyrene in its curbside collection.

Both are recyclable, bags into products such as composite decking and pallets and polystyrene into, well, more polystyrene for packaging and products such as picture frames.

In part this has led to an offshoot group to which I’ve been invited from the Environmental Affairs Board to pursue solutions to reduce use of these materials or advocate for greater recycling.

From what I’ve learned over the years, the problem is part technology - including cost and adoption - part inertia and part consumer behavior.

Many companies that recycle on contract with places such as Durham have not done the necessary upfitting to handle plastic bags and polystyrene, some due to cost, but many due to inertia because recycling is a difficult business and many people fail to grasp the need for continuing and never-ending innovation.

A bit of this is “chicken and egg” because only 11% of the population has access to curbside recycling that accepts plastic bags and film and only a little more than 3% of communities such as Madison accept it.  This is also the problem with recycling polystyrene.

Inertia on the part of communities is big part of the problem.  Even when recycling vendors implement new technology such as they have for pizza boxes now in Durham, officials are often reticent to inform the public that they can include them in curbside bins or equivocal when asked.

Managing and influencing public behavior isn’t easy but it best done with passion and zeal, attributes that often seem lacking today among many public servants.

Plastic bags can pollute single-stream curbside collections and gum up machinery.  Even if hand-separated it takes a lot of bags and film to make up a bundle, the way retail stores and dry cleaning suppliers do from their collection bins.

One low-tech solution suggested by a company that contracts to pick up curbside recycling in Texas is to place the plastic bags and film in a clear but heavier gauge bag before placing them in curbside bins, like we do for shredded paper.  It calls the solution “bag in a bag.”

Curbside officials often fail to pursue or press for solutions such as this because they over-rely on residents remembering to hand-carry these materials to stores that recycle plastic bags and film.

Of course, if this was a truly a scalable solution, we wouldn’t have curbside collection in the first place.

The story is similar for recycling polystyrene such as Styrofoam, a brand name owned by Dow.  Many community’s now accept this material in curbside recycling.

Far more rely only on businesses that have begun to compress their shipping materials and then use the delivery trucks to “back-haul” the material where it can be recycled.

Others want residents to truck polystyrene to small packaging and shipping outlets that recycle this material, as a friend of mine’s business will do with “foam peanuts” which he reuses in Durham to ship instruments for medical diagnosis.  Again, this won’t reach scale until more communities accept post-consumer polystyrene as curbside recycling.

This brings us to consumer behavior.  Banning use by consumers has produced spotty results, actually resulting in increased use in some of the 80+ communities where items such as plastic bags have been banned.  Creating an island where they are prohibited will not inhibit entry behavior by commuters.

However, no one can argue with comprehensive banning of various items from landfills which spurred communities to aggressively embrace curbside recycling beginning two decades ago.

Unfortunately, many such as Durham have failed to see the potential of expanding on this success by including more items, other than by enlarging carts to facilitation collection of items they do.  Most have internal advocates to increase recycling participation but few have advocates pressing to find ways to expand the variety of items recycled, allowing inertia to set in.

Substitutes for plastic bags such as paper or re-useable bags have a far greater carbon footprint.  As just one of many examples it takes seven trucks to ship the same number of papers bags that one truck can carry in plastic bags.

Some studies are also now linking bans on grocery store bags with increased incidence of foodborne illnesses.  And EcoTalibans, as humorously depicted in this clip from the TV series Portlandia are well, just not consumer-viable.

That’s why it is crucial that the self-assembled group in Durham not over-focus on just plastic bags and polystyrene but keep their eye strategically on the overall objective of increasing both the content and volume of curbside pick up.

There are a lot of isolated success stories, some very nearby Durham but picking a few of these to replicate without a comprehensive, scaleable strategy will result only in exhaustive “activity traps” and fail to address the overarching objective.

Which brings us to the stickiest consumer behavior of all, littering.

Overall far too many communities, including Durham, dabble at well-meaning tactics for curbing litter but with no comprehensive, sustainable or measurable strategy.

Part of the solution to litter is education that not only begins at school but in schools.  Given to site-based management, it is not enough for school districts to supply recycling bins and arrange pick up.  Teachers and principals in each school must be educated to distribute the containers far beyond just the cafeteria.

Teaching that litter is wrong and socially and culturally unacceptable must be followed up by action by those responsible for common spaces such as roadsides, interchanges and around public facilities.  We must demonstrate a zero tolerance for littering, not just preach about it.

Toleration of litter begets more litter and creates a self-perpetuating litter feed-back loop that overwhelms episodic clean-up efforts.

Finally, like most crimes against society, curbing littlering will require forensics and follow up even with just a warning-letter.  The 4% of the public generating the majority of litter and foisting its effects and the cost for clean up on the other 96% must be held accountable.

Right now they think they are invisible if they think at all and immune from scrutiny or reputational risk.

Some human behaviors only change when more light illuminates perpetrators.

North Carolina got the attention of more than 10,000 litters last year through “warning letters” sent to registered vehicle owners after litter was reported through the Swat-A-Litterbug program.  Another 3,163 drivers received enforcement citations for littering including 1,663 who were convicted.

We’ll need to increase that number times 18 times to reach every potential litterer among the 6 million resident drivers in North Carolina before we reach the full 4%.

But then, of course, we’ll also need to shed more light on litter-prone tourism parties drivers in 480,000 (or 4%) of the vehicles  crisscrossing the state on overnight visits each year.

Through “warning letters” and citations, the North Carolina Department of Transportation may have the names and addresses of enough litters by now to be able to conduct a follow-up forensic public opinion poll to learn more about the residents and visitors most likely to litter.

Interestingly, of the nearly 3,600 tons of roadside litter collected along state roads in 2012 alone, as well as thousands of tons pulled from watersheds and parks, a substantial amount was still recyclable.

The 4% who litter, or the similar percentage who claim they “never” recycle or any who backlash purely for ideological reasons are far too expensive to ignore.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cultural Currency – Traditional vs. Digital Advertising

It is difficult to find totally objective studies about advertising outside of academia.  A new report on “cultural currency” (broad audiences that effect significant social media behaviors) was conducted on behalf of television, but it also reveals some interesting social media associations related to other forms of media.

The recent study by TVB, a trade group for television in collaboration with Colligent, aims to better inform advertisers seeking to leverage social media during traditional advertising.  They found that “commenters” and “photo-video posters” favor local television programming and “likers” favored local radio and cable TV.

However, frequent “commenters” and “likers” favored local radio, “tweeters” favored local newspapers, “hashers” favored cable TV while “retweeters” favored local newspapers and “repliers” favor local TV.

Social media behaviors also varied by type of programming.  For example, dramas favor Twitter and game shows favor Facebook.  A summary of a study by Viacom notes that after “following” or “liking” a TV show, 75% are more likely to watch it.

According to an April report by Massachusetts-based Burst Media, advertisements seeking to prompt social interaction were least effective on outdoor ads at 12.7% with 9.5% recall.

Studies make it difficult to see the amazing free-fall in the effectiveness of traditional billboards but you can see it in the huge number that are vacant or obviously donated to unsuspecting non-profits at inflated values to avoid paying taxes. (now there is an area the IRS should target.)

Performance of this nearly obsolete but highly destructive form of advertising is buried now in a category called “out-of-home” (OOH) which also includes airports, doctors’ offices, gas stations, grocery stores, health clubs, elevators, bars, retail stores and malls.

Nearly half of all OOH digital advertising revenues now in the U.S. are unrelated to digital roadside billboards.  This further undermines the billboard industry's claim to being relevant or indispensible economically.

The claim is further made absurd by netting out the far greater economic benefits from the trees it destroys let alone the view-shed which is truly crucial to economic development.

Now inundated by 10,000 ads per day, the only place the average consumer finds ads useful is on these so-called “place-based” (actually venue-based) digital screens because they see them when they are actually in stores or malls.  Still, according to Nielsen, while up to 82% view the screens (in malls,) overall only 18.1% can recall the advertiser.

McKinsey noted in a 2009 white paper that unless a consumer is actively shopping (either physically or virtually) when they happen to see an ad, the exposure is largely wasted.

This has always been true, it just became more obvious during the emergence of an on-going experiment called online shopping.  This fact underlies as much as too much volume why advertising effectiveness has fallen from zero into negative territory.

An Arbitron study of these digital place-based screens estimates that in a 30-day period they are seen by 108 million adult U.S. residents: 6% in an airport, 13% in a mall or a gas station, 14% inside a retail store, 17% in a grocery story and 24% in a restaurant/bar.

The study reveals that viewership by income and education and age vary widely by place, a word usually reserved for destination communities but applied to venues for OOH media by Arbitron and Nielsen.

For those inclined to view these OOH place-based screens, or just bored while waiting for flights or for a dining partner to return from the restroom in a restaurant, they may be good venues, especially for novelty products or new product launches.

OOH venue-based screens are no more conducive to sense of place than the roadside versions but if kept to a minimum, they far, far less destructive.

Occurring only after a someone is shopping, they are also less likely to alienate more people that to which they appeal and they may enable society to reclaim scenic view-sheds along roadsides and the healthful benefits or uninterrupted roadside forests.

However, even for digital ads, platforms such as desktops, tablets and smartphones, with a recall of 60.9%, far outperform OOH place-based screens, television, radio or print when it comes to leveraging social media, according to the Burst Media survey.

Advertising is a form of “yelling” to get attention, so by definition it always has far less credibility and recall.  The industry only knows how to “yell” louder and louder with more and more ads flooding the average person’s view-shed.

It has no sense of or ability to self-govern or it would arbitrarily reduce the yelling from 10,000 ads per day per person to something closer to 2,000.  That would still be nearly three ads per minute we’re potentially awake.  The overload is all about money, not the advertising, not the consumer.

Until the advertising sector finds the means to do so, this element of marketing is fostering its own extinction.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

12 Disruptive Technologies by 2025

An economic impact analysis has just been published for 12 disruptive technologies that McKinsey Global Institute projects will begin to transform not only how we live and work but the economy over the next twelve years.

For a brief description of what makes a technology worth tracking as disruptive, click on this interview with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

The McKinsey analysis entitled, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy is fascinating and filled with interesting tidbits.  One is that 2-3 billion more people will access the Internet by 2025.

Reading that, It struck me as ironic that those in high office who are most boastful  that America is providentially exceptional, something with which I agree to a point, are the same ones restricting the expansion of broadband access in this country.

Gridlocking infrastructure investments such as this will pull us far behind other countries creating a sort of “excluded-ism.”

Mindful of that, maybe that’s why my attention was drawn in particular to two of the disruptive technologies in the report, energy storage and renewable energy.McKinsey 12 Disruptive Technologies

Many of us see rapidly advancing energy storage in terms of adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles (55% of new cars could be plug-in hybrid by 2025) but according to the report, rapidly advancing storage technology will also soon bring electricity to a billion people who don’t have it.

This isn’t included in what could be a $635 billion annual impact by 2025.  However, that amount does include the boost that improved battery storage will bring to the efficiency and quality of the electric grid while reducing emissions of CO2.

While one of the disruptive technologies in the report is the 100-200% efficiency increase in our ability to wring the last drop of fossil fuels from the earth, it is heartening that renewable energy also makes the list.

The cost of a watt from solar cells has dropped by 85% since the year 2000.  Renewables are being adopted “at scale” in the US and EU and soon in China and India.  The report makes projections based on two scenarios, one that trends breakthroughs and another with “technology frozen at current levels.

Fossil fuel devotees conveniently forget that this energy source has been heavily subsidized over the decades and continues to be today by refusals to adopt full-cost accounting, not only of exploration costs but the cost of shipping, military escorts and to the earth’s inhabitability.

Several scenarios in the report factor in various levels of subsidies for development of renewables as well as net those out of economic impact estimates while adding in estimates of the value of reduction in CO2 emissions.

The interrelated dynamic today of fossil fuel technologies and renewable energy technologies is creating an interesting but conflicting environmental narrative.

As the report notes – “The shift from coal to gas for electricity generation is reducing greenhouse emissions while simultaneously leaching urgency from the drive to develop renewable energy sources.”

In North Carolina, where I live, there is an interesting scenario underway.  Republicans control the Governor’s office and both houses of the General Assembly.

Some, such as Republican Representative Chuck McGrady, still have conservation bonafides, having also been national president of the Sierra Club.  Many however are true to form to this skit by comedian Steven Colbert.

Colbert, who grew up and still has a vacation home in neighboring South Carolina devoted a skit to North Carolina lawmakers who tried to legislate projections for sea level change. As Colbert notes, “…this is a brilliant solution.  If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal.  Problem solved.”

The skit is well worth viewing as Colbert provides humorous examples of applying the logic of Republican lawmakers to things such as longevity.

Republicans here are also advancing a prior Democratic tax reform proposal that shifts tax burden from corporate and individual income tax to a sales tax broadened to more equitably include many more types of purchases not only by individual consumers but businesses.

At the time, the sales tax rate would be reduced.

Another comedian, Dr. Yorum Bauman, aka “the world’s only stand-up economist” gives a funny but insightful TED presentation on why a “revenue neutral” carbon tax is a tax reform upon which many Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals and both climate-change skeptics and believers can find common ground.

He explains that the basis of such tax reform is to “tax what we want less of…instead of things we want more of.”  Bauman notes an experiment that lawmakers such as those in North Carolina should study closely.

The Canadian province of British Columbia is gradually increasing a tax on carbon, while offsetting it with reductions to taxes on individual and business income.  North Carolina could expand the reductions to include sales tax.

At a federal level in the US, a similar approach would lower individual and corporate income taxes, reclaiming offshore sheltering while providing much needed revenues for infrastructure and R & D into disruptive technologies while reducing climate change.

In B.C., the arguments about the carbon tax policy have gone from “fur or agin” to how to increase its application and whether to use it all for tax reduction or for other uses that will meet the goal.  Links in this paragraph cover several different perspectives.

In this country, those obsessed with contempt for taxes and government are caught up in the futile and counterproductive attempt to starve out waste, starving even the enforcement efforts intended to ferret it out.  In turn, this also forces a counter-reactionary response to program loss rather than waste reduction.

Lose, lose, lose.

As Bauman notes, the B.C. approach is win, win, win because it taxes what we don’t want – pollution – and reduces taxation on what we do want – income – which will “promote innovation, conservation and development of new technologies.”  Sounds more like capitalism than the approach in the paragraph above.

It is amazing what can be done when we find common ground.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Span from Insight to Mainstream

In 1995, 48 months after the Internet emerged for commercial use, the start-up community-destination marketing organization (DMO) for Durham, North Carolina launched its first website.

Less than four-tenths of a percent of the world’s population including only 14% of Americans had access at the time but within months, the Durham DMO made two pivotal and strategic decisions:

  • One, the website would be more than a brochure.  It would be the platform and repository for nearly all of the organization’s data including information and research about Durham.


  • Two, it would also be a platform for the launch of what is now called “content marketing,” a form of publishing information to enable internal stakeholders and news media.

The same content would also be used inform and interest prospective visitors including the 80+% of newcomers and relocating executives who first raconteur a community as a visitor.

The two-pronged strategy surfaced as executives first gathered around the only office computer at the time that could access the Internet.  It came not from a lot of strategic planning or brainstorming but from a burst of strategic insight.

In fact, it occurred in a flash of insight fused with data that proceeds strategic thinking, what Dr. William Duggan first referred seven years later as coup d’oeil in his book Napoleon’s Glance: The Secret of Strategy.

“In French, coup means ‘stroke’ and oeil means “eye,”  a reference by Carl Von Clausewitz when he wrote:

When all is said and done, it really is the commander's coup d'œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.

Applying it to business and organizational management, Duggan describes this as the “sudden insight that shows you a course of action to take.”

Regarding Clausewitz, one of my favorite pieces of movie dialogue is an exchange from that year’s hit movie Crimson Tide between actors Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington (sitting across from a very young James Gandolfino, four years before he became Tony Soprano.)

It is built on ideas by Clausewitz - and Washington’s character, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, intones - “In the nuclear world, a true enemy can’t be destroyed…In a nuclear world the true enemy is war itself, ” a lesson we are struggling to learn in real life.

As it always does, according to Duggan that coup d’oeil around that computer in the Durham DMO start-up that day came “from knowledge of the past.”  Something else that had “worked in other situations, in a new combination that fits the problem at hand.”

The Durham DMO had earlier determined to be data or information-driven.  The insight that day was how to leverage that information much further than its original purpose and it paid off immediately, a strategic advantage that was novel eighteen years ago.

Today “content marketing” is a buzz-word but in reality few truly practice it.  As Pushfire CEO, Rae Hoffman notes on her blog Sugarrae :

“…content marketing isn’t a new strategy, it’s merely a new word.”

Had the Durham DMO also coined this term in 1995, it may have helped overcome naysayers who saw the Internet as a passing novelty and complained “why don’t we just run some AAAAYYYYAAAAUUUDDDSSS” (that’s “ads” for non-southerners.)

Today, nearly 3 billion people around the world, including four out of five Americans actively incorporate the Internet into their lives.

A Europe-wide survey of students graduating this spring with degrees in marketing including communications and advertising found that 81% agreed or strongly agreed that in 10 years “content marketing” would be part of their jobs.

Maybe that gives an indication then for how long it takes for a bit of strategic thinking to go from insight to mainstream even in the digital age – thirty years.

Seven out of 10 in the survey, released this month, “believe the marketing landscape with be dominated by content marketing and PR thinking.”

Of particular interest to me in the survey was the finding that nearly nine out of 10 want to work in marketing that is “as much about the creation of social good as about creating profit for brands.”

Seven out of 10 thought that marketers “were not doing enough to create a sustainable world.”

This is more than just the idealism of youth, coming of age during the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the Global economic meltdown caused by the financial industry.  This generation can’t be blamed for being a bit “show me,” if not jaded.

Now, what’s being called “philanthropic capitalism” or “purpose-marketing” was called “cause-related marketing” when it emerged in the late 1990s.  Nothing new but this new generation of marketers sees it more strategically.

Intriguingly, this fresh crop of new marketers does not see themselves as fully digital.  They reserve that for the generation to follow.  From what I observe with my grandsons, ages 7 and 9, they are correct.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Eating Out as a Primary Social Activity

This past January, researchers at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conduced a scientific, generalizable survey to learn more about the 80 million Americans known as Gen Y/Millennials.

Between the ages of 18 and 35, they represent 25% of the U.S. population and a cohort that will shape entertainment, restaurants and shopping for many years to come.

Nearly 30,000 members strong, ULI was founded in 1936 and includes profound visionaries such as Edward T. McMahon who often writes about unique sense-of-place with books and articles such as The Distinctive City.

Released last week, the 30-page report of the survey’s results is well worth study. Developed for land use, it is a gold mine for marketers, especially those in community-destination marketing organizations.

Several things jumped out at me:

  • 38% live in the South, 24% in the West, 21% in the Midwest and 17% in the Northeast.


  • 39% see themselves as city people, 29% as suburbanites and 32% as small-town/country people.


  • But 14% actually live in or near downtowns, 34% in neighborhoods just outside downtown, 13% in dense, older suburbs, 11% in newer, outlying neighborhoods, 19% in small cities and towns and 10% in rural communities.


  • Those living downtown compared to the overall sample tend to be more male, younger (18-25,) much more likely to be Hispanic or black, shop more frequently, buy groceries daily and frequent green grocers and farmers markets for fresh food.


  • A testament to the importance of independent stores was that 66% shop at neighborhood districts such as Ninth Street in Durham, NC where I live, 55% at least monthly.

This included 60-69% of those living in rural areas and small towns, 63-67% of those living in neighborhoods around downtown or older suburbs, 60% of those in newer, outlying suburbs and nearly 80% of those living in downtowns.

  • Downtowns had less shopping potential across the board but still substantial.


  • 75% see at least 12 movies a year in a theater, including seven out of ten men and more than half of women.


  • Shopping and eating out have a connection with nearly half frequently combining them and only 6% saying they rarely do.  Gen Y/Millennials see both as entertainment.


  • More than half eat out with friends or a partner more than once a week, 11% daily.  At least once a week, nearly half meet for breakfast, 44% for lunch and 45% for dinner.  Six out of ten love to gather at restaurants.


  • Nearly 5 in 10 frequent independent local or neighborhood places, 27% casual chain restaurants with table service and 13% are on the lookout for hot, new restaurants.  Eating out is a primary social activity for this cohort.


  • Two-thirds overall including, 69% of men and 57% of women patronize music, dance and comedy clubs – 45% at least once a month.


  • Oh, and 29% of men use free time to read compared to 47% of women.  We definitely need to elect more women to high office in the future if we’re ever going to overcome the tendency of lawmakers not to read the bills upon which they vote.


  • Only two in five have a full-time job.  Forty percent have never had a student loan and 11% have repaid them.  Credit card debt is modest.  They lean more to debit cards.


  • 24% live with their parents but this drops to 15% after age 26 and 10% in their 30s.  Sixteen percent rely on parents to pay for travel and vacations, the lowest area of reliance.

The report is loaded with helpful perspective, these are just the ones that drew my interest or offered insights of which I was not aware or gave me broader perspective on my own behavior as a “boomer.”

Kudos to ULI for another informative analysis.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fortunes of Permanence

Some of my least favorite people are those who text while driving. Seemingly invisible to police, I spot at least three or four every time I’m out.

They drive like they are drunk, jerking near other lanes, driving way too slow and reacting unevenly to traffic signals.  To keep from getting too peeved, I've been keeping track of what their bumper stickers (an early form of social media) say about them.

So far Obama 10, City Councilman Steve Schewel 6, McCrory 4 and Romney 2.  Guess it isn't just trailing Millennials who need to be careful about what others socially post.

The sample of course is not at all scientific. When indexed for party registration where I live, fans of Governor McCrory and former Governor Romney are more likely to be text offenders.  Traffic accidents can unexpectedly change lives in a heartbeat.  Those texts better be worth it.

One of my favorite blogs is Permanent Record, described by its author, Paul Lukas, as “an object-based history project.” If you are involved with marketing you've probably read his work on the subject as a journalist as I often did during my now-concluded 40-year career in community marketing.

Here is a link to his story on Monday about “twist ties vs. plastic clips,” a $10.6 million struggle over fiercely loyal fans of each. I’m a twist tie guy. They are more easily reclaimed for other uses.

I thought of a Permanent Record post earlier this month when I learned of Monday’s tornado where residents of Moore, Oklahoma got just 16 minutes warning before it destroyed 13,000+ homes, killing 24 people and injuring 377.

Lukas blogged about a project that took root following a devastating tornado that hit Joplin and Duquesne, Missouri on this month in 2011. After the event, more than 35,000 personal photographs were found scattered over four states and as far as 350 miles from their owners.Photos in the Wind

I know from a friend’s pain who lost most of her photographs and mementos in a flood in the late 1990s how much of a loss this was.

The Joplin tragedy spawned formation of the National Disaster Photo Rescue. Nearly half of the priceless photos and other documents have been retrieved and returned to their owners. It is the subject of the documentary film, Photos in the Wind.

I have digitized several thousand family photographs dating back nearly 100 years that captured the images of ancestors dating to the 1840s. I’ve preserved them on DVD, thumb drive and on the cloud and distributed them to my daughter, my mom and sisters, my niece and each of my nephews.

But this doesn't replace the full value of the photographs themselves which need to go in a safety deposit box. I’m really fortunate to have these.  I hope the photo rescue was activated after Hurricane Sandy and that they are already mobilized for Moore.

They are bound to be busy.  Climate change debates aside, it is probably no mistake that 69% of global losses from weather-related catastrophes take place in North America.  It has quintupled here over the past three decades.

As a line in the film trailer states – “If you could only see what this means to people.  If you could see their faces when they get back something they thought was completely gone, it will change your life.”

I suspect future generations may be saying that about a lot of things if the current state of gridlock in Congress remains.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moving from Yelling to Touch Points

I smile whenever I recall how timid a few people in Durham, North Carolina became in the early 1990s.

This was before the Internet became commercially viable and more than a decade before sustainable social media emerged so the overarching strategy seized upon by Durham’s newly-formed community-destination marketing organization (DMO) made a few people uncomfortable.

The organization set out to defend and proactively shape the community’s brand at every touch point, an experiment that seemed foreign at the time but it worked.

White papers such as one just published shed light on why.

This squeemy reaction by a few Durham stakeholders was primarily due to condescending protests from friends in Raleigh and Chapel Hill or the news media there when these sources were “touched-up” regarding even more condescending Durham put-downs.

Lacking technologies prominent today, back then the Durham DMO could only work from clippings and other news attributions and quotes, as well as information relayed from “water-cooler” conversations.

Setting the record straight drew attention but much more often the strategy was to answer questions and concerns.  Social without media, but the strategy was also deployed prophylactically.

By the end of the 1990s this strategy had turned Durham’s image around among external pockets of nearby communities who for decades has been virulently infecting potential visitors, newcomers and relocating businesses and executives, deflecting them away from Durham.

Ironically as one did recently, unbeknownst to Durham leaders, a few we had to “touch-up” come now with hat-in-hand to Durham for favors.

The touch points the DMO addressed in this controversial approach were not just to challenge the sources of misimpressions but to respond to the questions raised in response by potential visitors, newcomers and relocating executives as well as neighbors of the these negativists who had not yet been turned.

What so many businesses and organizations and communities still don’t grasp today is that the strategy the Durham DMO stumbled upon in the early 1990s is now imperative to any marketing effort.

Somewhat easier to deploy today, it should be mainstream for any community serious about tapping into one of the most pervasive customer cohorts, the digitally connected consumer.

What are far too many communities and businesses still doing today?  In the words of John Battelle, the chairman and CEO of Federated Media Publishing, they “yell a lot.”

Instead of seeking conversations at every touch point, they buy a lot of costly  but inefficient and “interruptive advertising” - a form of yelling - to get someone’s attention.

This is the mistake the so-called “business-inspired” proposal to reshape economic development in North Carolina makes (page 246 of link.)  It not only dilutes tourism development by requiring it to market other forms as well but weds it in part to outdated elements such as advertising.

Leveraging marketing efforts makes sense but the proposal fails to grasp the difference between demand-side economic development such as tourism and supply-side efforts such as business recruitment.

Fortunately for the nation’s ears, this mandated “yelling” comes with no extra funds.  Unfortunately for North Carolinians, it will come at the expense of visitation and jobs in one of it largest economic sectors. North Carolina’s brand and marketing is not a one size fits all.

Inundated now by 10,000 advertising messages a day, the average consumer has tuned out advertising and all of this “yelling” is futile, turning off a ratio of consumers many times greater than to the few to which it may appeal.

Even brands, which are meant to be a distillation of an individual community’s personality (same with businesses and organizations,) are now touch points, according to a white paper released this month by

According to Jez Frampton, CEO of Interbrand, in marketing it is no longer community or business-to-consumer (B2C,) “it’s now B & C.”  For anyone who has actually been through the many months it takes to distill a brand or personality, it really isn’t “owned by a community or business.

According to branding experts such as Bill Baker, who helped thousands of Durham residents through the process to distill one for Durham, North Carolina, a true brand or personality exists in the intersection of perceptions among external and internal stakeholders.

In a connected world, Frampton sees brands as an “interface between businesses (and communities) and human beings.”   According to the white paper, “a brand is what consumers say about it.”

This was the source of Durham’s brand tagline, “where great things happen,” which isn’t a tourism or economic development brand but one that is overarching and will evolve over time as well as support hundreds of different sub-brands suspended under that umbrella.

The white paper reworks four of the most stereotypical pillars of marketing.  It also illustrates why the various elements of branding are meant to form a blend of touch points that must be nurtured by constant vigilance and responsiveness to customers.

Community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs) should read carefully the part about Samsung monitoring and responding to questions raised on retailer sites rather than expecting the retailers to answer on their behalf or to eventually relay them.

The challenge for DMOs, or CVBs as they are often called, is that while they shape how a community is marketed, they have no say in how that brand is delivered by the thousands of individual restaurants, stores, hotels, galleries, theaters and stadiums.

Nor do DMOs control how the community performs in the spaces between these transactions and interactions so critical to unique sense of place such as along roadsides and other areas.

As retailers permit Samsung to do, businesses and government agencies would be well advised to let the DMO for their community monitor online questions and concerns posed to them and respond directly to those about the overall destination as well as redirect them and monitor responses by others.

What Altimeter Group analyst and blogger Brian Solis calls Generation C (c is for connected) has rapidly grown intolerant of lag time.

Repeated research shows that it is the community to which these visitors are first drawn.  If communities are to function at a high level as destinations with Generation C for visitor-centric economic and cultural development, these stakeholder industries must stop behaving as silos and involve the DMO at every touch point.

In the near future, it will become de rigueur for individual businesses, organizations, events and facilities in a community to provide this transparency between the individual visitor and the DMO.

It will soon become impossible to thrive as a destination unless internal stakeholders extend this transparency from the very first point at which interest in visiting has been stimulated.

This is in that early, nearly subconscious twilight prior to what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth, through to the Ultimate Moment of Truth which is when during post-visitation, visitors share and summarize their overall experience with other and are also when they may be most open to suggestions of a repeat visit.

The visitor experience with a community must go beyond a series of Solis calls transactions.  This is not much different than what what was so controversial in Durham back in the day.  But now in a digitally connected universe, it is essential.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tracing Partisanship

Moderates are nearly extinct in the Republican Party.  In an interview today (28.25 mark) on the Diane Rehm Show, Olympia Snowe, a Republican moderate who has just retired from the U.S. Senate seemed to date the divide only to President Obama’s administration.

But a recently published study shows that the partisanship that gridlocks Congress today actually began during the first President Bush, also a moderate Republican, after gradually growing during the the terms of conservative President Ronald Reagan.

It really picked up steam during the so-called Conservative Republican Revolution of 1994 and its subsequent attempt to remove from office a moderate-Democrat, President Bill Clinton.

Present-day partisanship reached its zenith under the second President Bush, a conservative, and has actually moderated under President Obama, considered a liberal but who by many measures has actually governed more from the center.

My take comes from an analysis that was mapped senator by senator, session by session from 1975 through 2012 by two researchers. One is Dr. James Moody a sociology researcher and leader of the Duke Network Analysis Center here in Durham, North Carolina.

He teamed up with research mathematician Dr. Peter Mucha at the main campus of the University of North Carolina, several miles south in Chapel Hill, North Carolina which is part of the same metro area north and east of one centered around North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh (just to be non-partsian.)

To my eye, the analysis, published last month, also appears to reveal that while endangered, moderate Republicans as of 2012 may even be more apparent today than moderate Democrats, a party home to a far greater proportion of moderate voters.

The mapping also seems to reveal that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was far more divisive than the 2010 overhaul of healthcare.  It also shows that during the prior event Congress was more polarized than a previous high in 1910 but fell below that benchmark during and after the latter.

It also revealed to me more about the relatively new discipline of network science which cuts across social and physical sciences to study relationships and interactions in areas like health, culture, organizations, science and politics.

Maybe it just because I am a moderate, independent of either political party, but this statistical and behavioral analysis has certainly given me a much better appreciation of the depth and breadth of political partisanship.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Movement Inertia

Many recounting our successful defense and restoration of the Durham, North Carolina brand mistakenly assume as a community marketer that I would have had shoulder-to-shoulder support from other marketers here.

The fact is many were not my biggest fans and/or chose to only lend support behind the scenes. Some could never make the connection that the organization I led from 1989 through 2009 had the same responsibility for the community at large that they had for their individual organizations or corporations.

A few either actively worked against me or sold me out for personal gain when approached with win/lose proposals they could not resist. If having their regard (all were pleasant to my face) had been paramount, it is unlikely we would have ever succeeded.

What we did have was a social movement before there was social media. Thousands of individual Durham citizens, hundreds who we later anointed Durham Image Watchers, not only stood with us but proactively and publicly made our case.

All organizations that spearhead change are not so fortunate.

It isn't uncommon for an objective to be rendered inert by internal factions or splinter groups as we faced, often from those who should be shoulder-to-shoulder.

Just as often, groups and movements stall because supporters fall in love with the problem they are established to resolve so much that they can almost appear to seek to perpetuate it.

Here is another example.

The roots of the the women’s and antislavery movements are intertwined in the two or three decades prior to the Civil War. This was a time when U.S. Senator Willie P. Mangum from Durham was working on a series of failed compromises to save the Union.

Susan B. Anthony, who fought for both the women’s movement and to abolish slavery, and social reformer and escaped former slave Fredrick Douglass formed a friendship as early as the 1840s that is celebrated today with a statue in Rochester, New York.  There is also a bridge there affectionately known as the Freddie-Sue by many.

During the war the movements remained arm in arm and pushed for a Constitutional Amendment granting the right to vote regardless of race and gender.

But as emancipation became certain, it was Southern white women who drew the line at giving black women the right to vote.  Consequently,the two movements struggled behind the scenes with Anthony ultimately opposing ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment because it did not include women.

This strained the friendship between Anthony and Douglass but the controversy surrounding the schism traumatized the women’s movement for nearly 50 years. Its leaders - Anthony the exception - became more conservative as well as risk and conflict adverse.

In the wake of the political gridlock that resurfaced not long after the Civil War, the women's movement was left to soldier on.  It grew in popularity but was stymied internally over the decades by a fear of conflict.

Lacking an aggressive national strategy, the movement feared upsetting elected officials or even putting them on the spot. It settled for limited progress on a state by state level.  Many leaders often fell into activity traps such as speaking engagements and book tours.

That is until Alice Paul came along.

I remember when Paul died in 1977. Described by the small band who followed her lead as quiet and peaceful and almost mouse-like, Paul preferred to work behind the scenes.

She was strategic in the sense that she had no patience for what in my experience is about a third of every group that jumps from one activity trap to another needed to at least feel like they are getting something done but never solving the problem.

I think maybe they even begin to love the problem and the activity more than a solution.

Another third sits mute, while a third like Paul seize on a strategy. She gained her sensibilities as a Quaker and from time working in the women’s movement abroad.

Often more opposed than aided by others within the movement, Paul and a handful of others spearheaded the new, aggressive, national strategy that within eight years resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This quiet Quaker wasn’t afraid of conflict or confrontation and she really knew how to rock the boat.

She didn’t get the credit she deserved until many decades later because as often happens, that went to those who quickly penned the last chapter with themselves at the center. But Paul would have been heralded by Anthony who had died just before this last push.

She didn’t stop.  She authored the first version of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and lived long enough to see it passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification in 1972, the spring before I graduated from college.

Given just seven years for ratification, it was quickly ratified by 30 states including my native Idaho which later rescinded.  Alice Paul died before knowing the outcome, just as Susan B. Anthony had prior to the Nineteen Amendment.

In the end, the ERA fell three states short of ratification, not just due to opposition by some men but again by those who should have been shoulder to shoulder, conservative women, predominantly in the South.

All of this is to say that groups often create their own inertia. Those that break through won’t get active support from those expected based on knowledge.

Those who are strategic shouldn't expect a parade. Social movements rarely involve the active participation of those you think they should but often fail for that reason.

It takes decades for the real story to come out.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Disruption and Anticipating the Zero Moment of Truth

Five years in advance of the effective date, I announced my retirement after more than twenty years as head of Durham, North Carolina’s first community-destination marketing organization (DMO.)

In large part, I hoped the long lead time would deflect the tendency for eulogies to get over the top when it comes time for an event like that.  My ego has always had plenty of nurturing so my concern instead was to place as much focus as possible on the organization’s continued sustainability.

To me, if anyone deserved to be carved into a monument or have a street name, it would have been those who made the DMO possible including those with the temerity to hire and stick by me all those years.

Accolades would have also been deserved for the late Senator Robert S. Swain of Buncombe County and Representative George W. Miller of Durham County.

In the early 1980s, Senator Swain pioneered DMOs in the North Carolina General Assembly as local tourism development authorities to be self-funded by a local-option assessment added to the bills of overnight visitors.  In turn, this was designated to fund marketing to leverage attraction of all types of visitors and ultimately to expand local tax bases.

A decade later Representative Miller embedded guidelines for use of the tax into legislative resolutions when attempts were made by many communities to subvert this formula and divert the special levy off into general funds instead.

Unfortunately, this happened throughout the state, including here in Durham as I found on arrival in 1989 when only 10% remained for the purpose intended.

Together, these two individuals are largely responsible for 80% of North Carolina’s remarkable growth in visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

In the early 1980s I was one of the first DMO execs in the nation to use a CADO minicomputer for accounting at a prior DMO start-up in Anchorage, Alaska.  That was followed by deployment office-wide of a multitasking IBM System 36 including the ability to store and access documents from throughout the office and a rudimentary form of what would become called interoffice email.

The return-on-investment in productivity had struck me as obvious but even more so the comprehensive adoption to a DMO provided a strategic advantage over competitors, advantages still not grasped in many communities today.

So in mid-1989,  when we began to set up shop in Durham, it wasn’t a leap to go with a fully-networked system.  Of course, I took some heat in the community for having terminals on each desk and the comprehensive use of intra-office email which made us one of the first to go interoffice when the web made that possible.

Even in the home of Research Triangle Park and Duke University, many took decades to grasp the advantages that could be leveraged with technology.

In Anchorage, we had also been an early-adopter of the Exxon Quip fax machine after I saw it advertised during a business trip in 1978 just before leaving the DMO in Spokane, Washington.

So naturally, when I got to Durham many years later I sounded this out with someone to whom I was referred by a board member and was told fax machines weren’t used in Durham, especially in small offices, especially in start-ups.

I quickly made assurances that we would use it with prospects across the nation and was able to secure one anyway.  Fax technology dates to the 19th century and was wireless here in the US by the 1920s.  By the 1980s it was one of a wave of disruptive technologies.

In the summer of 1989, I hadn’t yet heard of the Internet or that the first IPS had just been established to make it accessible commercially for the first time but I had hoped to fully and seamlessly integrate office technology into marketing.

With that I was a little ahead of the times but I read now that this integration is foreseen as part of what Brian Solis forecasts in his excellent new book [What’s The Future] of Business?

Within 48 months of it becoming commercially available, the Durham DMO was among the first to not only integrate the Internet into community marketing but then to rapidly make it a strategic core of our marketing.  Yes, we took some heat for that too.

I guess I was always more comfortable with the “disruptive technologies” that Dr. Clayton M. Christensen, a BYU alum who graduated from BYU three years after I did, described in his breakthrough 1997 book entitled The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Christensen’s research found that highly innovative companies fail, not for lack of great management, listening to customers, investing in R & D or improving products and service but because of what Solis calls “doing the right things over and over.”

They missed seeing the significance of or reacting to other disruptive technologies as they came along.  Oh they were aware of them and even predicted their influence but as the Heath brothers write in their new book entitled Decisive about the fall of Kodak, these companies failed to establish a “trip-wire” that would trigger a reaction when digital adoption reached a tipping point.

The role of DMOs where I spent my 40-year career in community marketing is an area where continuing and never-ending innovation is a must.  One of the very unique things about Solis’ book is that he includes links to his sources and individually to his excellent blog posts for more background.

He pointed me and other readers to an excellent white paper by Crowdtap, that can be downloaded at this link entitled The Power of Peer Influence.  The advertising element of marketing, the overall effectiveness of which is now in negative territory first began to appear in the US more than 300 years ago.

The paper’s authors glibly note that “the future of marketing will more closely resemble the last five years than the previous 300.”  Disruptive technologies are impacting marketing as much or more than any other area of business or social enterprise.

It isn’t just about technology.  I don’t know if it is on track, but Forbes noted in 2011 that between 2003 and 2013, over 70% of the Fortune 1000 companies would turnover, compared to 35% during a similar span in the 1970s and 45% in the 1990s when Christensen published his research on disruptive technologies.

Solis writes about “Digital Darwinism, when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt.”  Remember, Charles Darwin found that it wasn’t the strongest who survive but those who evolve.

Solis describes “Generation C (connected)” which cuts through all age groups including mine and now represents more consumers than several cohorts combined.  Only one in five consumers is unconnected to the Internet now.

Strategically, the answer isn’t just keeping up with technology although that is “part of the answer.”  Solis lays out why marketing and other business activities must begin with more research into the customer experience.

By that he doesn’t just mean the idea of integrating experiences into products and services. The experience begins at the very beginning of the marketing experience, even before what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT.)

Different than the many businesses, organizations and facilities that eventually benefit, a DMOs primary role is to stimulate interest, to get a community on the list for consideration long before visitor-related businesses, organizations or facilities are in a position to harvest that visitor interest.

This seminal stimulation of interest comes even before the ZMOT.  The resources in this blog are a must read for for today and tomorrow’s DMOs.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My First Hand Guide To The Old West

Many people my age learned about the old west from Death Valley Days, a television show that ran from the time I was the age of four until I was in college.  It was hosted briefly by Ronald Reagan the future President’s last gig as an actor before he became a politician… or is that redundant?

But I had a personal guide to the old west during that span, one with first hand experience.  The youngest of my great grandparents, Ralph Messersmith, was born in 1879 just two years after Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant was succeeded as President.  He lived until 1973 while I was in law school.

Most of my family were staunch, very conservative Republicans, but it is from Ralph, a proud F.D.R.- Democrat, that I gained an appreciation for more progressive policies, especially toward American Indians and other ethnicities.

He was a genuine progressive era progressive and very close friends with George Dern, a progressive governor of Utah and Secretary of War under Roosevelt.  Ralph pulled my sensibilities to the center, where they remain today.

He was born and lived all of his life in and around a valley where the Pony Express had skirted the sound end of the Oquirrh Mountains to head west along the edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert, a series of salt flats including Bonneville made famous since the 1930s for land speed records.

Many times Ralph drove me along the old trail, pointing out where the Express riders would change horses at the old Faust Ranch before it became a stagecoach route.

He would always describe how my great-great grandfather Thomas had passed the ranch as he rode east along the trail in 1862 as a Union Cavalry trooper in the 3rd California Volunteers, having recently saved the life of commanding General Patrick O’Connor during a skirmish with a band of Shoshoni.

Their mission was to protect the overland stage route used to ship gold east to fund the war effort to preserve the Union.  Thomas had enlisted following a not-so-successful mining venture with his soon-to-be famous friend Samuel Clemmons, pen name Mark Twain.

As his son would do, Tom went both by Messersmith and Smith, and both variations appear in Twain’s letters home.

They (and I) descend in part from German Palatines, who fleeing the frequent invasions from the French emigrated to America in the 1700s.  They settled in Pennsylvania, migrated to southwest Virginia and then to Missouri where my great-great grandfather was born and raised prior to accepting Twain’s invitation to join him out west.

Ralph brought to life his father’s memories of riding as a cavalry trooper through the adobe buildings of deserted Camp Floyd.  Until the year before it had encamped nearly a quarter of the entire U.S. Army at the time including the Second Dragoons, Fourth Artillery and Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Infantry units.

Ostensible they were deployed to put down a so-called Utah rebellion but historians now speculate that the Secretary of War at the time and namesake for the camp had sent as many federal troops as he could west because as a Virginian he anticipated the Civil War.

At Camp Floyd, the military units had been led by soon-to-be Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, these troops headed east with a third of the officers and a quarter of the troops joining the Confederacy.

By the next year when my great-great grandfather’s Union cavalry arrived, General Johnston had already fallen as a casualty at the Battle of Shiloh, a pivotal Civil War engagement along the Mississippi-Tennessee line with Union generals Grant and Sherman.

My great-great grandfather would have also ridden past Fairfield and Cedar Fort where he would eventually settle, marry, raise a family, ranch and herd sheep.  Ralph gave me a New York Times clipping describing that Fairfield, a village across the creek from the Camp Floyd, was also known as “Frogtown” because at the time it was “wholly inhabited by gamblers and “grog-sellers.”

For two generations of students, 1926-1944, Ralph had driven the first school bus from Fairfield to Cedar Fort, stopping along the five mile route to teach the kids how to properly and safely handle a rifle for target shooting and hunting.

He also shared with me his genuine affection for Skull Valley Indians, a band of Goshute, part of the Western Shoshonis indigenous to the Great Basin.  This band would bring their horses to Cedar Fort when Ralph was the age of my grandsons now and hunt in the nearby canyons.

A soon-to-be chief tragically died on one of these visits and the burial made a lifelong impression on Ralph who would always care for their graves on “Decoration Day,”  along with that of his parents.

On one trip to show me the narrow and stream-filled Skull Valley bookended by the Cedar and Stansbury mountain ranges, he stopped to point out what as he was growing up had once been the Iosepa (pronounced Youseepa) Agriculture and Stock Company.

By my visit it had become a somewhat eerie ghost town. The areas streams had also drawn herders such as my great-great grandfather.

The ranch was run by Polynesians he called Kanakas.  They had met with discrimination when as Mormon converts they had emigrated to Utah in the 1880s so the church established the ranch and nearby town for them in August of 1889.

But the harsh climate took its toll on a people native to places such as Hawaii.  It became a deserted ghost town by 1917 when most Kanakas had returned to the islands of the Pacific because the Mormons had erected a temple there.

Ralph admired their tenacity and gentleness and music.  He often used their story to reinforce upon me that discrimination such as the Kanakas and Goshute experienced was morally wrong and un-American.

It wasn’t until 1978 that the Mormon Church returned to the ethnic tolerance and acceptance of its roots.  A few weeks ago a new introduction to its scriptures notes that “records offer no clear insights into the origins” of that span when it wasn’t.

Even churches are subject to internal politics and factions. It is nice to see one that can overcome them.  However, that period may be the reason my great-grandfather was never active in the church.

Four years before he was born, his parents and other Mormons in Cedar Fort listed all of their property on a notification to the church that they were going to live the United Order, a religious collective. 

However, while many communities experimented with this approach at the time, Cedar Fort was cautioned to wait with the words – “Wait till the head moves, before the tail starts to wiggle.”  Within a few year the movement faded.

Ultra-conservative now, the Mormon Church has a long tradition of social and cultural innovation.

By the time I was in college the Skull Valley Indian families Ralph would visit a few miles from the Kanka’s ranch had dwindled from 20 families to just 2 but he continued to regale me with stories about the chiefs he had known such as Old Moon, William, Dick Mooni and Johnny Bear.

Each year when I was young, Ralph would go out before Christmas and buy several pair of beaded gloves as gifts for friends and family, one of several treasures I have lost during various moves.  He was also sure to stop and pay respects to 53 Kanakas graves on the old ranch.

Other than the kids buried in Cedar Fort during his youth, he never learned where the Skull Valley band buried their dead.

Sometime after my first year of college and one of Ralph’s final visits, more than 6,000 head of sheep mysteriously died in the area where my great-grandfather had herded his.

It turned out that the day prior, an F-4 Phantom strike fighter like the one my uncle was then flying over North Vietnam had dropped chemical weapons as an open-air test over the Dugway Proving Ground, a practice banned in 1969.

In his twenties, Ralph went up into the Oquirrah Mountains mining districts.  In Mercur he bought and managed a herd of horses for the Golden Gate Mining Company.  He also rode shipments as a sharpshooter and ran a livery stable in town.

Ralph was also elected to the City Council there and worked to run electricity to what is now a popular ghost town.  My maternal grandmother Erma Deane was born there.  It is probably also where he became close friends with soon-to-be Governor Dern.

Prior to that Ralph had served earlier in a similar capacity three miles south at Sunshine Mine where his lifelong friend Will Evans also ran the M & M Saloon.  Ralph definitely found more success in mining the old west for silver and gold than his father had with Mark Twain in Nevada.

He went on to own real estate and ranching interests.  During the Great Depression he ran the Lehi Rolling Mill, later famous as a backdrop in the 1984 movie version of Footloose with Kevin Bacon starring as a character with my first name but without the “y.”  A long way from his current roll in “The Following.”

During my great-grandfather’s time at the mill, my mother remembers her mom making underwear for her from used grain sacks with the logo of the various cereals still showing across her bum.

I gleaned even more insight from Ralph during weekend pancake breakfasts with he and and his son-in-law, my maternal grandfather Mark White while I was in college.

They were widowers and I wasn’t yet married.  Having grown up on a ranch near Yellowstone Park in Idaho, this is as close as I had lived to them.

Those times were priceless even if I had heard some of the stories countless times by then.  After breakfast we would sometimes take a ride out along the old Pony Express trail but this time I would drive.

In their 70s and 80s, Ralph and his friend Will, friends since they were seven and ten years of age respectively, would sit in their old sedan parked nose-in to “watch the girls go by” on Main Street in Lehi.

Ralph’s favorite song was The Tennessee Waltz and he often wore a black flat-brimmed, buckaroo style cowboy hat popular with Shoshoni.

During my last year in college, Ralph had to move from his tiny, one-bedroom house into a nursing home across Utah Lake in Pleasant Grove.  Will didn’t need that level of care but he asked to move into the same room to keep Ralph company.

Ralph began to fade during my last few visits, often confusing me with my mom.  My great-grandfather died a month after my daughter was born in 1973, one of his three great-great grandchildren at the time.

Unlike many who never know a great-grandparent, I got to know him for the last 25 of his 93 years on earth.  I’m fortunate to be one of the 24 great-grandchildren he had at his passing and even more fortunate for the lessons he gave me.

RIP great-grandpa – I wish I could visit on “Decoration Day.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Billboard Nazis

As I was walking my dog through the natural stand of mature trees between my house and the street yesterday, a whitetail deer ran down my street in broad daylight, making the turn west down a busy street that drops sharply from a ridge a mile from downtown Durham, North Carolina.

Putting the sighting on my neighborhood listserv would in any other community incite extreme reactions on both ends of the ideological spectrum and probably result in efforts to “out-extreme” one another.

As a political independent I may be more sensitive to how absurd these reactions can seem and when stereotyped, they fuel the craziness we see in North Carolina’s legislature today.  You can see it in reactions to wildlife management and fracking.

By 1900 with a population just shy of 1.9 million people, unchecked “market hunters” had reduced the population of whitetail deer in North Carolina to fewer than 10,000 animals, one for every five square miles.

North Carolinians cared. The first game laws had been enacted here in 1783 but they weren’t enough to prevent market forces from nearly wiping out the deer population.

While North Carolina became the cradle of forest conservation in 1898, it wasn’t until 1937 that whitetail deer restoration efforts took hold and even today there is a lack of understanding, especially among many in high office, about the importance of nature and biodiversity and the ecosystem in general to human quality of life.

Today, we’ve gone from one deer for every 190 North Carolinians in 1900 to one deer for every 9 residents.  That’s a lot of deer when you consider we have five times the human population today and it is five times as many per square mile at a time when a much greater proportion of the state is urbanized.

With natural predators all but extinguished and farmland no longer buffering cities from wildlife habit, we have a deer problem which manifests itself in risk of disease and damage to vehicles and property use not to mention the deer themselves.charlotte before after 1

The number of deer is far exceeding biological and social carrying capacity in much of the state.  Efforts at management are politicized by extremist reactions on both ends of the ideological spectrum.  We see the same thing happening with the issue of hydraulic fracturing of shale to access natural gas.

Each side of the debate seems far too dominated by people who seem determined to out-extreme and demonize those on the other side of the issue, including many flush with the ability and hubris to dominate the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Fracking” as it is called, is a technological revolution that promises to temporarily roll back harmful emission of greenhouse gases, as least until these new sources are also depleted.  It may make us more energy independent but it won’t roll back the price of gasoline.

The price will be kept high here while exporting most of the new-found energy supply where it will reap greater stockholder value.  If we are smart, this boom will only intensify research and development of more sustainable alternatives.

Evidence is that many of the other benefits from this boom are canceled out by harmful side effects, lax regulation and unintended consequences.  Reduce these concerns by half and they still warrant extreme caution.

Just less than a year after oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens prophesied that converting the nation’s 8 million 18-wheelers to natural gas would eliminate eliminate 75% of our reliance on OPEC countries, news reports suggest that transformation is already underway.  This will also curb harmful emissions.

One of his companies already has 400 natural gas filling stations and earlier this month he proposed how to incentivize the transition.

But the real impact of fracking on global climate change will be the transition it will create on countries such as China and India away as they shift away from coal.  It may not reduce the price at the pump that much but these changes could ostensibly lower the costs, especially those not captured by businesses failing to use full-cost accounting, of other consumer goods.

It may eventually help reduce the amount we fund our military to serve as security guards for oil shipments from the Middle East to non-contributing countries throughout the world.  However, this may only intensify uncertainty and instability in that region.

As an op-ed in the New York Times two weeks ago explained, our so-called energy independence will undermine stability in that region and create even bigger problems for the U.S.  And this impact won’t be limited to the Middle East.

Reduce the euphoria and any related hyperbole by half as many insiders do and it may still be worth pursuing.  The real question is how to make fracking much safer and far less desecrating than it is now.  There is a value to clear air and water and scenic infrastructure and view-sheds.

Unfortunately, instead of refereeing between extreme positions, our legislature seems to have abdicated the true purpose of representative democracy on this issue as they did a few years ago when they surrendered trees and related curbs on soil erosion and water and air pollution free of charge to out-of-state billboard companies.

The photo below shows an example in Charlotte, where the now obsolete form of advertising has already clear cut nearly 5,000 trees, scarring the “Queen City’s” sense of place and releasing toxic waste all for the benefit of one fifth of one percent of consumers and less than 3% of small businesses.

This was the antitheses of capitalism, seeking to tilt the playing field to a few and for what reason, spite?

What the legislature did at the behest of billboard companies is a type of “legal corruption” and in my opinion an absurdly extreme reaction to the views of a few they considered just as extreme.   But this defiance of the wishes of nearly 9 out of 10 North Carolinians is inexcusable.

The answer to what they may consider eco-Nazis is not to counter as billboard-Nazis as these lawmakers have become but to make principle-centered decisions that benefit all North Carolinians.

One lawmaker was quoted in reports as saying that the giveaway was to teach communities a lesson, further proof that instead of rising to principle and good governance, many lawmakers are just trying to prove they can also take pettiness to an extreme.

The issue for me on fracking is less clear-cut (no pun intended.)  It isn’t “whether or not” but “how.”  It has been a little more than a hundred years since Americans rose in revolt against the desecration industries such as this imposed.

Hopefully, those setting the standards for fracking haven’t forgotten those lessons and begin to govern from the center.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strategic Introspection

It’s been twenty-four years since I was recruited to Durham.  A friend who is also retiring recently surmised it was probably because I already had various levels of experience at founding and growing community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs.)

Others during my now-concluded career credited me with strategic vision, something that always made me feel humbled and a bit awkward to describe when asked, often even now in retirement. 

Maybe that is part of what fueled my interest in how researchers and other experts describe strategy, insight and vision beginning with a keen interest I developed in strategic geniuses such as Napoleon, George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant dating from college days and before.

Start-ups are chaotic.  In the first few months a lot revolves around what Dr. William Duggan at Columbia Business School calls the “expert intuition,” that comes from being able to make quick decisions based on repetitive personal experience and practice.

This is what a hitter uses in baseball.  In his incredible book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, neuroscientist Dr. Robert A Burton explains that at the minimum it takes 200 milliseconds to react to the typical major league pitch traveling between 80-100 miles per hour which will cross home plate in approximately .380 to .460 milliseconds.

The ball travels nine feet before the batter’s retina can process that it left the pitcher’s hand.  There is no time for deliberation because the reaction time and swing alone equal the travel time to the catcher’s mitt.

However, there is some strategic thinking involved too.  The best hitters closely study the background and past performance of pitchers in order to make an educated guess about the kind of pitches that may be thrown in certain circumstances.  Pitchers do the same with opposing team hitters.

I was credited with the thoroughness of the various plans I cranked out for marketing, organization, performance metrics and decision-making within weeks of each of my DMO start-ups.  Of course people usually didn’t realize these plans were just a form of scaffolding and place-holders.

I needed time, not to do in-depth planning which would come later, but to get my head around the over-arching strategy unique during a given time to each community I represented.  According to Duggan’s books and lectures, this comes from what he calls “strategic intuition.”

Classes I took in the 1970s at BYU that touched on strategic thinking and planning took the approach still taught in many schools today: “figure out where you are; decide what you want to be; make a plan;” “set goals and objectives; then identify tactics.”

In other words “ready-aim-fire.”

As Duggan notes in several of his books, papers and interviews, the word strategy dates to 400 B.C. but it didn’t become a field of study until 1810, first related to the military, then by the late nineteenth century in business and by the twentieth century in social enterprise including the public sector.

The planning model I learned in my college days originated in the late 1830s.  However, lacking the resources of large organizations during my career and possibly due to proclivity,  I accidentally stumbled and bumbled into a very different - and according to Duggan - a far more effective and creative approach put forth a few years earlier.

The planning-first approach over relies on “expert intuition” which is based on what you know.  Using “strategic intuition” to first identify an over-arching strategy takes more time up front but you make up for it in effectiveness. It begins with scouring historical resources to find “what works.”

It involves disconnecting the dots and reconnecting them as informed by digging back into history, past studies and background with fresh eyes and then coupling your experience with the experiences of many others.  In the case of Durham, this process took me almost two years from the time we launched, but this aspect was also ongoing.

Some dismiss this as part of the creative process vs. planning.  I realize from reading analysts such as Duggan that strategic thinking for me was both/and but it always began with seeking “strategic insight.”  The flaw Duggan finds with the more wide spread “planning model” is that “learning what works comes at the end not the beginning,” what he terms a “fatal flaw.”

Many large organizations start a strategic planning process with top-down goals and objectives from a governing board and then add tactical elements.  Even after the fact, many fail to identity an over-arching strategy and the eventual outcome is these plans resemble operational plans more than strategic plans and fail to project into the future.

Even when predicated on “strategic intuition,” plans should be organic and updated in real time as new information is gathered and new “strategic insights” surface.  Having a plan is not an excuse to turn off strategic thinking.

Some organizations get by without any strategic planning or thinking required by their governing boards or stakeholders and a few may still consider their leaders to have strategic vision.

Ironically, these individuals unencumbered by structure may still benefit from some elements of “strategic intuition.”   While they may not be accessing background or data stored on the shelves neuroscientists tell us we have in our brains, they still have what Duggan calls “presence of mind.”

This means they can free themselves of goals and objectives and switch directions when an insight or new combination of elements occurs to them or is presented by others.  They must also have the resolution and drive to persevere.

Even so, without more accountability and a fuller approach to strategic thinking and planning it is likely their decisions will often be contaminated by what the new book entitled Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath describes as the “four villains of good decision-making, “narrow-framing,” “confirmation bias,” “short-term emotion” and “overconfidence.”

By failing to anchor in what Duggan calls the precedents at the heart of “creative strategy,” they not only fail to be visionary but they miss a crucial ingredient for innovation.  They also risk being held hostage by special interests.

I never had the luxury to fly solo like that but I know from introspection and study more about why some people viewed me as strategic and visionary than I ever did at any time during my career.

To learn more about strategic thinking, one can do no better than to read Professor Duggan’s books Napoleon’s Glance, The Art of What Works, Strategic Intuition and Creative StrategyHe’s also a great story teller.