A little girl in Andrews, NC….

Last Thursday was one of those days that once again, I was touched.

If you look at this face above, this little girl. I am not sure her name…we never met formally. Thursday, I was working on a project…telling the story of “The Welcome Table”. This is a program put together by the Andrews United Methodist Church in Andrews, NC. Each Thursday, Andrews UMC partners with other churches to provide a meal to the community. From 5 to 6pm every Thursday, anyone from the community can come to have a meal, free of charge.

As leaders from Andrews UMC told me, unemployment in this rural area of Western North Carolina is high. Many of the manufacturing companies and other large businesses either closed or moved out of town. Many families left to figure out what next. The project was to document the day, find the story, and tell the mission of the Rural Church Initiative for the Duke Divinity School. I literally had one hour to capture the story, find the right people, interview them, and capture the essence of this day for others to see.

I was working the room, trying to capture the moments from a far with my video camera and digital camera…I began to gain the trust of those who were there for diner or maybe some fellowship. The pastor says that between 50 and 100 people from the community come to the Welcome Table on Thursdays. They come for many reasons, whether they do not want to eat supper alone, they have friends who attend, or they need a hot meal. Whatever the reason, Andrews UMC wants to provide the opportunity for the community to share with one another.

Some of the people thought I was a journalist with my big cameras. They have experience with “these types.” You see, I used to be one of “those” people. I have been to Andrews twice before. Once in 1998 when they thought that Eric Robert Rudolf had appeared in Andrews. I was there working, with my big cameras, trying to find a story. Then again in 2006 when they actually caught Eric Robert Rudolf. I was there covering that story…once again coming to this town in search of the big story.

On Thursday, As I made small talk with many of the volunteers, they asked me where I was from…I shared with them that I was from South Carolina. I also shared with them that I had been here before…twice. They knew it was for the reasons I just described…and they were glad I was here capturing a great story.

But I was struck…by the face of this little girl. As I sat across the room, capturing her face as she was eating her watermelon…I was struck, humbled, embarrassed, and scared. I am not sure why this little girl and her family were here today. I could only speculate that her little tummy was hungry. Here I am, I have had my share of meals. I almost felt a sense of sadness and doubt coming across her face.

She has no stake in this game. She has no fight in this political madness. She is just eating a meal. I thought about all the many children across our America…hungry, mothers and fathers unemployed, no insurance, no healthcare…who are we? Who are we to squabble about numbers, political discourse that leads to nothing but chest pounding resolve…this little girl. She is our future…

Andrews UMC has a big heart. They are reaching out to this community with one mission, to give. This Thursday…they are providing a good meal to close to 75 people; young, old, black, white, males, females, believers, and non-believers. They believe in their community.

This little face struck me and made me think all the way home. Think about my little girl, Rose Frances who will be here in September.

Just ZIP IT…listening is not so bad.

Have you ever attended an event or a conference and been overwhelmed with the personalities in the room? Have you walked into a new place or situation, and been in a place where there are a lot of smart people talking, exchanging ideas, and not know where to fit in? I found myself in those situations more times than not.

I am an opinionated person, passionate about what I believe. I am also a person that has to understand and assess the audience before engaging in the conversation. Sometimes I need to remind myself to just listen and learn.

Recently I have walked out of meetings and thought to myself, I need to keep my big mouth shut. My passion can get the best of me, engaging in a conversation where I will debate a point because it is hard for me to see past my point-of-view. I am human, I think we all do this from time to time.

Listening is key. Really listening to the people we want to have healthy conversations with, regardless if it is a meeting, conference, group, dinner, or a public setting. Sometimes we have to learn how to pull out the big black clip and use it to shut our lips together. Then take time to listen and learn from others. I am the biggest victim of this issue…speaking when I should be listening.

We are surrounded by smart people. Our friends, family, clients, customers, colleagues, students…they are all smart people. We could learn a thing or two sometimes. We should learn to stop trying to interject into a conversation that does not need our noise anymore. I know my big ole lips can flap a conversation into complete bordum.

Why do we do this? Well, we want to be heard. Whether it is the fact we are control freaks, or we have a good idea…we want our ideas to resonate with others. We want to be perceived to be smart and innovative. Sometimes it is fear or insecurity that drives us to fill the void…driving a conversation to the painful point of no return.

We should just shut our mouth and just listen. It is ok. We will be heard at some point.

I noticed the last few days my mouth has communicated my passion a bit much. I am passionate…but maybe I should use my passion just to listen. I might learn a thing or two!

Have you felt this way before? Do you think listening is a better form of communication than talking?

Greg Hartle Interview – Part One

So I met Greg Hartle in Chicago at SOBCON2011 and his story is one of inspiration and somewhat crazy. Who would be willing to give up a great career, great house, great financial resources to travel the country with only $10 and a laptop. Some people think he is crazy. Some find it inspiring. Some think, he will fail. Some think, there is no way I would not be able not to use my previous resources to travel the country. I know I would struggle with this since I am married with a kid on the way.

So I decided to conduct a series of interviews with Greg to learn more about his story, his passion, and his mission to travel the country. His goal is to stop in all 50 states, interview an entrepreneur in each state, and create a new business to sustain the “new life.” He started with only $10 and a laptop, hence his website (http://tendollarsandalaptop.com), and to generate income along the way to sustain life including fulfilling his mission.

Why do you ask? Well…I hope to learn more during these short little interviews! This is part one in a seven part series of interviews to learn more about Greg Hartle!

Sparks will fly…InnoVenture Southeast 2011

A few years ago, I was chatting with John Warner and he was describing the InnoVenture experience to a group of people. As he described this conversation, this conference, this experience…he explained that “Sparks will fly!” I was wondering what the heck he was talking about…and it was not until today that I fully grasped this statement.

InnoVenture Southeast 2011 Day One…and it all started with watching my friend and client Lonnie Emard of IT-oLogy present in front of close to 200 people. As I sat and listened, more and more folks became recognizable. More and more of my close friends, colleagues, and clients began to walk through the door.

As I was walking around the follow-up conversation in the center of the room, I walked into a conversation of my own. Yes…a colleague from Clemson. This led to a conversation that led to an idea. As we were brainstorming this idea, another friend walked up and joined the conversation. This idea was growing…three minds are better than one. For some reason, something caused us to stop chatting and walk away.

A few minutes later, as I was standing in-front of IT-oLogy’s booth chatting, those two people who were brainstorming with me a few minutes ago walked over and said, “hey, remember what we were talking about…how can we make it happen?” Then it started right back up again. The brainstorming continued and before you know it…we set up a meeting for next steps and action items.

THEN…and only THEN…another friend walked up. I made introductions and after the exchange of business cards, my friend said, “I have an idea.” This sparked a whole new conversation, a whole new set of ideas, a whole new brainstorming session. This session could only happen if the right people are present and the right innovative thinking was in progress. Sparks were flying.

What you do not know, each of these people were decision makers in their organization. They had the ability to use their entrepreneurial spirit and engage in a conversation around a common theme…innovation. These were two conversations that I was a part of during day one of InnoVenture Southeast 2011. Imagine the numerous other conversations happening that led to exchange of ideas, ideas of innovation, contact information, and follow-up emails that night.

I was so excited, so struck by these ideas…I could not wait to get back to the office to send follow-up emails. We were already emailing ideas back and forth…Sparks were flying! Innovation is a funny thing…all it takes, get like minded people together and a open forum of conversation and innovative exchange. I walked away inspired!

Passion is not easily expressed…

It is hard to be passionate. It is hard to express passion. It is hard to let loose in front of tons of unfamiliar people and express our deepest passion. Failure is a scary thing. We are afraid to share our passion to unleash the inner being that makes us breath freely.

Think about the biggest idea you have ever thought of, written about, meditated over. The one thing that you believe could define your very being. What makes us keep from sharing that idea? Failure? Why is failure so bad?

I have a mentor that has hit it out of the park a few times. He does not look at as failure just bumps along the way, stories to laugh over one day. We are taught that an “F” is a failure. That loosing money or not living up to the status-quo is failure. This idea of failure keeps us from expression of our inner most passions…the things that make us tick.

We have to move past looking at failure as a bad thing. I met an unbelievable person at SOBCON2011. His hame is Mark Horvath. He was once a successful television man who ended up a homeless person. He took his situation and turned into gold. He began telling stories of the homelessness in America, interview people on the streets. He found his passion. People listened. Was he a failure? Or did something special happen that helped him find his passion.

What is your passion. How can we help lead those to find their passion?

What is your passion?

I ask this of my students at the very beginning of the semester…what is your passion? If the world was going to end tomorrow, what is the one thing in the world that would make you happy. What one thing are you passionate about, that you could spend the rest of your life doing?

Is that a hard question? Think about it for a second. What is the one thing that gets you up in the morning and makes you want to enjoy life? Is it photography? Is it helping others? Do you love working with children? Do you love to teach? What is your passion?

It is so hard to express our passion. It is such a deep part of our soul. It is the one thing that makes our heart beat everyday, giving us hope that life is more than just that machine of the business world? Articulating this passion allows others to see inside our shells, providing insight to what makes us tick.

Finding our passion is the essential path to find that magical ingredient to make our life purposeful. Do we find passion in our family? Do we find passion in our work? Do we find passion in learning. To find one’s passion is to define our purpose.

As an entrepreneur, it is essential to find our passion…leveraging that internal mechanism that makes us jump out of bed and keep on swinging the baseball bat of life. If we can find our passion, listen to our heart, we can leverage that passion into a way to generate income.

My father-in-law loves his business. He spent over 25 years working for a major tire company making rubber. Making rubber was not his passion. Making rubber was a means to an end, to provide for his family. Working 3rd Shift made his family life a struggle. He is now retired and chasing his passion. He loves to clean ceilings. Yes, clean ceilings of big businesses like Walmart, Target, Ruby Tuesdays, and numerous others. He has a passion for his ceiling cleaning business and enjoys. It gets him up early in the morning and fuels his passion when cleaning a ceiling at 2am when the business is closed for the day.

So what is your passion. What do you really believe you were put on this earth to do? Why not chase your passion. You might be amazed what you could achieve!

i feel like i am branding my little girl…

It is the new age…the new digital age. I spend so much time teaching my college students and entrepreneurial clients about personal brands. Identifying their brand, securing digital URL’s on all the social outlets, and creating an awareness online that supports and reinforces a consistent brand message.

Here I am…a new daddy. Well, 20 weeks away from the birth of my little girl. It was just last week that we found out we are having a little girl. The big hoopla was surrounded by the idea that we were going to forego finding out if it is a boy or a girl during the 20 week ultrasound. Instead, ask the doctor’s office to put the sex of the baby in an envelope to be opened that evening with the rest of the family. Oh well, too bad the ultrasound technician forgot to hold back the image that said “female” during the ultrasound. This was just the beginning of what was not going to be easy…deciding a name for the little one!

Deciding a name is like a branding exercise. This one name represents so many things. So much legacy. So many stories of what is to come. This name is more than a name, it is the beginning of her own special family tree. Did you know that little infant girls, by the time they are born, have one million eggs in their little womb. Yes…one million little pieces of DNA that are a lifetime of legacy. How do we find a name to encapsulate a lifetime of stories and what is to come.

How do major brands come to the conclusion that one name represents so much. How do parents come to that one conclusion that one little name represents the family tree of the past, present, and future. Most major brands have wonderful, creative copy writers and researchers. They try to understand audiences, vision, mission statements, products, services, and legacy. But the little name of a little girl is so much more.

Well…we figure it out, I think, I hope. We researched all the past female names on both sides of the family….dating back hundreds of years. We looked at the meanings of names. We looked at whether to step away from family names and branch out to something new. We were waiting on that feeling, that “ah-ha” moment when it feels right. Because we know…that all the research, analysis, copy writing, and discussion is void to that one moment in time when that perfect name just makes sense.

Deciding a little girls name is, was, and will continue to be bigger than any messaging/branding project I have ever tackled. It is my little girl’s legacy. Yes…she is Rose Frances Rettew.

And her name is….

Yes…she has a name! After a week of tossing around names, we have finally come to the conclusion. Rose Frances Rettew. Kind of has a nice ring to it. We found out last week she is a girl during our 20 week ultrasound. If you watch above, you can see her playing around. She was kind of quiet during the ultrasound…the technician had to resort to some interesting measures to get her to move around. Just like a “Weathers” girl…she was a bit stubborn. Sarah’s maiden name is “Weathers”.

But this all began with the day of the ultrasound. We wanted to share the gender with the family the same time we would find out. Meaning, we wanted the ultrasound technician to put the gender in an envelope for us to open later. Well, she made a little error…leaving the screen grab with the sex identification out on the table. Sarah accidentally picked up the images to thumb through and noticed the one that said “Female” and an arrow to point to the “area in question.”

So, as you can see in the video immediately above, we held our secret to make it more natural for the announcement that evening. If you watch, you can see all of the family’s reactions including some funny off-color comments. My mom’s husband Steve has dry sense of humor. It was surreal all day, after we found out that she was a girl. Sarah and I immediately sat and chatted about it. We both thought if was going to be a boy, we really did. Our whole family thought it was going to be a boy…we just had a feeling. So when the ultrasound said she was a girl, it took us back for a second.

Obviously, Sarah was so excited to have a little girl. With two nieces ages close to 4 and 2, the family already has lots of girl things purchased. A boy would have been a whole new concept in the family. I think I was speechless for a while. I think deep down, all guys want a boy. I was not upset…I had just come to the realization that this was for real. Yes. I am not the one who is carrying this child everyday during the pregnancy. I am not dealing with an achy back and sore feet. I am not the one who looks in the mirror to see my stomach area growing with a “little one” inside. I am not the one who lays on the table for the ultrasound machine to go across my belly to see what is inside. I am the guy watching from afar.

***Note…I had my first pregnant request yesterday. A text at 8:30 in the morning that the A/C in the SUV was acting up and spitting out warmer air. Translation…GET YOUR BUTT OVER HERE AND FIGURE THIS OUT. I AM A PREGNANT WOMAN AND ANY COLD AIR THAT IS ANYTHING LESS THAN SUB-POLAR TEMPERATURES IS UNACCEPTABLE. I write this as I know I will be in the dog house when Sarah reads my translation, knowing I am using the voice I use to interpret how she is saying things. HEHE…I write in jest. The car is fine, she was sitting at a stoplight a little longer than normal and the temperature rose 3 degrees from 60 to 63 degrees. The summer has not even begun.

Back the topic at hand. Sarah had a feeling about the name “Rose” and wanted her middle name to be carried on “Frances”. I had a few names in mind but nothing I felt strong about. But saying her name meant it was real. Not the ultrasound, but actually giving her a name and saying out loud meant it was for real.  Yes…that this 37 year man who is stuck in his ways is going to have to change it all. It was kind of a scary moment having to articulate a name, because in 4 months this self-employed guy is going to be a Daddy.

Writing this post is a big one for me…being able to share and articulate her name. Saying her name has been an awakening, that she is for real. That she is going to be here soon. She is my responsibility. She will be one of the single most important responsibilities I will ever have in my life. Kind of crazy, kind of humbling, kind of anxious, kind of excited, and kind of relived that I can say her name…Rose Frances Rettew.

Context is King: Social Outlets Converting for Traditional Media during Obama/Osama Announcement



As the news came down Sunday night about Osama Bin Laden’s death…the online universe erupted. The televisions were not even on in our house around 10:45pm. I had just picked up my iPad to check email and Twitter before bed. In my “News” list, numerous tweets coming across from local and national media outlets about a Presidential news conference at 10:30pm. It was 10:45pm…I was wondering what the hell I was missing on a Sunday night.

As I was walking back to the bedroom, more tweets were coming across speculating what the announcement was going to be via the President. That told me that the news conference was running late…this was going to be huge. Speculation was tweeting across my “News” list with a consistent theme, Osama Bin Laden was dead. WOW. Then, I noticed this tweet.

Yep! Ok…let me rewind just a bit from the weekend. I had just had a similar conversation with Jodi Gersh who is Manager of all Social Media for Gannett. Gannett is a huge media company with numerous television stations, newspapers, and online media sites under their umbrella. The discussion, how media organizations use social outlets to break news events. Do they report speculation via social outlets or do they wait to confirm the story? Or, do they tweet that they are working on a story trying to confirm the validity of the breaking news.

Do you remember back when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot earlier this year in Tucson, AZ? Many major news outlets tweeted and reported that she had been killed in the shooting, later to retract the report that she was still alive. Mallary Jean Tenore wrote in her article for the Poynter Institute that “Conflicting reports of Giffords’ death were understandable, but not excusable”. I agree.

Social outlets are a great way to break news to a mass audience. But, look at that tweet again: “Obama doesn’t even need to address nation anymore. Twitter made it old news What were jwere ust talking abt? Power of SM”. Other than poor spelling when trying to type so fast to get the tweet out…there is a bit to analyze.

There are two claims embedded in this tweet:

Claim Number One:
The claim here is that just because the tweet came across at 10:53pm, we DO NOT need to confirm the claim that Osama Bin Laden had been killed or died. I disagree. What the tweet is referring to is that it had been reported that President Obama would be addressing the nation that Osama Bin Laden was dead….killed during a military operation by the US Military.

Claim Number Two:
This tweet claims that Social Outlets provided sufficient information for a mass audience to accept the “Truth” behind the un-confirmed death of Osama Bin Laden…AND the US Military was the party to cause his life to cease. Once again, a pre-mature assumption!

There is a lot of claim that lies in one tweet. I find tremendous value in examining.

OK…let’s back-up again to my discussion with Jodi Gersh of Gannett. We were also talking about the use of Social Media and the relevant purpose in reporting breaking news. Media companies believe that audiences still want to learn and understand. They have found that Social Outlets provide enough information to create interest in a story/breaking news, driving traffic online or to television to get the whole story. Context is King in this situation. The thought here is that people want to investigate and learn, read more, watch more, and get more information. In the world of Twitter, 140 characters is sometimes (if not all the time) is in-sufficient to give complete context behind the story.

Social Outlets like Twitter are extremely valuable in the minds of big media companies. It is a great way to build online relationships, establish credibility, and provide real time information. But ultimately, it provides a great outlet to share enough information so that it peaks the interest enough to go read more.

Now there is a whole separate conversation whether these Tweets or Status Updates generate enough interest or appeal for someone to pay once they click to read more, this paying for content. The whole pay-wall conversation is a separate discussion. My opinion, that tweet better be a damn good teaser to make someone click the link, pull out their wallet, enter their credit card information, and not loose interest in the story. This is a usability and user-centered design discussion as well.

Back to the subject at hand. When I noticed the tweet come across about the Presidential news conference late on a Sunday night…the first thing I did was scream at Sarah to turn on MSNBC. I think the tweet came from @NYTimes and the online newspaper does not provide real time information like real time television broadcast, IMHO. When I turned it on…the speculation kept me hooked until President Obama made his address.

So, how many Americans or how many people world wide took those tweets at face value and went to bed or on about their business. I think the numbers will help us out here. But, I think differently, those tweets created a pathway to television and online video streaming outlets to wait for the Presidential Address. We wanted to know more. Well, guess what….more than 56 million people watched President Obama and his Sunday night address (via TV by the Numbers). During President Obama’s address on Sunday night, there were more than 5000 tweets/second (via Metro.co.uk). That is a lot of damn tweeting and a lot of people watching this Presidential address.

Techcrunch.com writes that “Twitter Does Not Supplant Other Media, It Amplifies It” and I agree!  It generates interest and we as consumers of information go to the place we consider credible to investigate more. The tweet by @DrJonathan above claims that Twitter made it old news. Well, I am not too sure about that…we are still analyzing the situation and even waiting for “confirmation” via photographs.

We are consumers of information and we will continue to search to learn more. But I guess @DrJonathan’s interpretation of old news is different from mine…well, I guess the word “news” in general.

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