May 31, 2011

Proximity to Greatness = Effective!

I was fortunate enough to attend a Social Media Breakfast at which the wonderful Julia Rosien spoke about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and general social media presence for businesses. Even though I'm
not a start-up, or a business, or even a small business, there was one point in her talk where a light bulb went off in my head. It was not so much a "Eureka!" as it was an "Ah ha!" (there's a difference).  It was the moment where I finally realized exactly what problem I was trying to solve.

Part of my recent foray into the social media world is to network,  be more involved, and better enjoy and appreciate my community and the people within it.  In addition to that, I've been trying to establish (for lack of a better phrase) a fan base. A readership, if you will.

You see, there are stories I want to tell, and as much as I say I would get all the satisfaction I require out of simply writing them down, I know that's not true. I want people to read them, and the best way I can come up with for getting someone to read something you've written is write something that they actually want to read.

My "Ah ha!" moment came during Julia's talk when she said the easiest thing to do for a small business with a website was to add a search bar and keep track of what people were searching for.

That statement, along with the feedback from my last post, convinced me that I would continue to blog about anything and everything I wanted to, but I would hereinafter do it with my senses more aware of what was going on around me.  Further to that, it brought be back to a conversation I had with a good friend of mine about a screenplay I was writing.

He asked me why I wasn't writing it as a book and I didn't have a good answer. It's just always been a movie to me. Every story I have ever told has been a movie (in my mind at least). Any story I would ever want to tell would be a movie.  Only it's not a movie. That's not what the search box in my brain is telling me. It's a book. And now that I know that much, so much more is becoming clear. Ideas and character development and plot points are pouring out of me like some literary keg with a broken tap.

So what does this have to do with proximity to greatness? Well, I know I am writing quite the love story about Twitter lately, but it was once again the jumping off point for me (and now I'm starting to recognize a trend).

Twitter allows me to completely immerse myself with wonderfully interesting and amazing people who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas and feedback candidly and honestly.  Twitter can be remarkably useful, if you choose to use it to accomplish something useful.

In order for me to do this I have uncovered some very important rules:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Go outside your comfort zone
  3. Allow yourself to be wrong
  4. Allow others to be right
  5. Allow yourself to be heard
  6. Allow others to be heard first

When I got to sit in a room with a hundred people from Twitter you could just sense that there were more ideas than people sitting there with you. It was as if just being around awesome people allowed all kinds of ideas to form. Ideas aren't just born out of the ether though, not even the ones accompanied by a "Eureka!"

I would argue that there are very few ideas that live within a single mind that ever make it out into the world. Certainly the ones that do are memorable - the heliocentric model of the solar system and E=MC² are two that immediately come to mind - but even both of those needed a little help from others before making their impact. They needed to be challenged and shared with a larger community before they would realize their full potential.

The seeds for a good many ideas - the good ones at least - are often planted deep within the mind, and then cultivated as their host explores and interacts with the world and people around them. It can hardly be considered a surprise when really great ideas come from people who not only are great or aspire to be great, but who also surround themselves with greatness.

Twitter isn't just mindless chatter. Facebook isn't just birthday reminders and noticing how you've aged way better than many of your high school friends. Active listening on social media might just be the most important skill you can acquire. Your phones aren't smart - you are. So plant your idea and let it take root. Give it food and nurturing to help it evolve. Keep a close eye on it, pay attention, and stay engaged.

If all else fails hunt it down ruthlessly and don't give up. Greatness will be yours.

May 24, 2011

More Than Tweets the Eye

Some people don't "get" Twitter, which is understandable if you've only ever scratched the surface. I have been on Twitter since sometime in 2009, and it wasn't until recently that I started becoming more active, and it wasn't until very recently that I started to see its real value.  I can honestly say I this point that Twitter is improving the quality of my life, and I can point to two key moments that opened my eyes to this.

I'm not being overly dramatic just to appease my readership (all 7 of you!) either. Read this short article on ways Twitter can change your life. It may over state some of the claims but the key message behind each one is true. What it fails to outline however is that if you are planning on using Twitter for more than just random updates about friends' lunches or celebrity gossip then you've got to use Twitter just like you would any other tool.

The wonderful Julia Rosien of Social North put together this quick read. It begins, "Whether it’s a hammer or Twitter, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it." I'll take this a step further and suggest that any tool, used for its intended purpose, has the potential to be a very valuable tool. Sure, a pocket knife can open a can of beans, but it's a much less useful pocket knife if the blade is all dull and bent and you're sporting a 2 inch gash because the bean juice got on your hand and the knife slipped and now the helpful nurse in the ER is asking you, "Why not just use a can opener?".  Why not indeed.

More to the point (and hopefully getting us closer to those two eye opening Twitter moments) Twitter users are now using the tool in remarkable ways, 140 characters at a time, FOR FREE. That's right. Free. Twitter does not charge you to advertise, promote, share, recommend, endorse, or spam, though that last one will get you kicked off (and rightfully so). I don't know too many other services out there that have the potential to capture such a globally diverse audience, in real time, with no charge.

Celebrities such as Kevin Smith have actually started using Twitter to promote their brand and business. Hell, Kev's gone a step further and is practically pinning the hopes of his latest movie on word of mouth  advertising, and Twitter was his jumping off point. With over 1.8 million followers on Twitter and a flick that's looking like it will be in the black before it's even released it's hard to argue against the value of the tweet.

It is really just a question of knowing what problem you're trying to solve:

  • How can I reach a larger, more diverse audience?
  • How can I get immediate feedback on an idea?
  • How can I become more involved with my community?
  • How do I get more than 7 people reading my blog?

My coming out party on Twitter started when I saw this tweet.  It was from a friend of mine that I haven't been seeing enough of. He works hard and has a family, I'm lazy and have a family. Life just gets in the way sometimes, but after reading about his awesome news I ran straight out and joined the celebration, and you know what? I met some truly amazing people. Friends of friends, and interesting and remarkable people right in my own backyard: Mike, Ben, Melanie, just to name a few.

That led to me hearing about a scotch tasting at the KW Art Gallery where I got to meet Robb, Mark, and Dave, which was followed up by an invite (sent out via Twitter) to Start Up Drinks Waterloo where I had some great conversations with Matt "Dennick" about Twitter as well as good talks with Craig and Tera (who shares my crazy obsession with getting a Twitter @ mention. It's like crack, I tells ya).  Soon I'll be off to the Social Media Breakfast and then Ignite Waterloo.

To think this all started with one Tweet.

The other defining moment for me came when I spent a couple weeks putting together a song using some online music creating software. I wrote a 54 second instrumental in the hopes that Kevin Smith would "buy" it and use it for one of his podcast introductions. I tweeted him this, and all he did was tweet this a few minutes later, and within a half hour of me posting the blog entry I 500 hits and the song had over 200 plays. Next thing I knew I was exchanging emails with Jordan Monsanto. Awesomely surreal.  The whole experience showed me that Twitter in the hands of the right people can be a powerful tool indeed.

So whatever problem you're trying to solve, or whatever it is you're looking for, all I can say is that Twitter can help. Identify the problem you want to solve, read up on how other people are using Twitter to solve similar problems, and get on there and start getting engaged.  Well, not necessarily THIS type of engaged.  I can think of much better ways to propose, though I do highly recommend sharing the good news on Twitter afterwards.

May 07, 2011

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

Well unless something outrageous happens in the next 4 years there will not be many more political posts. Thanks to everyone who stopped by before, during, and after the election.

This post is not political (though some might categorize it as such). It deals with what I think are completely insane people, some of whom happen to turn a bill into law in the United States of America.

I was born and raised a stone's throw from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and I can honestly say that I know of very few people with an unhealthy obsession for firearms. I know plenty of folks with long guns suitable for hunting (deer, moose, etc...). But a hand gun? Not so much. Part of this reason - and I'm going out on a limb to say it's probably an extremely large part - is that they are ILLEGAL. There are cases where you can get one legally (for example, collecting) but chances are if you see someone (that's not in law enforcement) in Canada with a hand gun, then you're probably best to get your butt somewhere else - quickly.

Now for our neighbours to the south there is the infamous second amendment to the constitution. In a nutshell it gives Americans the right to bear arms. There is considerable debate that occurs between the advocates of this constitutional right and those opposed to it, but I don't want to get into that here. What I do want to get is a sense for whether or not anyone else out there thinks the following is completely wrong:

Utah and Arizona have state firearms.

That's right, along with a state motto ("Industry"), bird (California gull), flower (sego lily), nickname ("the beehive state"), tree (blue spruce), gem (topaz), and a whole host of other things, Utah has a state firearm (M1911 pistol).

Source: Wikipedia
Immediately to the south of Utah, in Arizona, they have a motto ("God Enriches"), bird (cactus wren), flower (saguaro cactus blossom), nickname ("the grand canyon state"), tree (palo verde), gem (turquoise), a whole host of other things, and a state firearm (Colt Single Action Army, a.k.a Colt 45).

Source: Wikipedia
In fact, there was a race between the two states to see who would get the "honor" of becoming the first state to pass into law the naming of a state firearm. Utah won, but Arizona still pressed on. Even after 13 people were wounded (including a congresswoman), and 6 people were killed (including a child) in January they passed into law the name of a state firearm with the nickname "peacemaker" - in April. I wonder if the congresswoman thinks about rescinding that law as she rehabilitates.

The whole thing just has me at a loss for words (present post excepted I suppose). I read about the tragedy in Arizona and then I read about a toddler getting his hands on a loaded gun and accidentally killing his brother and then I think about the tens of thousands of people murdered every year (including the 12,632 in 2007 alone) and I can't help but wonder what having a state firearm is saying to the families of all those victims. "God bless America?"

May 04, 2011

Anyone Else Feel Like This?

Monday night I went to bed later than usual, with this feeling that I had just left a teenage boy alone for the weekend, with my keys to the car, my credit card, and the liquor cabinet unlocked. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

I could come back on Sunday night and find the car in the driveway, the keys on the table, the floors swept, and the boy finishing up his homework. However, it's just as likely I come home and half my house is blown to smithereens, the boy, my car, and my credit card are nowhere to be found, and the cops are on the front lawn taking statements from the neighbours.

Welcome to the moments after Canada's latest federal election.

As you read this, there are literally tens of thousands of people smirking in their [right] wing back chairs dismissing more than 60% of the voting population with a casual wave of the hand. "That will be all now. Thank you, and good night. Gladly go fuck yourselves for 4 years". Some other comments include, “You lost. Get over it” and “It's called democracy”. Nice touch with that last one (democracy should be in quotes though).

I, for one, was not surprised in the least. If you follow me on Twitter (@andrewbutters) you may recall this tweet.

"It's all about who wants it more. Is the desire to not lose greater than the desire to win? #elxn41 #NHLPlayoffs"

What many people not paying attention may have missed was the #elxn41 hashtag. This election, much like many of the great hockey games played in the NHL playoffs, was just as much determined by the team with the most to lose - and their desire to not lose it - as it was by the skill and principles and desire to win for the team desperately trying to avoid the dreaded "Participant" ribbon.

The Conservatives and their faithful, with everything to lose, would rather die than let the Liberals (or anyone else) rule the house. The left was well...left over. Bickering with themselves and trying to figure a way to just get their toe back in the door and working the mathematical models like some freaky autistic savant. "Majority is 155 seats. Definitely 155. Gotta win Southern Ontario and Quebec to prevent a Tory Majority. Definitely."

After the votes were counted I was disenchanted with the result (see previous post), but I was not entirely shocked either. Anyone who asked me to predict the outcome would have received a "strong minority or majority Conservative parliament" response. They wanted it more, they were more organized, and they got the right people off their asses and out voting - for them. Which is more than we can say for just about everyone else with the exception of Quebec. The rest of the country didn't want it badly enough (which is common), or didn't think it was possible (which is understandable), or just didn't care (which is sad).

Silver lining time.

Those of us not thrilled with the result have a good 4 years to figure out how to beat the system.

I think this guy summed it up really well. Harper has one chance to not screw this up. The system is broken and now we've got 4 years to figure out how to work around it. A party that receives 9% less of the popular vote received almost 50% less representation. The Conservatives were in the same boat not too long ago and they united their side of the political spectrum and now one of theirs – the rightest of the right wing even - is Prime Minister. Has been for 5 years and is safe for another 4.

Some options for the rest are to unite the left or find away to turn 15-20% of Conservative voters that the colour orange is that much better than blue. There may be other options, but don't count on electoral reform being one of them. The only thing in that area that we're going to see different is a possibly title change from Prime Minister to Supreme Overlord.

The Bloc is gone!

They lost official party status by dropping down to only 4 seats and there are a TON of Canadians that are especially thrilled with this. Don't get too excited though, the NDP (who replaced the lions share of the Bloc incumbents) has the same amount of time with Quebec as Harper has with the entire nation. There is some hope that the Bloc is gone for good though. Several of their newly elected Memebers of Parliament are first timers and are so young they can't legally drink in the US or even rent a car. When you kick someone out who has been representing you for 20 years and replace them with a bunch of newbies that's sending a message. Hell, they even elected a non-French speaking person who ran their campaign while on a trip to Las Vegas! Now that's REALLY sending a message.

A member of the Green Party was elected!

One really good thing was that Elizabeth May showed that with a little forethought and a bit of help from people who know how to work the system that you can accomplish something remarkable. Okay, maybe not remarkable, but still quite good. Parliament will be better with her in it.

So, in summary, we have:
  • a government run by a guy who has done all this 
  • 40% of all those who voted supporting him
  • 40% of the voting population still finding something better to do on election day
  • a severely wounded Liberal party
  • an extreme left wing opposition with more than double their previous best representation
  • the (almost) birth of an environmental social conscience in Canadian parliament
  • the (almost) death of the most polarizing party of the past 2 decades.
And six weeks ago people thought that this election was going to be boring.

May 01, 2011

Canada Votes 2011 #3 - What Canada Do YOU Want to Live In?

If you've used Vote Compass like I have you'll see where you sit on the political grid (or where the CBC thinks you should sit). I sit smack dab in the middle. Pretty much equidistant from both the Conservatives (CPC) and the rest (ABC: Anything But Conservative). In some ways I appreciate and (somewhat) benefit from one side, and in different ways I appreciate and (somewhat) respect the other.

Sadly, the first-past-the-post system we have in place at the moment pretty much guarantees that it doesn't matter what I do. Every vote is counted, but not every one matters, and even that's questionable. Call me crazy though, but I think regardless of the party in power most Canadians will get screwed over on the actual issues at one point or another.

With the election is less than 3 days away I have to say I'm genuinely conflicted. Up to this point I've tried very hard to keep my political cards close to my chest (I'm more than happy discussing certain issues, or democracy in general with anyone, but discussing politics? Not so much). However, with voting day looming it's time I figured it out. Here's how I feel about it, and I'm hoping that there are comments coming from the 8 people that read this.

For many people in the country this election is a two horse race between the CBC and ABC (minus the Greens). What makes this tricky is that even a majority ABC will result in a minority CPC House of Commons. So, either the ABC is too fractured or the electoral system in place is horribly broken. I believe it's a little from column 'A' and a little from column 'B'. A separatist Bloc party getting in the way does not help matters either, but that's a rant for another day.

I happen to be in a riding that, after the Liberal plummet, switched over to the Conservatives and hasn't looked back. It's not even close actually (last election it's one of the few ridings where the winner garnered about 50% of the votes, and the projection for this year seems to indicate more of the same). Apparently the sponsorship "scandal" was too much for this lot, and a united right wing seemed to be a favourable alternative.

So the conflicting part of this for me is that for a couple years (since I moved back to this region) I have been seeing the benefits of the CPC right in my backyard and there are many little things that give me hope that my local candidate speaks loud and clear for the people that voted for him. I would love for these things to continue as they are now (or in some similar and just as noticeable way), but the problem is that a CPC government does not, for me at least, represent what I think a Canadian government should be.

I recently read this article by Margaret Atwood. Having grown up in Canada her stuff is pretty much mandatory reading from birth. Generally speaking I have mixed opinions on her work, but this article really resonated as I read it. She writes about the kind of country she would like to live in and she's voting based on which party she thinks would bring those qualities to the forefront. For the undecided this is a great way to go about it, and let's face it folks, the people who knew who they were voting for the instant the election was called aren't changing their minds now.

I've been leaning one particular direction but keeping an open mind, paying attention and reading articles from a variety of sources and forming an opinion based on what matters to me. Much like Ms. Atwood I have my own paper napkin and here it is (in no particular order):
  • Honest
  • Hard working
  • Approachable
  • Transparent
  • Empathetic
  • Innovative
  • Creative
Sadly, I would argue that at any given moment neither the CPC nor any part the ABC simultaneously exhibit all of these traits. It is also my honest opinion that the CPC doesn't exhibit any of them - and they never will - and what's worse is I don't think they ever want to.

What Canada do YOU want to live in?