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.

The Growth of China

Sometime I am taken aback when it hits me how narrow a world view many of us have from our vantage point in the Midwest. Case in point: recent reading about growth in China was a real eye-opener as to the sheer size of their population and density. See the McKinsey & Company article All you need to know about business in China, an except from The One Hour China Book by investor Jeffrey Towson and McKinsey’s Jonathan Woetzel.

Here are a few interesting facts from the article:

  • hong-kong-318058_640China has twice the number of Internet users than the United States at roughly 50% of the penetration.
  • China has 160 cities with populations more than 1 million and 14 with more than 5 million. The U.S. has 9 cities with population greater than 1 million, and New York is the only one with more than 5 million. To be fair, if you expand the comparison to include metro areas (Combined Statistical Areas), there are 54 greater than 1 million and 12 greater than 5 million. But these are BIG areas (see map).
  • In the next 10-15 years, more Chinese will move into cities than the current U.S. population (currently around $316 million), with a total Chinese urban population approaching 1 billion people. You might wonder where all of these people will go. Rapid and high-rise construction is one answer. Can you imagine a 30-story building going up in 15 days? Watch it happen.
  • In the last 25 years, 300 million Chinese have moved out of poverty.

Making Small Talk about the DJIA

stock-exchange-77252_640In late December, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit its all time high. The ebb and flow of this stock market index is often cited in the media, but it’s not largely relevant to most in the financial markets.

At a holiday gathering a couple of weeks before this record rally, I commented to a fellow partygoer, “Wow, the Dow took a big hit today.” The person kindly responded with an innocuous comment that went something like, “Yeah, it does that occasionally.” Ouch.

While they are highly correlated, on any given day market indices can rise or fall at very different rates. Regardless, the performance of the Dow always seems to make news, even if it doesn’t change how or what we invest in. It’s become a handy shortcut for people to feel like they are keeping abreast of the financial markets. Even those who don’t participate in the markets or understand investing concepts are often familiar with the status of the Dow.

What my conversation partner left unsaid is that indices are relevant to such a small extent to the average person, it doesn’t even make sense to bring it up at a cocktail party. Lesson learned.

Additional resources:


Exploring Solutions Together

During times of rapid change, exploring key questions allows us to learn together. Consider:

  • What is happening here?
  • Why is it happening?
  • How is it different or similar than the past?
  • Why does the past solution not work anymore?
  • Are we clear on what we are really trying to accomplish?

When there is a need for a new solution to a new problem, we have to explore together.  Picking up the old solution to a previously defined question may not even be close.

This takes time and patience—two very valuable commodities. Without it, however, we will remain stuck in the new world with old maps.map-of-the-world-429784_640


The Seven Most Influential Things I Read in 2014

IMG_5751Amidst the flurry of year-end recaps, several bloggers did an iteration of “This Most Influential Things I Read This Year.” This is a very interesting question—here’s my take.

Theory U. “Theory U proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.”

Continuous Productivity: New tools and a new way of working for a new era. “Continuous productivity is an era that fosters a seamless integration between consumer and business platforms.“

Davos: Mindfulness, Hotspots, and Sleepwalkers. All the signs are present that mindfulness is reaching the tipping point.

The Re-working of “Work”. “This report analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years.”

Build a change platform, not a change program. How to make change the status quo, not an interruption.

Lost and Found in a Brave New World. At a time when so many feel culturally, organizationally and/or personally “lost,” how can we find our way back to the values and beliefs we hold dear? In the new world, new maps are required. The first step is to realize and admit you’re lost.

The Last Re-Org You’ll Ever Do. Three new approaches to doing business are showing promise (Holacracy, Agile Teams and Self Organizing). Viewed as way out there by some, but, nonetheless, they are happening.