Monday Jun 29, 2009

Blogging, networking and sneezing in Amsterdam

I had the opportunity to chair the Marcus Evans Social Media conference a couple of weeks ago, albeit with a particularly nasty cold that caused me to occasionally lose my voice. The session was located in Amsterdam, convenient because I was visiting my daughter in London for the month of June. This is the fourth time I've chaired or participated in European communication conferences, and I always walk away smarter for the experience.

It's far too easy to end up U.S.-centric when working for a California-based company, even a global one like Sun. Spending three days with new colleagues from other countries helps me to reshape my perspective and learn new ideas.

What I found really interesting at this particular conference was that participants ranged from those involved in very sophisticated social media to those who were contemplating taking their first baby steps. And because participants came from different industries, we could have really meaningful conversations about how networking plays out in one culture versus another.

I admit it - just when I think there's not much more to say on the subject, I find there is.

So the tipping point is rapidly approaching on a global scale, where employees around the world, regardless of what their company is doing in social media, will be using these technologies to connect. Case in point: a company who has blocked Facebook from work has employees actively and enthusiastically engaged in that social networking site - they are simply using their smart phones instead of their company laptops or workstations (and duh, yes, during business hours). In other words, the revolution has happened already, so it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of how companies will adapt to this brave new world.

I started off on Facebook and LinkedIn maybe two or three years ago, just as an experiment. I've been shocked at how much a part of my life these networks have become, for both work and personal connections. And how much of a drag email is by comparison.

So consider this: Instead of buying CDs, I pay for and download music to my laptop and iPod. Instead of buying physical books, I pay for and download e-books to my Kindle. Instead of paying the phone company an outrageous amount of money to stay in touch with my friends and relatives outside of the U.S., I pay for and use Skype (so I can make "free" international calls as well as connect via laptops) to do as much talking as I want.

And I'm not a youngster (much as I hate to admit it). But the value these technologies represent is high enough that it's well worth the learning curve - which fortunately is really pretty darn low.

The icing of the cake for me is being featured on a new blog - Shoe's Talk, written by the witty and quite charming Medard Schoenmaeckers in Basel, Switzerland. (By the way, the URL is, in case my link isn't working - so much for low learning curves!) Medard also spoke at the Amsterdam conference and I was flattered to be interviewed by him for his first podcast. I think we both sound brilliant, don't you??

Wednesday Dec 10, 2008

I Can't Hear You

My husband and I have season tickets to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I go only because I try to be a good wife. Knowing that this may flag me as the philistine so many suspect I am, I reluctantly admit that I'm happier listening to good music from the comfort of my family room, dog by my side, needlepoint in lap, glass of wine within reach. My husband, whose mother is a musician and who plays a mean piano himself, is frankly appalled by this. He experiences live music very differently than I do. Picture us at a typical performance.... Scott is leaning forward In his seat, listening to every note, wincing at a half-note miss, glowing with a perfectly played passage. I sit at his side, trying hard not to be obviously restless or drowsy. I glance at my watch to see how much longer while he listens entranced. When the performance ends, I'm saying, “OK, let's go!” while he's enthusiastically showing his appreciation.

I guess opposites do attract. When they don't kill each other.

So I was struck this morning by an interview with pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim discussing his new book, Music Quickens Time , when he talked about the difference between hearing and listening. Background music is our enemy, he says (OK, I'm paraphrasing) because it allows our ear to get lazy and to listen but not really hear. Hearing, says Barenboim, takes as much work on the part of the audience as it does on the part of the performer, for hearing is “listening with thought.” Isn't that an interesting perspective? Although it sadly shows me to be not only a philistine but lazy and unthoughtful to boot.

Now here's another lens. Read this quote from the Harvard Magazine interview with the maestro and think about its implications for communication:

The audience, too, has obligations: to listen with informed attention, to exercise what Barenboim called “the moral responsibility of the ear.’’ He drew a distinction between hearing and listening: we can’t help listening because we don’t have earlids, but “hearing is listening with thought.’’ “The audience needs to concentrate as much, as exclusively and fully, on the music as the performer does.”

How much hearing is going on in your company today? Or in mine? Are executives communicating with the passion and the urgency that the best musicians bring to their art? Are employees really hearing what's being said? Oh, and by the way - are executives really hearing what employees are saying? And if the answer is not what you want, whose fault is it?

Look, communicating bad news, unpopular policies, or complex strategies is not fun nor is it easy. You have to have intestinal fortitude to do it. And you have to be prepared to do it over and over and over and over. Not because you weren't listened to the first time. But maybe because you weren't heard. Say it again, Sam, but this time with feeling.

Friday Oct 03, 2008

A European Perspective

This week, I had the privilege of being in Austria, chairing the Marcus Evans conference on Employee Communication and Engagement. It was two days packed with presentations, perspectives and ideas. Even better, from my perspective, I was the only North American presenter.

So I had the chance to learn about Corporate Social Responsibility as part of the employee value proposition from a senior advisor at Hydro, a Norwegian metals company. Communicators from a bank in Hungary, a telecommunications company in the Czech Republic, and a financial institute in the U.K. spoke passionately about the importance of brand and the best ways to engage employees around it. Fiona McKerrow of Syngenta International AG shared her company's innovative method of challenging employees to create stories that demonstrated company values.

And yes, I shared the exciting work Sun is doing in the Web Next world, but was blown away listening to the great work happening at BT and ABB, as they push intranets to the next level. I also presented how we fuse change management and communication here at Sun; in return, I learned how OMV does it here in Austria.

Ah yes, we can be a sheltered lot here in the States. What we take for granted is seen as good, bad or sometimes just plain bizarre in other parts of the world. For example, a CEO who casually talks with employees? Not a big deal for us, but pretty unusual in more formal cultures. And it's fine to be a touch provincial – unless you're a global company. Then it's not OK. At all.

By the way, the next time I'm congratulating myself on my presentation skills, I'm going to remember my fellow presenters here in Austria, all of whom presented in English - a second or third language for the majority of them. Ginger Rogers dancing backwards - in heels.... Looking good.

So I thank the good folks at Marcus Evans for inviting me to act as the chairperson of this conference, and also for allowing me to share some of the cool stuff Sun is doing. I walked out of the conference with my head bursting with new ideas, but also feeling so proud of Sun and the work we've done. Sometimes you have to talk to people outside your own neighborhood to realize we have lot that we should feel very good about accomplishing.

Monday Aug 04, 2008

Leadership Connections

If your company runs a complex business, like mine does, helping employees understand why things happen the way they do is a huge challenge.  Why, for example, did Sun pay around $1B for MySQL?  Why do we open source everything we can?  Why are we investing in university relations?  Why aren't we just focusing on our high-end servers and our big customers?  Especially when employees and investors want us to show them the money, and make that today - not tomorrow!

Even friends who love Sun almost as much as I do have said to me, "Terry, while I sort of think Sun is on the right track, your story is so darned hard to explain.  How can you expect investors to get it?"

Well, my job is not to explain our story to investors, but it is to explain it to employees.  More important, it's to get employees to believe in it and know how to align their goals and activities with it.  And to make that happen, the credibility of our leadership is absolutely key to the process. That means we better make darn sure our leaders can talk knowledgeably about Sun's path.

Communications will only take us so far.  Under the guidance of Karie Willyerd in Sun Learning Services, the company has put together Leadership Connections, a week-long learning adventure for directors and vice presidents that is nothing less than astonishing.  For two reasons:
  1. The value of the experience, from learning to networking with other leaders
  2. The commitment of the company, even in these challenging financial times, to mandate that 90 percent of all directors and vice presidents go through this program in one year
When I entered the course last week, however, I did go into the experience kicking and screaming. (One of my favorite trainers once told me that there are three kinds of people attending any given company training course: hostages, victims and true learners. Guess which group is the smallest.)  Despite my entry as a hostage, I came out a true believer - and a learner.  And I'm very excited to share what I learned with my team, so they can experience it as well.

Leadership Connections is an intense business simulation where you and your teammates compete with other teams for market share and long-term customer value.  Working under tight time constraints, you go through three years of business decision-making and results in three days.  Computer modeling predicts the results of where you've chosen to invest and how you're positioning yourself in the market.  We got to see what happens when you change sales coverage, when you focus on small or large IT spenders, when you invest - or don't invest - in your own IP.  We saw hiring decisions have unexpected reverberations, and quality issues crop up to undermine our strategy.  Perhaps most important, we saw how turning one dial impacts the rest of our very interdependent model, making every decision sensitive.

The timing of our session was particularly good, because the training week ended on August 1, when we announced our FY08 results.  Although the earnings call was at 5 am Pacific Time, I listened carefully to our results.  And for the first time, I understood at a much deeper level what was being said - why some investments are important although not paying off today, early indicators of future promise, and short-term struggles for long-term results.

I got it.  At a visceral level, not just an intellectual one. 

We still have a communication challenge, because we can't ask the world to go through a week of training.  But I walked away with practical ideas on how to make our story easier for our employees to understand and to tell.   Not only was this a week well spent, but a vivid reminder that Sun is a company that just plain does things differently - and in this case, differently in a very good way.

Saturday May 10, 2008

Bragging Rights

In the midst of stories dissing my company because of our weak Q3 and subsequent drop - ok, plunge - in stock price, my day was brightened this morning when I opened up my morning paper, the Los Angeles Times. There, on the front page, was this headline: A Second Life for Corporate America

I'm an internal communicator, and my job is typically behind the scenes, not making headlines.  So the fact that our recent Global Employee Connections meeting in Second Life was prominently featured in the story has just made me grin, ear-to-ear.

Here's a quote from the story:

"Sun Microsystems, which makes computer servers and software, owns seven islands in Second Life, two of which are open to the public. The rest are used for training sessions and meetings. During its biggest event, a 12-hour corporate meeting held last month, 14 of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's top executives hobnobbed with hundreds of employees. Alpine skiing, car racing, live jazz and a sandbox were also part of the event....

....Hundreds of Sun avatars lounged in the audience, some wearing sneakers and jeans, others in business attire, asking questions about new products, Second Life and Sun's competitive position. Thousands of other employees watched the virtual meeting on monitors in Sun's offices in Santa Clara, New York and Tokyo."

How did employees react to our global meeting in Second Life?  I'd say the reaction was pretty split, with some people loving it and other not so crazy about it. But while not everyone loved the experience, you've gotta love good publicity!

OK, I'm going to get this big grin off my face any minute now....

Tuesday Feb 05, 2008

"Question Authority, If You Dare"

I've been an avid reader of the Los Angeles Times since moving to Southern California in 1976.  It was a consistently terrific newspaper but has suffered under new ownership and market realities over the past few years, which is a real loss for the community. Now a member of the Tribune Company, I see its future as even more fragile.

Consider Molly Selvin's article in this morning's edition: Challenge Authority, if You Dare... It's a story that answers the question, "Why doesn't anyone ever ask executives any questions around here?"

The tale starts with a new employee handbook the Tribune put out.  The handbook got rid of the old boilerplate, turgid, stiff language and replaced it with clear, crisp  and frank directives.  Quoting the Los Angeles Times quoting the handbook: "Ask your manager, supervisor, business unit head or anyone in Corporate any question you have regarding the business.  Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer.  You will earn respect and not get into trouble for asking tough questions."

All right! You go, Tribune!  Music to this communicator's ears.  Alas, the story does not end there.  Sam Zell, the Tribune's new chairman, attended a staff meeting in Orlando, where he was asked a question he didn't much like by an Orlando Sentinel photographer.  His response was sarcastic and unpleasant. (And don't even get me started on the content of his response, which was pretty appalling.)  He completed his response by turning his head and muttering a two-word obscenity at the staff member.  One can only imagine...

Oh, wait!  There's no need to imagine.  Someone videotaped the meeting and now that infamous moment has made its way to YouTube and The Gawker, where all of us can enjoy it.

Putting lipstick on a pig does not make the pig beautiful.  Writing nice platitudes in your employee handbook does not transform a culture.  Please don't mislead employees about your true nature.  It's only a matter of time before the truth comes out.  Be genuine.  Be authentic.  Be yourself.  It's OK - we're all adults and we can deal with the truth.  What is hard to swallow and creates cynicism and disengagement is hypocrisy. If Mr. Zell didn't agree with the policies in the handbook, then he should have spoken up.  And if the communications department published that new handbook without getting executive buy-in, well, shame on them. 

Gee, why doesn't anyone ask any questions?  Maybe because the answer is a slap in the face.  Communicators beware....

Monday Oct 08, 2007

A Thousand Conversations

So I suppose this is a bad thing for Sun's head of employee communications to admit, but...

I hate company values communication campaigns. Too often, the campaigns feel contrived, celebrated with great chest beating, shouting how fabulous we are.  The content can be trite - I mean really, does any company have values that don't celebrate truth and justice? (see Divas, Liars and Thieves if you want to hear me continue the rant.) Ugly t-shirts, refrigerator magnets and paperweights engraved with "Our Company Values" complete the travesty.  Yuck.

And yet, I'm here to talk about Sun's values.  Without balloons.  Without Lucite pyramids. Without smugness. Because I believe we're doing this in the right way - articulating values that reflect who we are and who we want to be, and then tying the whole thing to performance management.

When Jonathan did his direct report reviews in August and September, he framed the conversations around the values that are near and dear to the core of this company.  And when he and his top management team reviewed high potentials and talked about succession planning, the dialogue centered as much on people's character, as exemplified in the values, as in their accomplishments.

That's putting your money where your mouth is. And it exemplified integrity, which happens to be one of our five values:

    o  Courage
    o  Integrity
    o  Innovation
    o  Collaboration
    o  Pace

By the way, Sun's reputation for courage, integrity and innovation brought me to this company almost five years ago.   At that time, collaboration was in scant evidence and pace a joke.  Since then, in my opinion, we've come a long way on collaboration, breaking down silos, truly putting all the wood behind one arrow. Pace?  Well, we're not going to win any land speed records just yet but there's recognition that we must do better in that area.  And as we all know, what is measured is what is done.  So putting the spotlight on pace can only help us.

Rather than bringing in the elephants and dancing girls to celebrate our values, let's do something a tad more meaningful.  Let's talk about them.  Talk to your co-workers, talk to your employees, talk to your managers about them.  We're all going to assessed on how we lived them this year - they are that important.  Let a thousand conversations begin, and let those spur another thousand, and another thousand, and then perhaps another thousand. Let's get clear on what these values mean to us as an organization, what they mean in our workgroups, and as leaders and employees in the company. In the end, how we hold ourselves and others accountable for living these values is what will make a difference.

For more on our values, you can listen to Bill MacGowan, our chief human resources officer, talk about them here.

Friday Sep 28, 2007

The Accidental Communicator

My sister, who is older and wiser than me (Sorry, sis!  I know, I know, you're not that much older than me!), once commented that it seems people come to their careers in one of two ways.  Some people just grow up knowing what they want to do.  My sister wanted to be an attorney, my husband a physician, my cousin both a musician and a lawyer (she recently retired from labor law, working with musicians, and now teaches the viola - talk about having your cake and eating it, too!).  Others, like yours truly, set out without a definite path.  We take various jobs along the way for various reasons, and if we're lucky, end up in an interesting place well suited to our skills.

I don't know anyone who said, "When I grow up, I want to do employee communications!"  Yet there's a bunch of us out there who have fallen into this odd way to make a living.  Over the past two weeks, I've met communicators from 20 different states here in the U.S. plus South Africa, Canada, Chile, the U.K., Slovakia, Singapore, to name a few. 

We have a lot in common - for example, we pretty much agreed that our profession has undergone huge changes in the past 10 years, and is now set to undergo another major shift.  But it's our differences that make for an interesting story.

Here at Sun, we pride ourselves on our global workforce, but we struggle on how to communicate and behave in a global manner.  Well, imagine you're a telecom company - such as T-Mobile, MTN Group or Zain, and you decide to grow through acquisition.  When these guys acquire a company, they often acquire a portion of the globe that they weren't in before.  Based in South Africa, like MTN?  To grow, you're now dealing with other parts of the African continent, with vastly different cultures than that of South Africa.  And you're now in the Middle East, where once again you face huge societal differences. (BTW, their very clever way of bringing people together is to introduce a new way to greet each other and answer the phone: "Y'ello!"  See, their brand color is yellow and... well, anyway.  Darned clever.  And effective.  Wish I'd thought of it!)

Talk about change management and communication!  So it was a true pleasure to rub shoulders at this Jacob Fleming conference with the resourceful, creative and smart communicators who help lead their organizations through change.

From there I moved on to Chicago where I was privileged to give the keynote address on social media at the Melcrum Conference. The crowd was enthusiastic, excited and engaged, leading to   many terrific conversations about social media and other communication challenges.  There were many presentations, such as Roger D'Aprix's excellent and moving address about our profession, that will stick in my mind for a long time.  But for now, let me leave you with the advice given us by David Grossman, CEO of Chicago-based dg&a:

        My Summary of dg&a's 7 Must Do's for Communicators:

  1. Daring discipline in planning - excellent execution doesn't happen without careful, thoughtful planning.
  2. A method to your greatness - set service level agreements, pay attention to messaging, increase your efficiency with common templates for strategy development and measurement, tie your work to performance management systems for maximum impact
  3. Drive the business goals globally and locally - don't be a headquarters geek or a silo servant.  Look around and make sure you're aiming at the right audience - and results.
  4. Conversations rule -Nothing has as much impact as a conversation between two people.  Communicators need to be ready to ask the tough questions, change the dialogue, listen well and encourage others to listen well.
  5. Continually upgrade the skills in your group - don't get stuck with yesterday's standards.  Push the limits; insist that everyone stay up-to-date and try new things
  6. Meaningful measurement - that which you measure is that which gets done.  Look for ways you can impact the bottom line, increase key indices around employee engagement and productivity.
  7. Unparalleled strategic counsel - be a business person first, and a communicator second.  You'll be amazed at the increase in your impact
Like these a lot.  Especially #4 and #7.  To both I would add, do this with courage and conviction.  Be civil and respectful - but have an opinion and a spine to back it up.

Accidental communicators?  Well, yes, at least for me.  Accidental contributor?  Not on your life - that's all planned, worked on and driven with passion.

Monday Aug 13, 2007

The Age of Diffusion

In this week's issue of BusinessWeek, the cover story is all about managing multinationals.  It's a fascinating read. I was especially taken by Peter Engardio's article, Managing the New Workforce.

He takes little time in painting a compelling picture of why social networking is moving from the play pen to the office, as he describes a global IBM team coming together through IM, Blackberrys, and cell phones to jump on a major opportunity in a matter of minutes.  "Within minutes, Chiu had 18 chat windows open simultaneously on his laptop."

As knowledge, workers and stakeholders are increasingly spread around the globe (thus BusinessWeek's term, the Age of Diffusion), the ability to make connections in an instant goes from being interesting to being vital.  If you had to pull together a team quickly, how long would it take you to reach the team members and organize a conversation?  Precious seconds tick by while we're fooling around with people's schedules.

Look, it's no secret that speed, ideas, information and relationships fuel a successful business.  As our workforce shifts out of the office, out of the campus and out of reach of "behind-the-firewall" technology, we need to be smart about how we pull these forces together.  As fast as we're moving, I'm afraid we're still too slow.  We need to go, go, go. 

What further proof do we need that social networking is the foundation for the future?  It has nothing to do with millenials.  It has everything to do with business success and ability to win.

Monday Jul 09, 2007

Truth or Consequences

At the Sun Social Mashup that I spoke of in my last post, we got into a vigorous discussion over the veracity of wikis versus print.  Some participants pointed out that some pretty big untruths had been outed from Wikipedia, and that wikis should be viewed with caution because the information may not be reliable.

And print is reliable?  Hmmm, I beg to differ. 

While there is great comfort in holding a book or magazine in your hands, adding "weight" to your research, the fact is that no media is exempt from fiction parading as fact.  Remember the brouhaha over James Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces"?  Was it a factual recount of his efforts to become clean or was it a historical novel, with some fact and some fiction mixed in? (I found it a great read, by the way, regardless of what literary license was taken.)  Want another example?  How about the books that claim the Holocaust never occurred?  Or instruction manuals that are so poorly written that they are misleading or just plain wrong?

Now those who were arguing that print is more reliable talked about the fact that respectable publications have editors who lend a critical eye to the content and, if they're doing their job well, uncover inconsistencies and shaky information.  I can't argue with that, and in fact the growing reluctance of too many publications to invest in fact-checkers makes me uneasy.  The web does leave us without official editors and replaces them with passionate participants who likely have an ax to grind.

Still.... does the light of day expose fraud and bad information?   James Surowiecki's book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," reviews how a diverse, independent audience of thinkers can uncover the facts and make sure good information surfaces.  My first reaction to this argument, I admit, was that "the wisdom of crowds" sure sounded like an oxymoron to me.  Paul Ginsparg of Cornell University put in more eloquently: "The problem with the global village is all the global village idiots." But when you actually read Surowiecki's book, you see that under the right conditions, the crowd can actually provide a powerful - and accurate - counterpoint to the thoughts of a single person.

Who do you trust?   Information is only as good as its source.  As a writer who has been in the communications game for more years than I like to think about, I know that more eyes can create higher quality - different people catch mistakes that slip right by the writer.  And that, of course, is the beauty of wikis. 

Then again, only a fool believes everything they read without independent thinking and review.  Let the reader beware.


Friday Jun 29, 2007


Revolutions are generally poorly funded, chaotic, messy affairs.  By definition, they are grass roots.  There are moments of glory and moments of ignominy.  And the outcome is not guaranteed.

Revolution is on my mind, not only because of the July 4th holiday here in the states but because of a very interesting meeting we hosted here at Sun yesterday - our first Sun Social Networking Mashup. Forty folks joined us, both in person and virtually, as we came together to talk about how we can move the company forward, pushing the envelope further and further.  Communications, software, marketing, labs, the field and many other groups were represented.

Is revolution an overstatement?  Not at all.  Our session demonstrated many of the characteristics of an uprising - grass roots,  little funding, lots of egos (heck, mine alone took up two seats!), lots of ideas, agreement, disagreement, debate, discussion, and, well, some chaos.  What a blast it was!

Mashup1   Mashup2

So in this brave new world, our leaders will learn that they must earn their audiences, much as bloggers do.  A title will get you a first listen, but not necessarily a second.  Messages needs to be sharp, meaningful and relevant - the audience has moved from victim to volunteer.  Communicators don't get off unchanged either.  We will find that "managing the message" is a thing of the past.  The genie is out of the bottle, and the smart communicator needs to find out how to facilitate the process, not fight it.  And life for the citizenry?  Overwhelming, involving, self-selected.  

John Dutra, our CTO for IT, pointed out that 40 people can't change the world.  But 40 people can convert another 40 people, who can convert another 40 people, and so it goes.  In fact, there are already thousands of people at Sun who have joined the revolution - now the question becomes how we can use the revolution to form new communities, to collaborate with people who we might never have thought to team with before.

Mistakes, missteps, collisions are all a part of this.  How wonderful to work for a company that embraces this messy process.  For in that way we are a state-sanctioned revolution, chartered by our leadership to leap ahead, assume nothing and make the new world ours.

Monday Jun 11, 2007

The Face of Communication

When our daughter, Carolyn, was a new baby, I used my limited craft skills to create a little human faces mobile to hang over her crib.  Aside from the fact that my husband claimed that the faces looked more like demons than humans and worried I was traumatizing our firstborn, Carolyn stared and cooed at the faces endlessly.  This is hardly a testament to my craft skills - it's a fact that babies are wired to recognize and react to human faces.

So I can't say I was terribly surprised to see the results of a recent survey at Sun that showed 61 percent of our employees still prefer to get information from their manager.  Social networking makes it easier for managers to reach out to employees and do much of what employees like - provide context to the information, cast it in terms of what matters to the manager, the employee and their group, and just talk about it.  Emoticons make it possible to humanize the interaction, sharing feelings and being more genuine.

But there's still something about face-to-face communication that is pretty impactful.  Consider a seminar I attended last week on social media and communication.  At the session, we saw a demo of a virtual world that was used for company meetings. Part of it was way cool. Virtual meeting places, personalized avatars, interfacing with the real world through a window to a physical conference room...great stuff. In fact, the person speaking to us was from Europe and joining us through his avatar on a big screen in the conference room.

But.  I found the experience devoid of emotion and not terribly engaging. Why? Because I was looking at a face that didn't smile, wince, roll eyes, frown, blink or show any kind of reaction at all.  Any expressions that came through from body positioning (fold, unfold arms, etc.) were consciously initiated, taking the authenticity factor away.  We saw what he wanted us to see, not who he really is.  I couldn't relate to him.

So while I find virtual worlds intriguing, I can't say I find them engaging.  And I think we'll have to do a better job on the engagement side so that the worlds are not just an intellectual exercise or a video game.  Or I think lots of us will lose interest in them pretty quickly.

We're pioneers together in this world.  And because communication is at the heart of our humanity, what we do in shaping this world will in turn shape ourselves and our children - how we share, how we relate.  What an opportunity we have.  And what a privilege.

Monday Jun 04, 2007

When Truth Meets Perception

The sky is definitely orange.  The sky is definitely purple.

I was listening to a National Public Radio show from April in which Bill Moyers talked about his return to PBS.  Moyers spoke about the role of the press in reporting and interpreting information, and how that's more difficult today than it has been in a long time.  This made me think about my own role as chief employee communications guru at Sun, and what the role of my team is in communicating with Sun employees.

When I first joined Sun early in 2003, I spent a fair amount of time just reading and listening to much of the archived internal communications we had on hand.  Frankly, I was disappointed.  It felt to me like a spin machine, and after hearing again about how splendid things were at Sun, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, I remember taking my headset off and groaning.  Why couldn't we just 'fess up and talk about the world as it really was in 2003 - we had quality problems, our stock sucked, morale was in the toilet and there was tangible fear that we would be acquired by a company whose vision and values were very different than ours.

I've lost some of my naivety since then, and I do understand that there are some things that it is wise not to discuss in public forums - you don't want to yell, "Fire!", and start a stampede, for example.  But there are many others that should not be kept in the closet.  You don't solve problems by pretending everything is just ducky.  You solve problems by facing them and coming up with solutions.  And that means communicating about them.  Honestly.  Fairly.  Objectively.

The sky is definitely orange.  The sky is definitely purple.  Who is right?  How do you get to the underlying facts and how do you present them in such a way that you treat both sides with respect?  And what is your role in pointing out that maybe, just maybe, the sky is, in fact, blue?

We've done some pretty interesting things at Sun to open up the environment.  We've run polls on our internal home page after quarterly earnings reports, asking employees if their confidence in Sun was better, worse or about the same after hearing the news.  The results weren't always fun to get, depending on the quarter.  But it let us know what people were thinking.  We've asked employees what one question they would want answered by our executives -- and received hundreds of questions, some of them tougher than what even Mike Wallace in his heyday might have asked.   When executives know that employees know what's going on, good things happen.  Just like when politicians know citizens are paying attention...

Open questions help with open communication.  It's harder to dodge the tough issues when you have 34,000 employees asking you about them.  So what are the principles of a principled communicator?  Well, just about the same as a principled Sun employee, as embodied in our Sun values of innovation, courage, collaboration, pace and perhaps most important of all, integrity

And by the way, the thorniest communication problems come not with reporting if the sky is purple or orange.  It's those shades of blue and gray that are the toughest to manage...


Tuesday May 22, 2007

If Beethovan had an avatar, what would it look like?

Of all the fascinating cultural changes that technology is bringing us, the new opportunities for artists are among the most mind-boggling, at least for me.  Musicians, of course, have been in the forefront of technology for a long time.  Recording equipment is the Gutenberg press equivalent for musicians, making it possible to save, copy and share music. But visual artists haven't had this level of technlogical disruption available to them.  As Joni Mitchell says, when asked to do an encore,  "No one ever said to Van Gogh, 'Hey, man!  Do another  Starry Night!  He did it, he finished it and that was that'"(capture on her brilliant album, Miles of Aisles).

But Web 2.0 is an equal opportunity door opener.  Three stories to share with you that you may find interesting...

Bringing the Gallery to My Front Door

Do you know where and how I buy a fair amount of artwork?  Well, given that I'm not a billionaire, my tastes are eclectic and I love the feeling of living in an art gallery, I'm always on the hunt for new artists who do interesting work.  Not so easy to fit into a busy life.  Until I was introduced to Hang Gallery in San Francisco.  Hang represents new, undiscovered artists.  When they had a gallery in Palo Alto, it was a fun (and dangerous) place for me to drop in.  But once they closed that location and consolidated everything in the city, the convenience was gone.  Until I discovered their website.  Which is fabulous.  I can easily browse the collection, see what's new, read about artists, contact them, rent or buy works.  I've probably picked up a dozen pieces from them (remember - these are new artists, so you can pick up interesting stuff for very little money). 

Art for Sale

So there's a very big movement these days on eBay, centered on "a-painting-a-day."  Katherine Tyrrell blogs about this here.  She comments that smart artists who want to make a living from their craft have become smart business people and smart web users.  Want to buy a piece of artwork but don't have a lot of dough?  You can bid on these paintings that usually start well under $100.  The quality varies with artist, and beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.  Browsing is free, and you can be tempted to get involved for not much money.  BTW, Katherine gives some good advice to anyone looking to use the web to build a business.  Little bonus for her readers...

Making and Marketing Music

Isn't it ironic that at a time that music is ubiquitous that the music industry is in such deep doo doo?  How could an industry run itself so poorly that it has managed to completely miss the revolution?  Instead of jumping in, they resisted and are paying a very high price.  Editorial comments aside, my colleague, Dave Viotti, brought to my attention this article from the New York Times.  Its title, Sex, Drugs and Updating your Blog, alone made it worth looking at, but its author, Clive Thompson, went beyond the title to tell a story well worth reading.  Thompson writes of a musician, Jonathan Coulton, who has used the web to build an audience, sell out concerts, sell music - all without an agent.  And there's more...his fans have become part of his music:

"Coulton welcomes his fans’ avid attention; indeed, he relies on his fans in an almost symbiotic way. When he couldn’t perform a guitar solo for “Shop Vac,” a glittery pop tune he had written about suburban angst — on his blog, he cursed his “useless sausage fingers” — Coulton asked listeners to record their own attempts, then held an online vote and pasted the winning riff into his tune."

Talk about the Participation Age...and about breaking open walls to let the world in.




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