Thursday, January 29, 2009

Women 2.0: Pitching Practice

Fearing 45 miles in 5 o'clock traffic, I left work a little early to go to the Women 2.0 Mixer and Bookswap.  After finding parking ($10 - ouch) and grabbing dinner at a great Indian restaurant where I had the BEST chai ever, I found the door of 425 2nd street and, after repeated tries to coordinate code punching with door buzzer, got in.

It was my first event with the Women 2.0 group and, jazzed about the entrepreneurship, business and technology focus, yet leary of the elevator given my door experience, I took the low-tech option and bounded up the 3 flights of stairs.

After checkin and name badge, next was training on the "rules".  It was a bookswap after all. My mental picture had been of a table where everybody dropped their book and we could all browse through.  But no, this was an entrepreneurship organization and this experience was going to embody that.  

You kept your book in hand, held in front of you with title out to advertise.  You introduced yourself to someone, my first was Nina, a graphic designer whose business is called "Iamtheitgirl", and pitched your respective books.  If there was a meeting of needs, then you swapped.  To ease the pain of swapper's remorse, you could swap as many times as you could find a willing partner. 

It was pitching practice in disguise!  There was no free lunch!  Everyone had to be a participant. 

I ended up trading with Andi, whose business advising late adopters of technology is called "The Go To Girl", my Confessions of an Economic Hitman for a recent edition of Facebook Marketing. What a swap!  Her husband was interested in critical views of development and I was interested in learning more about Facebook.

It was just a book swap but it really turned me on to the idea of pitching and defanged it for me.  What a WOW powerful experience!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Unexpected Running Lessons

The Focus-N-Fly 2.0 Event at which Jack Daniels was to speak was scheduled to start at 6:30pm and, worried about traffic, I had arrived early.  Without much forethought I selected one of the metal chairs on the aisle about half way to the front.  Coaches Tom and Deena and IT guru Renga were there, chatting with the early arrivals, making us feel at ease.  Wine bar, demo computers and post-event snacks of roast beef sandwiches, olives, artichokes, prosciutto and more were ready, covered, waiting.  

I had read Jack Daniel's Daniel's Running Formula twice.  Published in 1998 and again in 2004 it is based not only on his experience as an Olympic athlete but also on his extensive research over 40 years.  His rationale  formed the basis of the program Coach Tom designed for his athletes, me included. I was eager to hear him in person.

After taking in all the extensive preparations worthy of a dignitary of the sport, I noticed, to my right and one row up, a man with short white hair sitting by himself, in a sea of empty chairs, an open notebook in his left hand, hands resting in his lap, lips moving as his eyes moved down the page.  It had to be Jack Daniels!
And he was practicing!  Material that he surely knew after over 40 years of competing or coaching others, practicing.  5:45pm turned into 6:00.  Still practicing.  6:10, practicing, practicing.  That moment impressed me, more than the speech which followed, which was entertaining beyond expectation and theory simplified. Impressed upon me that EVEN the amazingly practiced practice, practice and practice.  Thank you, Jack.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flowers at Work

The opening line of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf reads, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." 

When I first read it, this sentence had no resonance for me, even after watching Meryl Streep airily declare, "I'm going to buy the flowers myself" in The Hours, a screen adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel which was based on Woolf's book.  But several years later, unbiden, this very sentence burbled up in my consciousness as the most important and defining sentence of the whole novel.

It says,  "I chose."  I chose not only to have things, people, work... in my life and surroundings which nourish me but also to take responsibility to get them and put them there.

Cunningham traces the varying degrees that 3 women in very different times were able to live that; Laura Brown in Los Angeles in the 1950s who is reading Mrs. DallowayClarissa Dalloway in New York in perhaps the 1990s as she is being Mrs. Dalloway, and Virginia Woolf in a suburb outside London in the 1920s as she is writing Mrs. Dalloway.

Consigned to living where she does not want to live and in a manner not suited to her, Virginia choses suicide.  Laura, circumscribed by a narrow role, determines that she will leave both loving husband and children forever. Clarissa decides, after the death of a former boyfriend with whom she was enmeshed, to take life by both hands and live it.

I'll buy the flowers myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On the Run with Dean Karnazes

This morning at 7am, I got to go on a group run with renowned ultramarathoner and author Dean Karnazes! About 15 of us stood around in a cafeteria in a pre-run Q & A session.  First off, he's shorter than I thought and way more tan than anyone has a right to be in January.   And he really answered questions with a desire to connect with you and the group.  I've given steno versions here:

Q & A: 
What do you do to avoid injury?  I've never had a running injury.  I do recommend ice baths.
How do you cross train?  Mountain bike, surf, windsail, climb
How did you find your passion? Got drunk on my 30th birthday, decided to run 30 miles and that did it!
Do you have plans to retire?  Run till they put me in a box.  Lots of good oldies out there, particularly women.
How many days were you gone last year?  250!
How do you stay in touch with your family? Technology - texting, photos through cell phones
What's your next challenge?  Working on that one.
What's the most interesting that you've done so far?  Ran ultras in 5 deserts last year!
How many times have you done Western States?  11
How do you make your work, passion and hobby work together?  They're all the same for me.  I make my money by running.

Group Run: 
When we went for the group run, I tailed him to watch his gate.   His hips do not drop but stay level, his shoulders sit directly on top of his hips, he lands with his foot flat rather than tipped to one side or the other, forefoot first not heels, and there is no side to side movement.  The overall impression is of flatness both back to front and side to side.  I couldn't make too many observations as I was quickly left in the dust.  I ran gently for about a mile and figured that was about the length of my rope given that I was on injury leave.

My Key Takeaways: 
Dean sells the belief that you too can do it where "it" has a double meaning: "It" means make a living from your passion and run crazy distances and still stand up straight afterward.  You can do it!
He's almost as good as two of my favorite runners, Tom McGlynn and Helen Klein:)

Postscript: 2 of the other 15 folks in attendance also blogged about this event.  At Never Stop Running, JW covers her reaction to Dean's visit and at I Swim Bike Run, Lynn does the same but differently!

Friday, January 9, 2009

NAFTA: A Red Herring

NAFTA turned 15 this month.   

What it is: The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. was finalized on 1/1/94 by Presidents Bill Clinton and Carlos Salinas and eased the movement of goods between the countries principally through the reduction of duties.  

The Pros: Despite controversy, NAFTA has done a measurable amount of good.  Trade among the 3 nations has tripled to $893B in 2007.  U.S. - Mexico trade has quadrupled from $81.5B in 1993 to $347B in 2007.  

The Cons: On the other hand, NAFTA still has a number of gaps. It does not include harmonized labor or environmental standards for goods made in Mexico which would create a more level playing field.  The agreement doesn't suspend protection for corn growers in the U.S. nor protection for U.S. labor that (anti) migration policies may afford.  Despite these shortcomings, agricullture trade between the U.S. and Mexico has increased from $7.3B in 1994 to $20B in 2006.

What are we missing?: Regardless, the debate about NAFTA diverts attention from something more important, "the giant sucking sound" of jobs going elsewhere, wherever. Despite the fact that Mexico's average wage is 13% that of the U.S., jobs have been for some time going to China, India, Malaysia, and anywhere that has a lower cost structure.

In fact, if jobs are going to go to lower cost countries, its better that the jobs go to a trading partner than to a nation who is not. Case in point: Mexico buys 2x the U.S. goods that China does ($129B vs. $61B). 

Where have we used this strategy?: From the website "The U.S. has agreements in force with 14 countries: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco,  Nicaragua, and Singapore. Agreements with three countries--Costa Rica, Oman, and Peru--are pending implementation."

And what has the result been?: From the same website "In 2007, trade with countries that the U.S. has free trade agreements was significantly greater than their relative share of the global economy: although comprising 7.5% of global GDP (not including the U.S.), those countries accounted for over 42% of U.S. exports."

While a worthy cause, re-negotiating NAFTA should be the second priority. Negotiating free trade with the low cost countries to which the jobs are going should be first.

What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Invisible Foe

The typical New Year quest to improve and to go places brought me to read a summary of the book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. For the last while I've felt like I'm struggling for advancement and harmony with others against an invisible foe. This book suggests that this foe might

Okay, I'll try it. Fortunately, thanks to Soundview Executive Summaries, the summary was only 8 pages so I didn't have to endure too much criticism. It was easy to convert the 20 "bad" habits from problem to solution so rather than being doomed, I felt I could DO something about it.

Over the holidays I tried out 4 of the 20 recommended behaviors and noticed an immediate reduction in friction and boost in my relationships. I also noticed that when I didn't use the recommendation, things didn't go as smoothly.

Based on this small pilot, I'm committing to work on 4 behaviors in 09. Though the book recommends only selecting one, there's a lot of low hanging fruit here.

1. Make other people winners. Say "Great idea!" with no "buts" and no "I already knew that."
2. Treat every idea that comes my way from another person with complete neutrality. Say only "Thank you" or "Thanks, I hadn't considered that."
3. Apologize.
4. Share the wealth of credit by examining every time I think I've achieved something and asking myself who else might also deserve the credit.

WGYHWGYT concludes that the invisible foe is really our obsession with achieving a goal or pleasing the boss rather than being focused on people. This suggests that some more work might need to be done on the root itself.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Fine Art of Indian Dressing

Clothing made by hand is so expensive in the US that it is unobtanium for most. However, Indian clothing stores such as Nalli's and Fusion India carry affordable clothing made of beautiful unique fabrics, many handmade, often hand worked.

My recent ambition was to buy a Shalwar Kameez Dupatta. Each of those words refers to an item in the ensemble. Shalwars (or salwars) are wide style pants. (Churidors are the pencil legged version.) The kameez is the shirt and the dupatta is the scarf. For a 3 piece outfit you can expect to pay $44 and up with a dizzying selection under $200.

Here's an example of the fine detailing available in the shalwars (left) and in the kameez (right). While the pants are voluminous, the top is tailored to fit snugly through the waist. Rather than trim off the fabric that has been taken in, it is left in the kameez with an eye toward expected future weight gain. Your only a $5 alteration away from the right size, making your wardrobe really work for you your whole life through.

While dressier ensembles are meant for parties, dinners and occasions, there are many hand loomed cotton ones available for every day wear. Next time!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Kaleidoscope of Butterflies

A New Year's Eve party provided serendipitous introduction to the artwork of Marshall Hill hanging on our friends' living room wall. Butterflies, a single layer deep gracefully arranged in ascending kaleidoscopes, barely contained from entering the room by the clear edges of a Lucite box.

I am not unbiased in my appreciation as I collected armies of caterpillars, clusters of chrysalis and swarms of butterflies growing up. As an adult, this passion continues. I even named one of my projects at work "Chrysalis". So I was delighted to see butterflies used as a medium of expression.

What makes this art and not natural history? After all, butterflies are also arranged in insect display cases in the Natural History Museum and Conservatories of Flowers, but in rows and columns, not kaleidoscopes or swarms, in cabinets in public institutions, not in homes and living rooms, in cases edged in black stuffed with a pinning base, not seemingly uncontained by invisible edges, displayed with no attempt to teach, only inspire, selected for color and scale, not for familial relationship.

Can anyone do it? Is the brand defensible? On concept alone, no. It is imitatable, such as those by Rainbow Hill Farms which are just as artfully arranged. However, Marshall has a few extra things going for him that defend his brand. Collectors, such as Dame Maggie Smith and Sarah Jessica Parker, a New York City address in South Street Seaport, a storefront which indicates a certain level of success/ability to pay the rent, and critical acclaim: "The most famous artist in the world to workwith real butterflies and Lucite" -New York Magazine.

For those worried about sustainability, the butterflies used in the artwork were raised on farms which turns out to be a good thing. In the wild, only 7% of the eggs survive. In farms, the survival rate is 70-90%. Butterfly farming helps preserve the rainforest by offering an alternative source of income in renewable resources. (Thanks to Rainbow Hill Farms website for the education.)

Now all that remains is to decide which of the beauties to buy!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well, it's the New Year.

One of my resolutions, as a result of reading one of my Christmas presents, Perfumes: The Guide (2008), is to smell better. Yes, I take regular showers so this is not a hygiene issue. It's a matter of taste.

PTG is an index of nearly 1500 perfume reviews by Luca Turin, a biophysicist with a sensitive nose, and Tania Sanchez. I first scanned for what's in my inventory. Michael by Michael Kors is given one star and summarized as "evil tuberose". The explanation below reads "Shrieking hair-singeing horror, probably first rejected for use in industrial drain cleaner. One of the worst ever. TS" Fortunately, Angel by Thierry Mugler fairs better with a 5 star rating and a full page of hilarious prose.

I first became acquainted with Turin through Charles Burr's The Emperor of Scent (2004), an engaging exploration of the various theories about smell and how we do it. Turin's nose is so discriminating that his passion and curiousity power his pursuit of a whiff of certain vintages of perfumes like Joy of 19xx.

One goal for the year is to smell some of the 86 fragrances that warrant 5 stars from Amouage Gold to Yatagan. Being able to say, "Oh, is that Loulou by Cacharel that you're wearing?" is certainly one way to smell better.