Month: August 2013

Leveraging Whitman

On the ProjectVRM list the conversation has once again drifted to identity.

Nearly all conversation about identity in development circles around stuff Devon Loffreto of Noizivy calls administrative. It’s a good term. That’s what we get from every card some company, school or government agency prints with our name on it and we stick in our wallet. It’s what we also get from “social” login shortcuts such as Facebook’s and Twitter’s.

Regardless of the conveniences these administrative things bestow on us, what they provide is not our true identity. It might be one we use, but it is not imbued with our fully human essence, which Devon calls sovereign. In Recalibrating Sovereignty he makes a strong connection between that personal essence and what we write large (in the U.S. at least) as a nation-state of free people. Or that’s the idea anyway.

I don’t see this as a Libertarian thing (though I am sure Libertarians will find it agreeable). I see it as an elementary expression of what makes us most human: our individuality. This is not in conflict with what also makes us social, or the social nature of political, cultural, economic, educational and other institutions. Rather it enriches all of them. Saying that each of us is sovereign goes deeper than saying each of us is unique. Because we are not merely different. Each of us brings our own genius into the world. (Read John Taylor Gatto on genius, which he considers “common as dirt.”) Even genetically identical twins possess profoundly individual souls. That individuality is at the core of identity.

Right now I’m reading Orson Scott Card‘s Tales of Alvin Maker. By the fourth book Alvin’s surname has changed from Miller (what Alvin’s father was) to Smith (what Alvin was trained to be) to Maker (what Alvin becomes), each one expressing his role in the world. The name Maker identifies Alvin’s sovereign nature — one that transcends the identifier and is rooted in his nature as a sovereign soul. (The Tales are set in an early stage of American history in which this kind of choice was a common one. Check your own surname for evidence of what some ancestor did for a living. Searls, as I understand it, is a variation of Searle, which likely descends from Serlo, a Germanic or Norman word for soldier.)

From slightly later than Alvin’s time comes Walt Whitman, the great American poet, and a tireless advocate of personal sovereignty — though I’m not aware that he ever put those two words together. Rather than explain Whitman, I’ll compress further the abridged Song of Myself that put up on the Web more than seventeen years ago:

I know I am solid and sound.
To me the converging objects of the universe
perpetually flow.
All are written to me,
and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless.
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept
by a carpenter’s compass,

I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself
or be understood.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize.

I exist as I am, that is enough.
If no other in the world be aware I sit content.
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me,
and that is myself.
And whether I come to my own today
or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I cheerfully take it now,
or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite.
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

I speak the password primeval.
I give the sign of democracy.
By God, I will accept nothing which all cannot have
their counterpart on the same terms.

Encompass worlds but never try to encompass me.
I crowd your noisiest talk by looking toward you.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.

I am an acme of things accomplished,
and I an encloser of things to be.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.

Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.

All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.

I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey.
My signs are a rainproof coat, good shoes
and a staff cut from the wood.

Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.

If you tire, give me both burdens and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip.
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me.

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams.
Now I wash the gum from your eyes.
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waited,
holding a plank by the shore.
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again,
and nod to me and shout,
and laughingly dash your hair.

I am the teacher of athletes.
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own
proves the width of my own.
He most honors my style
who learns under it to destroy the teacher.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then. I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.
He complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

No administrative entity can make that barbaric yawp.

I don’t yet know how to create a Whitman-compliant identity system (or, whatever); though my hope persists that there is already one or more in the world. Should somebody produce that system (or whatever), I’ll gladly give them SpottedHawk.com, which I’ve held for many years (with other suffixes as well), waiting like Whitman:

The last scud of day holds back for me.
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any
on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the desk.

I depart as air.
I shake my white locks at the runaway sun.
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt and grow
from the grass I love.
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless.
And filtre and fiber your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
Missing me one place search another
I stop some where waiting for you.

Big Data will remain a Big Dud until individuals have their own

The impact of computing on the worldwide economy, and even on business, was subject to debate until it got personal around the turn of the ’80s. Same with networking before the Internet came along in the mid ’90s.

Big computing and worldwide communications — two capabilities that for decades were entirely the province of large organizations — exploded with boundless new value once they became personal. You and I can do far more with computing and communications today than companies and governments ever could with either when they ran those shows, and when both were just B2B businesses.

From the B2B perspective in 1980, personal computing was an oxymoron. If you wanted to do serious computing, you needed big machines on raised floors tended “data processing” professionals. There was no way individuals with desktop machines could do the same grade of work. That notion ended when human creativity was massively unleashed by tens of thousands of new apps that could do things for individuals — and organizations — that big machines and staffs never could.

Likewise, personal networking in 1993 was also an oxymoron — again from the B2B perspective.  Networks were things companies built, were a grace provided by giant telecom operators. Then the Internet came along, and subordinated those telecom operators (and cable operators as well) to the boundless new capacities of anybody with a computer and a connection to the vast new “cyber” spaces the Internet’s simple protocols opened.

What happened in both cases was individuals acquiring and exploiting capacities that were once exclusively corporate — and doing far more with those capacities than those corporations (and governments) ever could.

We forget those lessons when we look at “Big Data” today. In Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? for example,  of The New York Times writes, “There is no disputing that a wide spectrum of businesses, from e-marketers to pharmaceutical companies, are now using huge amounts of data as part of their everyday business.” The whole piece is contained in the B2B frame: Big Data is something only big companies (and hot start-ups) have, care about, and put to use.

Yet to each of us nothing is bigger (or at least more important) than our own data. And nothing shifts attention farther away from what we can do with that data than assuming that others (especially marketers) know more about what we want and need than we do ourselves. Or that Big Data is something that only companies do and care about. This is exactly the mentality that held back computing in the mainframe age, and communications in the telecom age. (And we are being held back today to the very degree that those two old industries, and mentalities, continue to hold sway in our minds and our marketplaces.)

But we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it starts: with assumptions that it can’t be done. It can, and it will.

We are going to be able to do far more with our own data — and data, period — than big organizations ever could.

Bonus links:

For real customer engagement, “social” is inadequate

In Social’s Value Measured in Engagement Over Sales, eMarketer provided this revealing graphic:

There are trends here too:

…consumer engagement and brand lift were the No. 1 goals of social media marketing, each cited by 67% of respondents. This was up significantly from 2011, when those goals were cited by about 50% each.

Last year, using social media marketing to garner positive sentiment was the leading goal, whereas this year it dropped to No. 4.

They add,

Marketers may be finding that it is less important that their posts get a warm reception from social users and more important that they keep consumers posting, “liking” and sharing social content.

That’s what marketers may think; but what about the parts of the company that make, sell and service the company’s goods? Let’s return again to an Oracle graphic of the “customer journey” that has been helping us focus lately:

Oracle Twist

Here’s what this illustrates about engagement:

  1. We’re not always buying stuff. We’re using it. When we have good ideas to feed back to companies, or when we want help with a company’s products or services, we shouldn’t have to go through “social” marketing. There, are, and should, be better means for that.
  2. Substantive engagement is not “posting, ‘liking’ and sharing social content”. It’s making direct connections with the parts of companies that want to help and learn from customers directly.
  3. Owning is what we do with the stuff we buy. Think about it. You’re owning 100% of the time, and buying far less, even if you’re a shopaholic. Yet the respect this fact gets from social marketing — and from marketing in general — is sub-minimal, even in our networked age.

Meanwhile spending on marketing budgets is going up, while other budgets are going down. Most of the increase is going to digital strategies, Gartner says (more here), and approximately none of that, outside “social”, is for direct engagement with the human beings who buy goods and services.

There is a reason for this, which I visit in The Intention Economy:

Back in the early ‘90s, when I was making a good living as a marketing consultant, I asked my wife—a successful businesswoman and a retailing veteran—why it was that heads of corporate Sales & Marketing departments were always from Sales people and not from Marketing people. Her answer: “Simple: Sales is real. Marketing is bullshit.”

When I asked her to explain that, she said this wasn’t marketing’s fault. The problem was the role marketing was forced to play. “See, sales touches the customer; but marketing can’t, because that’s sales’ job. So marketing has to be ‘strategic.’” She put air-quotes around “strategic.” She acknowledged that this was an over-simplification, and not fair to all the good people in marketing (such as myself) who really were trying to do right by customers. But her remark spoke to the need to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, and to dig deeper into why the latter has become such an enormous part of the way we do business.

And now we have CMOs, Chief Marketing Officers, a title that barely existed two decades ago, graced with bigger budgets and increased political power within companies. And yet they still don’t touch the customer. Instead they want to follow the customer around with tracking beacons and to better personalize the “shopping experience” or whatever, and troll for “likes” on Facebook. In less delicate terms, the bullshit is out of control, with bigger budgets and fancier rationalizations than ever.

Want to see how far this goes? Check out the IBM/Aberdeeen “Big Datastillery”:

Look closely at this thing to see where you fit in. You’ll need to scroll down to the conveyor belt at the bottom. See those colored beakers, being filled with “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization,” and then rolling off to oblivion after farting out “campaign metrics”? That’s you.

Your campaign metrics gas gets fed into the big hopper at the top from one pipe among many others. In rough order of decreasing size those are:

  • CRM
  • Social media
  • Clickstream data
  • Transactional data
  • Marketing history
  • SEO data
  • PPC (pay per click)
  • Email metrics
  • Campaign metrics
  • Ad impressions
  • Customer sentiment

None of this involves actual interactions with human beings except perhaps through social media. And even there, one CRM executive recently told me, marketing zealotry is “poisoning the well.”

We can’t fix this and shouldn’t try. It’s marketing’s house. Let them work on it. (Credit where due: according to the top graphic above, 56% of them want to use social media to “improve customer support/service”.)

What we can do is expand the owning experience to include helpful and productive interactions with companies that make, sell and service what we own, and what we use. Here’s one example.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear stories from non-marketing people inside companies about what it’s like to try engaging, in durable and substantive ways, with customers who are at the same time getting treated like the beakers in the graphic above.

Bonus link from @bobosphere.

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