The Power of a Compelling Story

humans_of_new_yorkThis story begins with the creation of the blog Humans of New York (HONY): one guy (Brandon Stanton) with his a camera on a mission. First, it was pictures only. Then, it was pictures with captions in a subject’s own voice. Now, see how one of his snapshots has taken on a life of its own. Visit the HONY Facebook page, scroll down to January 19, and follow along to enjoy the story of Vidal, Ms. Lopez, and the students of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Here’s a brief synopsis.

  • January 19: Vidal describes his Principal and the positive impact she has had on him.
  • January 22: The Principal, Ms. Lopez, shares her dream to provide these kids hope. Brandon, Ms. Lopez and other school leaders brainstorm ways the HONY community could help the scholars at Mott Hall Bridges Academy succeed. They land on an idea to create an annual field trip to Harvard University so these students can see that they can go anywhere and they can belong. A crowdfunding initiative is launched with a goal of raising $100,000. One of Vidal’s classmates, Adrian, was asked “What’s your biggest goal in life?” His answer?

“I want to make it out of the hood. I don’t have to go that far. But if I can just live an inch outside, then I’ll feel safe and know that I’m straight.”

  • January 23: The goal has been shattered within 24 hours. Enough has been raised to fund 10 years of Harvard trips. A new goal is established to fund a summer educational program.
  • January 26: Now that 10 years of the summer program has been funded, it’s on to the next goal. The crowdfunding continues to establish The Vidal Scholarship Fund, with Vidal designated as the first recipient.

As of this writing, over $900,000 has been raised in less than a week. The HONY Facebook page will probably have 12,000,000 followers by the time this is published, which is more than the circulation and digital readership of the 10 largest newspapers in the country combined.

This story has captured the hearts and minds of tens of thousand of people, in a similar fashion to how the ice bucket challenge went viral in the summer of 2014. It’s a reminder that while facts and figures are important, telling stories and putting a face to an experience can be even more powerful. As I ask myself this question, I challenge you to ask yourself, “How are you finding your voice to use compelling stories in your work and personal interactions?”

The Power of Open Data

Open data seems all well and good in theory, but it can be hard to envision practical applications. Essentially, this is making large sets of data open to the public.  One New York statistician, Ben Wellington, is making a name for himself by asking questions and finding answers through open data resources. The results are fascinating—and have had a big impact (and he wasn’t even trying).

Wellington is extremely skilled at not only crunching numbers, but also using numbers to tell stories and then using the combination of numbers and stories to affect change. In the article A Data Analyst’s Blog Is Transforming How New Yorkers See Their City, NPR gives one example of what happened when he looked at parking ticket data. Read Wellington’s account in his blog post Success: How NYC Open Data and Reddit Saved New Yorkers Over $55,000 a Year. Other popular posts from his blog I Quant NY include a look at the cleanliness at the city’s fast food restaurants and the prevalence of Starbuck’s in Manhattan. Great stuff for inquisitive minds.

Weekly Download 15.2

download-150965_640The annual Consumer Electronics Show was held a couple of weeks ago. While individual gadgets are not top priority for me (lots of shine and sizzle, too little substance), I enjoy observing general trends. Two categories stood out, that I confirmed on a recent visit to Best Buy.

#1: The connected home. This includes everything from thermostats, smoke/CO detectors (Nest Protect has caught a friend’s attention), lights, access control, home monitoring and sound/video/entertainment systems.

#2: Home entertainment. There still seems to be a quest for “bigger is better.” Now, there are 4K screens and curved screens, all targeted toward creating an in-home experience for large groups of people. We have a traditional colonial-style house, with no oversized great room to hold a dozen or more viewing guests. Fortunately for us, it also seems like demand is growing for tools to promote “cocooning” in your own home.

  • The Intel® Compute Stick is a complete system on an old school USB stick-sized device that can transform any HDMI display into a fully-functioning computer.
  • The HP Sprout is a combo PC, scanner and projector with a touch-sensitive projection surface. It’s too soon to tell if it will become the next great thing in home computing.

Here are a couple of other observations:

  • 3-D printing continues to evolve to include food, clothing, parts and even entire cars!
  • Watches are hot again, particularly when loaded with fitness and wellness capabilities. I’m not sure what to think about this category—I thought we gave watches up long ago.
  • WattUp™ is a potential game-changer in the way we keep our myriad devices charged by creating wire-free charging zones.