Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni

Fessenden alumni received the following letter from outgoing Fessenden School headmaster David Stettler earlier this week (scroll below to see it). It’s the latest attempt at damage control that attempts to sound sincere while neglecting to mention several key facts about the Fessenden abuse scandal:

  • For many decades, Fessenden failed to protect students from child predators who were employed by Fessenden school as faculty or staff.
  • These predators committed sickening acts of sexual and physical abuse, scarring their victims for life. You can read some of the accounts written by former Fessenden student victims here.
  • When students and alumni reported abuse by these predators to administrators, they were ignored or kicked out of school.
  • Predators were allowed to remain at the school, and in many cases were able to abuse children for years.
  • When predators left the school, future employers (including other prep schools across New England) were not notified of the reported incidents, opening up the possibility that the abuse continued at those schools.

Like the Boston archdiocese of the Catholic Church, senior administrators failed to report abuse to the authorities for investigation and potential prosecution over a period spanning seven decades (from the 1940s until the beginning of the present decade). The Newton Police Department and Middlesex County District Attorney’s office never had an opportunity to investigate cases, because they didn’t know about the abuse. The case that was investigated in the past year which (mentioned in Stettler’s letter, below) refers to a current Fessenden faculty member.

When the Suffolk County DAs office in 1977 investigated a Boston-area pedophile ring that included two Fessenden faculty members, Fessenden administrators led by then Headmaster Robert Coffin claimed that no abuse of students had taken place on campus:

Headmaster Coffin's statements to the Boston Globe in 1977

This was a lie, and as a result of the statements by administrators to authorities and parents, no investigation was initiated at the school. Had they done so, they would have uncovered prosecutable cases of child sexual abuse involving not only the two faculty members (who resigned) but also other members of the Fessenden faculty, as described in this 2016 Boston Globe Spotlight investigation. Some of these faculty members were employed by the school into the 1980s.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • David Stettler only told alumni about some of the earlier cases in 2011, and only because the Boston Globe had just reported some of the cases. In other words, it was damage control, not an effort to promote transparency or justice.
  • No Fessenden administrator, board member, or legal counsel has ever been cited for negligence in failing to report abuse of children at the Fessenden School.
  • The child predators were able to get away with their crimes for years at Fessenden, and possibly continue their activities after they left. They got away with these sickening crimes, scot-free.
  • The victims were left without support, ashamed of what had happened to them and traumatized by the abuse. Many have been unable to come to terms with what they experienced, and as adults became addicted to drugs or suffered problems relating to people. Some committed suicide.
  • There has never been any independent investigation into what happened from the 1940s through the 1980s and how the school handled those episodes (the “comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation” he refers to below relates to a current member of the Fessenden faculty).
  • No Fessenden faculty member has ever been prosecuted for sexual abuse of Fessenden students.

I was hoping David Stettler’s final letter to members of the Fessenden community (including alumni and current Fessenden parents) would have announced that the Fessenden School was finally announcing an independent investigation involving not just a current faculty member but also the evil child predators who freely abused Fessenden students from the 1940s through the 1980s, and got away with their crimes.

Now, it looks like Stettler’s legacy will be remembered as the Fessenden headmaster who could have done more to uphold justice for all of those who had been wronged and bring together a wounded community, but failed in the end.

To read more about this terrible affair, read these posts:

Fessenden School abuse scandal: It gets worse

Spotlight: More abuse at Fessenden and other schools. But why no official investigation?

Fessenden School and St. George’s: A tale of two investigations

The May 8, 2018 letter from David Stettler

Dear Members of the Fessenden Community,

One of my first communications to the Fessenden community, when I arrived as Headmaster in the fall of 2011, was a letter sharing our concern that sexual abuses that occurred at Fessenden in the 1960s and 1970s were broader in scope than previously acknowledged. The Board of Trustees and I believed that it was time to shine a light on this issue that has too often, and for too long, been hidden in societal shadows. From time to time over the past seven years, I have followed up to share with you what we had learned. As I approach my retirement from Fessenden, it feels appropriate to update you again.
Upon the release of my 2011 letter and subsequent interview and article in The Boston Globe, a number of alumni from the 1960s and 1970s came forward to tell of the abuses that they had suffered. Some chose to communicate with me directly, and some contacted us through an attorney. Some preferred to keep their stories private, and others shared openly with the news media. We have respected all of their decisions regarding how they have chosen to address the memories and aftermath of the abuses they suffered. And we have strived throughout to deal honestly, respectfully, and transparently with this history, while still respecting the confidentiality of the survivors.
One alumnus from the class of 1973 who chose to share his story openly with the news media has recently sent a letter by email to many members of the Fessenden community. You may have received his letter. In it, he details the abuses that he experienced when he was a student at Fessenden in the early 1970s. While we support his choice to disclose his story and share his desire to shed light on an awful chapter in Fessenden’s history, we did not supply him with the contact information for members of our community. I want to reiterate my deepest apology to him and others who were abused by those who were supposed to be caring for them. We continue to offer mediation, potential settlement, and free counseling and treatment to all of our alumni who were subjected to abuse.
Abuses from the 1960s and 1970s:
In October of 2011, I wrote a letter to the community and shared it with The Boston Globe. I offered to be interviewed by The Globe because of the desire to open public dialogue about the history of abuses. As a result of the letter and front-page Globe article, numerous alumni came forward to share their stories with me. The volume of stories and the repetition of perpetrators’ names leave no room for doubt that these abuses in the 1960s and 1970s took place. Therefore, for those former students of that era who contacted us through an attorney seeking financial remuneration for their suffering, we have participated in mediated financial settlements.
Throughout these past seven years, we have made no effort to cover up or hide any information about abuses that the survivors wanted to make public, and we have not asked for a confidentiality clause in any of the financial settlements with survivors. Fessenden alumni remain free to share their stories as a path toward healing and in order to shed light on this topic—that is what we set out to accomplish when we made our concerns about past sexual abuse public in 2011.
Allegation of abuse in the late 1990s:
In June 2017 and in December 2017, I wrote to you about an allegation of abuse dating to the late 1990s. This allegation is separate and unique from the era of the 1960s and 1970s, because it is from a more recent time frame and involves a present Fessenden employee. Therefore the Board and I believed that it could be and should be handled in a different manner.
When we received this allegation, we immediately notified state authorities, placed the staff member on administrative leave, and barred him from campus which required him to move out of his campus home. The School cooperated fully with the police and District Attorney’s investigation and also retained an independent law firm that was given free rein to conduct a comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation. In an effort to carry out the most extensive investigation possible, the School sent a correspondence to approximately 11,000 alumni, alumni parents, current parents, employees, former employees, trustees, and former trustees encouraging them to contact the law firm if they had any knowledge pertinent to the allegation.
The investigation by the District Attorney and the police found no corroboration of the allegation. The independent counsel’s report determined that the allegation was unsupported. The employee has categorically denied that any misconduct occurred and cooperated fully in all investigations. Given the conclusions reached from these investigations, the School determined that the staff member should return to Fessenden. To avoid the disruption and costs that are associated with any litigation, the School entered into a mutually agreed upon settlement with the claimant. The School did not ask for confidentiality as part of the settlement agreement. Prior to finalizing the agreement, the School was assured by the claimant’s attorney that the claimant understood that the employee might return to the School.
Throughout these seven years, the Board and I have endeavored to act with honesty, compassion, and respect. We recognize that not everyone has agreed with each and every decision that we have made, but we have tried to do our best. Similarly, we have made every effort to assure the health and safety of our students today by implementing best practices that promote healthy relationships that are aimed at protecting students from harm. In my earlier letters to the community, I have described the education of our students, employee screenings, mandatory employee training, policies, procedures, protocols, and practices that are currently in place. We are resolute in our commitment to the well-being of our students.
Sincerely,
David B. Stettler
Head of School

 

 

 

What’s the Harvard Extension School post-bacc really like?

In all the years I have been writing about the Extension School, the one program that has remained a bit of a mystery is the Harvard post-bacc, a Post Baccalaureate program designed for people interested in getting into medical school but don’t have the undergraduate grades (or major) to qualify. I knew the Harvard Extension School Premedical Program had a rigorous reputation, with top-notch faculty and coursework in the required fields such as organic chemistry, cellular biology, biochemistry, and physics.

I knew it also had a great placement record, with students attending highly respected medical schools across the country, including Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Stanford Medical School, and more:

harvard extension postbac placement

What I did not know were the numbers around the program. Now I do, thanks to a post by Christopher Maloney, who shared some details of his experience. He writes:

Out of 345 in my starting postbac class, only forty-something of us graduated. As a Harvard undergraduate, there are fifteen subcategories of B, and the University is seriously invested in keeping every admitted undergraduate student. But at the Extension school they flunked us. Most of my classmates were only doing the program as a last-ditch effort at medical school reapplications, so there were no slackers among us and we dropped like flies.

Obviously, I made it through, and at the time that program had something like an 85% acceptance rate from medical schools. They knew we’d been through the wringer and could cut it. But I also credit a lot of my gray hair to those years.

That works out to about a 12 or 13% completion rate for the Harvard Post-Bacc. By comparison, the overall graduation rate for Extension School degree programs relative to the number of people who register for all courses was 3% in 2009 (source: the former Dean Michael Shinagel), but that includes thousands of casual class-takers who are taking a class or two for enrichment or professional advancement. People going into the post-bacc aren’t doing it casually — they have a very specific goal in mind, usually associated with goals of becoming a doctor.

 

Acid reflux and heartburn: Going beyond reflux diet books

An interesting thing happens if you go to Amazon and search for “acid reflux” in the books section. Twelve of the 13 titles on the first page of Amazon’s organic search results are about acid reflux diets. They include everything from Acid Reflux Diet and Cookbook For Dummies to Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. The 13th title is not explicitly about acid reflux diets, but rather covers homeopathic treatments (“Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec & Other Acid Blockers: What to Use to Relieve Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Gastric Ailments“).

Amazingly, there are no books on that first page of search results that talk about modern medical treatments that tens or even hundreds of millions of people across the globe seek out every year. With the release of Acid Reflux & Heartburn In 30 Minutes: A guide to acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD for patients and families earlier this month, my publishing company hopes to change this state of affairs, by giving readers an authoritative yet easy-to-understand source of information about reflux, heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The author is none other than my father, J. Thomas Lamont, M.D., a gastroenterologist and Harvard Medical School professor who wrote a similar book about Clostridium difficile (an infectuous disease commonly known as C. diff) five years ago. That book has since helped thousands of people, and currently has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with dozens of reviews describing how the book helped inform and reassure (Examples: “It gave me a lot of information to better enable me to ask the right questions to my doctor” or “nice to find by an experienced MD amid all the gut health hype on the Internet”). Reflux is even more widespread than C. diff, and is another area that he specializes in.

After I noticed that most acid reflux books in the books marketplace deal with diets as opposed to causes and treatments, I agreed that an IN 30 MINUTES book about acid reflux made sense. He submitted a first draft last April, and less than one year later, Acid Reflux & Heartburn In 30 Minutes was ready.

Early reviews have been positive. One reader said:

I wish this had been published years ago. Dr. Lamont has done an outstanding job of refining the tedious medical terminology down to a layman’s level. This is one of the primary advantages of this publication – plain English discussions about GERD and heartburn (HB) in general.

One area that we really tried to get right were illustrations that show the stomach and esophagus, what happens when GERD strikes, and how certain treatments (including surgeries to treat severe reflux) can be applied. I worked closely with the author and an experienced graphic designer, who made some really helpful diagrams, such as this one, showing how reflux occurs:

How reflux occurs, excerpted from Acid Reflux & Heartburn In 30 Minutes. See also our acid reflux FAQ

One thing that’s important to stress: This acid reflux book is not a DIY medical guide. Certain tests and treatments require professional evaluation and medicines available only by prescription, so the information in the book is provided to help patients understand what their doctors are recommending and why.

To learn more about the book, check out the companion website, which also includes an acid reflux FAQ as well as a glossary of acid reflux terms.

 

 

 

 

Amazon Marketing Services has a metrics problem

Over on the Lean Media blog, I’ve written a post titled Why you can’t trust ACoS metrics in AMS (and two alternatives). AMS is Amazon Marketing Services, the powerful self-serve advertising platform that vendors can use to advertise their wares next to Amazon search results, on Amazon product pages, and even on the lock screens for Kindle e-readers.

The problem with AMS is the metrics are terrible. In the blog post I specifically noted the problem with “ACoS” (Average Cost of Sales) and even made a video that demonstrates how a seemingly innocuous ACoS rate may be hiding a money losing campaign. Other problems include poor reporting capabilities, including no easy way to compare a campaign’s performance from one period to the next. By comparison, Google AdWords certainly has its own problems with misleading small businesses about the locations of people clicking ads and click fraud, but at least it’s possible to do a deep-dive into AdWords metrics to compare campaigns and time periods.

What’s the solution to misleading ACoS metrics? As described on the Lean Media blog, I created two other indicators, ACoN (Average Cost of Net) and ACoP (Average Cost of Profit). The problem with these metrics, however, is they have to be manually created. Here’s a sample from the actual Google Sheets page that I use for the task:

AMS Tracker for ACoN and ACoP screenshot
The spreadsheet I use to create alternate AMS metrics (ACoN and ACoP)

Amazon could actually create one of the metrics with the data that it has. Average Cost of Net refers to net revenue remitted to vendors, so if the company swapped out “Sales” (gross sales on Amazon) with projected net revenues to the vendor, that would give a much better idea of performance.

Pros and cons of traditional book distributors

Getting books onto bookshelves with traditional book distributors

Amazon has been disrupting the book industry for more than two decades. Sometimes the public hears the complaints as disputes boil into the open, but much of the restructuring of the industry is taking place quietly, without much public angst. In the post, I will discuss one of the casualties of the new world order for publishing, book distributors.

Distributors are an unseen force in many industries. They are responsible for bringing products to retailers. In the grocery and liquor industries, distributors are the companies whose trucks pull up to the loading dock in the back early in the morning to drop off a wide variety of goods that shop managers have ordered. In the book industry, distributors are the companies that arrange for certain titles to be available in Barnes & Noble, airport bookstores, and independent bookstores. Other services are available, too – there’s a good overview from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) titled “Working with Distributors.”

It’s important to note that distributors don’t represent everybody. They choose which producers they want to include in their catalogs, and take a cut from any sales that occur. They also demand exclusivity – if you sign a deal with a distributor, that’s the only outlet for your product in a particular geographic area. Obviously, if you have a distributor, you can get onto shelves in retail outlets, which increases your chance for retail sales. If you don’t have traditional distribution, you’re probably out of luck, unless you can work out a deal on your own with a shop or chain of stores.

In the book industry, distributors used to wield a great amount of power. Nearly every publisher had a book traditional distribution deal, or had a sales force to sell directly to the big book retailers. Amazon pulled the rug out from under that model, allowing publishers to offer books for sale directly to consumers. Retailers were hurt, and distributors were decimated. The book distributors who are left are now far more picky about the publishers they work with.

Do you need a distributor for your books?

At one time, I thought I needed a traditional book distribution deal for my company. This was not only to get access to new retail markets, it also seemed like a mark of industry respectability, which is important to growing companies. I did the dance with several distributors, but they didn’t work out. One bailed when it decided it didn’t like the way I managed ebook ISBNs. I pulled out of another offer when I realized the terms wouldn’t work out unless each title sold thousands of copies (many do, but some don’t). A third company completely ignored some of my requests for information, and just shoved a contract in front of my face to sign.

Ultimately, as I thought things through, it became clear to me that I didn’t need book distributors as much as I thought. It wasn’t just the cut they demanded, or the less-than-ideal business relationship. Other factors included:

  1. Once I went with a distributor, I would no longer consider readers to be my customers — it would be the distributor and their clients, the bookstore managers and buying teams.
  2. Distributors demanded a cut of ebook sales, even though they added no value to working with Amazon or other channels.
  3. There were also changes I would be forced to make to accommodate book distributors. My IBPA board colleague Leslie Browning outlines some of them here, including the necessity to have ARCs (advance review copies) ready at least six months before the publication date.

I don’t have a distributor now, and I don’t see it as holding back my business. In fact, I had the best year ever for my company last year, thanks to strong sales via Amazon and other online channels.

It would certainly be great to have my company’s books show up in big-box retailers or airport gift shops or B&N, but the sacrifices I would have to make dealing with book distributors — not to mention dealing with retailers returns — lessen the attraction of traditional book distribution.

 

 

 

 

A brief history of iPhone apps

iPhone appsIn prehistoric times, before Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone, primitive mobile phones and Palm Pilots ruled the earth. These devices came with simple games, utilities, and other small computer programs called applications (or “apps” for short). It was also possible to buy additional apps, which were usually sold by the wireless carrier or offered by the device manufacturer.

But after the iPhone was launched in 2007, followed by the iPod touch in 2008, the iPad in 2010, and the Apple Watch in 2015, Apple took apps to a whole new level. The company made it possible for independent computer programmers to create powerful apps for use with the touch screen interface and sell them for any price (or give them away for free). Consumers could quickly download the apps from Apple’s App Store.

The result was an explosion of apps. Besides the obvious (games, expense trackers, mobile newspapers, Facebook, etc.) a torrent of niche apps that anyone can download is available. They include:

  • Shopping apps for retail stores and e-commerce companies.
  • Social apps such as Facebook, and dating apps such as Tinder.
  • Games, from arcade classics to puzzle apps.
  • News apps that show articles and videos from local and international news organizations.
  • Banking apps that let users scan checks and make deposits, without ever visiting the bank or mailing a check to a processing office.
  • Streaming music and video.
  • Sports apps for professional teams and fantasy leagues.
  • Workout apps for custom routines and tracking.
  • Calculators, scanners, expense trackers, and other utilities.

There are now hundreds of thousands of apps that are actively maintained by the programmers or companies that created them.

Pre-installed Apple apps

A new iPhone comes with more than 20 preinstalled apps that were developed by Apple. They include:

  • App Store. Download paid and free apps.
  • Calculator. In landscape mode, it switches to a scientific calculator.
  • A simple calendar app that lets you set appointments and alerts. This can be synced with your Google, Yahoo, and Outlook calendars in the Settings app.
  • Camera. This app takes photos and videos, and allows simple editing of videos.
  • Clock.  This app shows the time zones of your choosing. Alarm and stopwatch functions can be activated in the app or via Siri.
  • Contacts. This app organizes your contacts, including phone numbers and email addresses. It can be synced with Microsoft Exchange/Outlook accounts and Gmail.
  • FaceTime. Live video chat with other iPhone/iPad/iPod touch users.
  • Health. The app gathers health-related data from the iPhone, connected apps, and connected devices including the Apple Watch and various third-party fitness trackers.
  • Mail. This powerful email program can handle personal and corporate email.
  • Apple’s Maps app looks great, and is integrated with Siri. An alternative is the Google Maps app.
  • Messages. A texting app that is integrated with your phone number and contact list.
  • News. This app lets you select favorite news sources and topics, which are then presented to you in a clean list of headlines and photos.
  • Notes. Take simple text notes with this app, using the virtual keyboard or Dictation.
  • Photos. View photographs, videos, and screen captures taken with your iPhone.
  • Safari, Apple’s mobile Web browser. An alternative is the Chrome app.
  • Settings. Manage hardware and software settings.
  • Apple Wallet. This app works with apps from airlines, hotels, retailers, and other companies to display and process coupons, boarding passes, and vouchers. Wallet is also used to change Apple Pay settings.
  • A no-frills Weather app that automatically shows the local weather if you are connected to a Wi-Fi or carrier network.

Superior alternatives to many of these apps (including Calculator and Weather) can be found in the Apple App Store.

(This post was excerpted from an IN 30 MINUTES guide that I wrote.)

What employers think about Harvard Extension School degrees

For more than 10 years, I have received questions from prospective Harvard Extension School students (and some current students) about whether or not Harvard Extension School degrees will help them get a job, and what employers think about them. Here’s a typical query:

I am considering the Harvard Extension School for Management. I really want your opinion if this will be worth doing in terms of getting a job. I am an international student and have one year of business experience. Do you get an internship in summer? Does the Harvard brand help?

The short answer is “maybe.” Aside from the Harvard or Harvard Extension School brand, there are a few factors employers typically consider:

  1. It depends on the person and what else he or she brings to the table in terms of job experience, specific technical/work skills, and whether or not he or she will be a good fit for the team.
  2. It depends on the field/location/position. It will matter less in a highly competitive field in a big city compared to a less competitive market in a rural area or overseas.
  3. It depends on the person’s network.

As for the brand: By itself, the Harvard Extension School degree is not an automatic signal to “hire this person because he/she has ‘Harvard’ in his educational background.” But it may help you get noticed. My ALM thesis director (a tenured professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) said the Harvard association and reputation — even for Extension School students — carries a lot of weight, and will help open doors that might otherwise be closed. He actually offered to help me find work related to my research (Chinese foreign policy analysis using computer-based research) if I was interested. I wasn’t — at the time I had a pretty good job in tech media and a young family, and becoming an analyst required moving to Washington, D.C.

Another thing that may help graduates get noticed are automated resume processing programs that search for specific keywords or phrases, which may include the name of famous universities … such as Harvard.

But when the resume gets passed to an HR screener or hiring manager, things start to get tricky for many HES grads. A lot of people do not make it clear that they attended the Extension School, and instead list “Harvard University” on their resumes, either in a misguided justification to hide the Extension School affiliation, or an outright misleading attempt to make it seem as if they graduated from Harvard College, the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), or the Harvard Business School. Here are just a few examples from LinkedIn:

Harvard BiologyHarvard ALB economicsHarvard ALM digital media

Not everyone does this, of course. It’s also possible to find people who proudly list their Extension School degrees on LinkedIn:

Harvard Extension ALM nonprofits

I’ve covered the issue of how to represent your Extension School diploma in the past, and it has been debated by hundreds of people on this blog and elsewhere. You can read more at Harvard Extension School résumé guidelines are bogus.

In short, a Harvard Extension Degree is NOT a Harvard College AB degree, a Harvard Business School MBA degree, or a GSAS AM degree. The former has a rigorous process that makes students prove they can do the work before they are admitted, but the others are among the most highly selective undergraduate and graduate programs in the United States. Students are in classrooms with other high-achievers, which raises the level of discourse and focus. Yes, HES gets some high achievers as well, but the classrooms are also filled with casual class-takers who don’t have the same focus as degree candidates.

The curricula and graduation requirements are also completely different. The most obvious is the Extension School’s use of distance education for course credit and for many of the professional programs,  the fact that there is no requirement to take classes taught by faculty with actual teaching appointments at Harvard.

What this means is McKinsey or Bain won’t regard an HES ALB or ALM in Management grad the same way they will treat a recent Harvard College AB or HBS MBA recipient.

What HR and hiring managers think about Extension School grads

Several people involved in hiring decisions have commented how they regard HES grads compared to their counterparts from other schools. I’ll start with the positive evaluations, followed by some of the negative takes:

Josh:

I’m a hiring manager and I would hire an HES graduate any day of the week.

Paul:

As the president and founder of our company with final say in hiring/firing, the choice is clear. Being only book smart is not nearly enough to cut it as there are already too many book smart people out there to choose from. Candidate B’s qualities along with street smarts are harder to find and what the real world is looking for.

justanotheropinion:

If I had to hire one of two applicants for my accounting firm and one said hire me because I got good grades in high school and was active in the community (real Harvard applicant), and the other said I have years of experience in accounting and will work for three months to prove myself to you and if you don’t like what you see I will leave (HES applicant) I would hire the latter.

Why? Simple, the latter has shown they can complete a course of study, are working to better themselves and have decided to take on a great amount of additional responsibility.

But there are more than a few managers out there who have been burned by HES grads misrepresenting their degrees:

As somebody who has personally on-boarded somebody claiming an HES degree as a HGSAS degree, I can tell you that this is pure bullwack. What a complete waste of time and energy her fraud was. I wasted a ton of time looking into the issue. Harvard’s own standards have always made it clear to grads that their HES degree is not a Harvard College degree. Period… It’s willful ignorance on the part of HES grads that it will be overlooked. Anyone who doesn’t know how to represent an HES degree on a resume is a liar.

Another example:

It happens every few years where my firm gets an HES grad misrepresenting their degree. The latest “MA Anthropology – Harvard,” which after a little checking (we have learned to ALWAYS be suspicious), ends up being an MLA with a concentration from HES. When confronted they always plead ignorance and make the same BS argument about how they took classes on campus at Harvard taught by faculty and blah, blah, blah. Some are otherwise good candidates, but they are still committing resume fraud. I would take an honest UMass or UConn grad over HES any day. Had they listed their true HES credential on the resume and sold it in the interview, they would be fine.

As I have said many times in the past, HES grads should be proud of what they have accomplished and be proud to list “Harvard Extension School” on their resumes. If enough people do so and do as well in their careers as they did while at HES, the reputation of the Harvard Extension School will grow … making it easier for all Extension School grads to leverage ALB and ALM degrees to advance their careers.

Lean Startup vs. Lean Media

Yesterday, I participated in a live video discussion about my Lean Media book. One of the topics that came up was the relationship of the Lean Media framework to Lean Startup, a business and product framework first articulated by Eric Ries nearly ten years ago. He ended up releasing a book titled Lean Startup, and the concepts outlined in it are now widely followed by tech startups and business units at larger companies. (Eric expands on how some of these innovative concepts can be applied to larger ventures and multinational corporations in his new book The Startup Way).

I’ve acknowledged Lean Media’s connections with Lean Startup since I first proposed the Lean Media framework right here on this blog five years ago, but it’s worth exploring in greater detail how they differ. To some, the two iterative product development frameworks may seem similar, but there are some profound differences, too.

The following chart lays it all out:

Lean Startup vs. Lean Media chartIn the first row, Lean Startup addresses products with defined characteristics – a light bulb or SaaS application. In certain cases there may be design elements, such as a smartphone case or pair of shoes, but at the end of the day such products also serve practical purposes, such as protecting your phone or your feet. They therefore have practical value and can be assigned a price. They can also be designed and produced in a methodical fashion, building out components and features to reach the desired specification. Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn cycle brings in customer feedback to improve development of products with defined characteristics.

Media products, on the other hand, are designed to entertain and inform. In certain cases they may have knowledge value (e.g., a subscription to the Financial Times informs business people about issues that impact their careers) but in most cases they bring no tangible value. Media is all about intangibles — the hard-to-articulate qualities of work that elicit feelings and emotions in the people who experience them. Despite media’s lack of practical value, audiences are willing to spend one of their most valuable resources — time — to consume them. They may also spend a great deal of money on media experiences.

MVP vs. Media Prototype

The MVP (minimum viable product) is perhaps the most famous element of Lean Startup. The concept has also been debated, as I discussed on this blog in 2013 (see MDP: Minimum Delightful Product) and I have heard elsewhere. Ideally, it’s a functional product that can be shown to early adopters in order to test hypotheses and get feedback, but some founders expand the definition to include incomplete models or design prototypes, and often end up showing them to people who are not early adopters, such as journalists or prospective investors. MVPs are by definition not finished products, but early customers (or observers, investors, etc.) may have a hard time seeing past the flaws.

Lean Media does not use the term MVP. We already have lots of terms for early versions of a work — draft, rough cut, demo version, etc. — but in the book I group them all under the term prototype for all media formats. While early prototypes may be simple or incomplete, I instruct creators to be sure to remove from the media prototypes what I call scaffolding before showing them to test audiences. Scaffolding could include editors’ marks, time codes, and annotations that will distract from the work.

In the third row, Lean Startup relies on empirical data and validated learning to test hypotheses. An MVP might provoke some discussions with early adopters, but in the build-measure-learn cycle you need to be measuring what you are doing so you can make an informed, data-driven decision. For instance, will customers prefer a recessed headlight in the new car, or something that’s more flush with the front of the vehicle? Have your design team whip up some graphic renderings in their CAD programs, and then show them to prospective customers and measure which one gets more votes. It’s the classic A/B test.

For media, quantitative data can deliver insights as test audiences experience a prototype, but qualitative data explains why people feel the way they do about a media work being developed. Sometimes the quantitative indicators (20 “thumbs down” vs 10 “thumbs up” after reviewing a draft manuscript of a novel) may be invalidated by the qualitative feedback (75% of thumbs down concerned minor issues relating to chapter titles and the index, as opposed to fundamental issues with the story itself).

Regardless of the type of feedback, it’s intended to inform creators about the work, rather than dictating how they must proceed. This is a big difference with Lean Startup, which practically requires founders to follow where the empirical data takes them, even if it’s far outside their original hypotheses about what customers want.

Finally, Lean Startup is not just a framework for product development, it’s a framework for startup business development. For instance, in Lean Startup, Ries describes innovation accounting as a way for the company to reach its business goals. Lean Media has no such intentions — the framework is purely about product. While a media work that resounds with audiences can be the basis for a successful media venture, I do not explicitly address how to make a media business profitable. That may very well be the focus of my next media book (working title: Niche Media). Stay tuned!

 

Do music playlists hold the same emotional and temporal connections as songs and albums?

A friend of mine asked an interesting series of questions on Facebook about music, noting that certain albums had the ability to bring people back to a certain time and place. I think this is common experience that traverses cultures and age groups — e.g., the first time you heard Miles Davis or the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album. He then asked, what about playlists, such as those that might be found on Spotify or Apple Music or some other service?

I started making playlists on iTunes in late 2004, so I could have music to listen to on my iPod as I walked to the bus stop to go to Harvard, where I worked. Looking through the songs definitely brings back memories of that winter walk, especially on cold winter mornings when the temperature was below 20 degrees and the wind was whipping up the street into my face. Later on I set up playlists to keep me going late into the night as I worked on my graduate thesis for the Harvard Extension School.

The mixtapes I made or were given to me from about the early 80s to the mid 1990s also take me back to specific times and places, including other countries where I lived. The ones shared with me also remind me of people who gave them, and where they were in their lives.

I remember one called “Sherman’s Heroes.” A guy named Neil Sherman who I met in a hostel in Taipei gave it to me in early 1993. It consisted of American and British bands that would now be called Shoegaze, such as Love Battery and Ride. Listening to those songs now takes me back to the hot, humid summer, when I was just getting established in Taiwan.

Around the same time, another friend sent me a tape of rap and another one of rock which also takes me back, and reminds me of him.

But maybe all of these examples are special because I or a friend curated the playlists, and knew my tastes and therefore had a better chance of making that emotional connection.

I haven’t had much of an experience with curated playlists. The ones on Amazon Music are generally quite poor — one that springs to mine is the “Classical Guitar Chillout” which contains a small assortment of songs and performances by the greats of the genre (Segovia, Diaz, etc.) but whose marketing copy was clearly made by someone who knows next to nothing of classical guitar (see screenshot, below). The Apple Playlists are really interesting, but because I never got a subscription I have to manually recreate them on Amazon which is a pain (readers, please let me know if there is a way to easily do this by using the comment form below!)

Amazon playlist emotional connections

Lean Media: Out next month!

Five years ago on this blog, I wrote a post titled A proposal for a Lean Media Framework: Input and iteration required. Having heard Eric Ries’ talk about Lean Startup, I wondered whether some of these ideas could be applied to media works, such as a film, video game, website, or music. Little did I know that this conceptual nugget would grow to something much larger. I wrote:

I believe there is an opportunity to build a new Lean framework that is specific to media ventures — a Lean “mod” for media, if you will. The goal of building a Lean Media Framework is to help startups and established companies build innovative products, platforms, and business models that have a higher chance of success and can contribute to new models of creation, distribution, and consumption.

I saw the opportunity, looked for examples from across the world of media, and listened to you, my audience. I then developed a framework, and tested it out on some of the media projects I am engaged in.

Lean Media frameworkBut it needed to be more than a series of blog posts. The result is Lean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences love. The book comes out September 12, and I’m hoping that it can serve as a model for creators and media ventures which are interested in streamlining their operations and making media that truly resonates with audiences.

The book itself was developed using Lean Media principles. In addition to feedback to blog posts here and elsewhere, I had a test pod of readers who read the entire manuscript and offered generalized and specific feedback. I also sought feedback on the cover design from people on Facebook and the Kboards discussion forum — this input steered me away from what I personally thought was best, to concepts that had a broader appeal to people who create media.

The book has already received an endorsement from Automattic’s John Maeda, but over the coming months what I will really be looking for is reactions from readers — not only to validate the ideas and spread the word about Lean Media, but also to provide input to evolve the Lean Media framework further.

If you are a creator of media destined for public audiences, consider how the Lean Media framework might help. It’s easy to try on a couple of pilot projects (for instance, designing an album cover or for an online article) and then if it works, to scale it higher.

Thanks for your support!