Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ad campaigns for women focus on leadership rather than beauty

I've discovered a tremendous change in what are called beauty products' approach to potential clients: your confidence comes from the way you think and behave, not your hair or skin.

@DianaTheodores has tweeted two great campaigns: one from P&G's #LikeAGirl Social Experiment and one from Pantene on women constantly apologising.

Both campaigns focus on developing leadership skills for women. Has anyone noted how radical a change this is from the success that used to be promised due to feminine wiles?

Here's a story: I worked for one of the most successful women's magazines in NYC for a short stint of 8 months. I didn't know what I was getting into, right out of teaching drama at Brown University where no one really cared what your hair looked like or if you wore make-up.

On arrival at this first job (I was told I was lucky to get with a PhD and no experience), I began planning my exit strategy.

Why? The editorial strategy was (in short) to alternate articles telling readers that they are enough just as they are -- with articles that tell them they are not nearly good enough.

In other words, the editorial strategy - led by advertising - alternated enough support to keep readers reading with enough anxiety to make readers run out and buy something to make them good enough. Women need to dress differently, look younger, lose weight - you know the drill.

It was an editorial formula followed every month, and I didn't want any part of it.

What a difference a decade makes. Women have transformed the way companies advertise because of the way we think about ourselves. Campaigns are designed to target our aspirations. Apparently, increasingly, the market is demonstrating we aspire to leadership based not on our looks but on our confidence in our own ability to lead.
*Please note, UK folk: in the US cultural norms insist you don't apologise in business. One takes no prisoners, as I've been told as a New Yorker in London throughout my seven years here.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Commercialising research as a road to entrepreneurship and innovation

Academics are often dismissed too quickly by industry when not looking for R&D because communication is not necessarily a researcher's strongest suit. However, innovation is not subject-specific. It's a process that can be applied to anything.

Mix innovative academic smarts at every university with just a little help articulating commercial benefits, and the UK could take over the world.

I had the great privilege of working with academics across Imperial College and Business School helping them commercialise their research. This was the idea of David Stokes, Programme Coordinator (Cross Faculty) – Digital City Exchange, and Elizabeth Varley, TechHub CEO and board member at Imperial.

Please note: these researchers are already very successful finding commercial partners - businesses come to them. This was a top up as there's always room for improvement. David found me because I work with TechHub helping entrepreneurs pitch for investment and partners, and Elizabeth kindly recommended me to him.

And thank you Elizabeth, for restoring my faith in innovative thinking. When business meets academics in the right spot, anything is possible - just give the researchers a little help talking to industry.
Companies dealing with smart cities would be tremendously lucky to have any of the folks I worked with at Imperial - with their depth of industry experience, agile thinking, and energy to make things happen. Genuine innovative thinking is so hard to find.

Want to learn about innovation? Go directly to Imperial. I am not usually a betting woman, but I suspect you'll find someone to help.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Nothing since 2002? Why is it so hard for start-ups to scale?

This might be a small point, but it seems worth making based on a pitch workshop I gave at London's Google Campus for TechHub.

If scaling is the single most important capability investors look for, it's not just a technology issue. Even if you have a great idea for a start-up, it's a much better idea to get some business experience to make sure you can run the company before quitting your job and going full time. Another alternative is to get a founder with a lot of business experience to run it for you, of course. Otherwise, how will you grow?

Resist the urge to take money - as a loan or in exchange for equity - before you have a team that can make it all work in the long haul. HBR said it in 2002, and it's still true - a successful business requires a lot more than innovative thinking. See Why Entrepreneurs Don't Scale.

Just as an example of why founders might want to reread this old chestnut, back to my workshop.
We had a class-wide debate on behalf of a founder's concern: would investors respond poorly if he told them that the company was 5 years old?*

Some participants suggested that the founder shouldn't tell investors the company's age - 5 years is when you exit, they said. Why haven't you raised funds before?
I voted with the other half the class who said that it's an advantage to have bootstrapped. It gave the new company time to develop the technology and client base before selling any equity. It shows commitment to your business, they said (and I agree), and you're in a better negotiating position with a higher valuation.
Here's my conern:

A very smart, accomplished, internationally experienced group of people had a heated debate about whether or not to take a cash infusion.

But the management team's ability - or inability - to grow the company didn't even come up.
Did I mention that article from 2002?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A day with Jane Goodall and her remarkable team

I am led the closing workshop for Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots in their week-long residency at St. George's House, Windsor Castle. So I spent yesterday morning observing and listening to see what they might need in terms of skills at presenting their business proposition to corporates, partners, governments and volunteers.

When I've work with global charities, group dynamics can be fraught. Individuals mean well, but when given short periods of time together, their main concern is getting problems solved in their own countries rather than having a concern for the overall organisation -- or for each other.

Quite to the contrary, Roots and Shoots is a case study in how to do things right. Individuals from all over the world, with vastly different projects and challenges, talked for 4 hours about solving problems together. In fact, much of the time was spent finding ways to make sure they do things as a group - not to preserve the brand in a superficial way - but to make sure the work itself continues to run with the highest possible integrity.

Jane gets a lot of credit. At 80, she doesn't seem to have slowed down with her work - both as evangelist and on the ground. Jane is no figurehead - she continues to inspire and support her team in-country in a hands on way. She also vets those who grow her charity and Institute, and that has paid off.
Those in the field have accomplished what seems like superhuman feats in short periods of time. And with very little infrastructure, both as an global organisation and as national offices, they maintain connections with each other all over the world to improve they do their work as individuals and as a group.
One quick example: In South Africa, there is programme that helps children learn about how to treat animals by conquering their fear and making them more aware of animals' needs. The result has been not just healthier pets and livestock but more confidence in children. It's been repeatedly demonstrated by a new willingness by children in this programme to stand up for their beliefs in school.
Over lunch, everyone exchanged connections - to their own funders and other resources - that could help others start, develop, or expand similar projects around the world.
It's hard to convey in a short post the breadth and depth of impact that these individuals have had on their communities and countries - or how fast they've grown the organisation through love of people, animals, and the environment.

Definitely worth checking out, as is the Jane Goodall Institute, and I'm looking forward to help them tell their stories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The financial benefits of diversity: Women improving the bottom line of VC firms

There has a lot that has been written on the financial value of new perspectives when organisations put women in roles of leadership. However, lately, there seems to be increasing evidence that VCs are leaving money on the table by neglecting to include women's perspectives in their investment choices.
Perhaps the most obvious reason is that with no women around, it's hard to understand of what female customers will spend money on. Women investors clean up here, as Inc's article says they "profit from others' clulessness".

Bloomberg said last year that VCs that back women-led companies do much better than those that don't. This is becoming increasingly true as women help each other in the start-up world and beyond. Fortune agrees. Gender bias in male-dominated VC firms tends to examine women founders in ways that miss the where the value is.

If this is true for start-ups, imagine what women in leadership could do for the bottom line of organisations with the infrastructure in place to reach enormous markets. Corporates, take note - and while you're at it, hire some qualified women to help take your business forward.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

STEMS: Good for kids and industry

In my 7 years in London, I've seen two ministers in charge of education who seem almost entirely unqualified. Ed Balls was a finance guy - and Gove doesn't seem to have much more experience than he.
In New York City, when the Board of Education was disbanded, decisions went to businessmen as well. Wouldn't it make sense for someone to have done a job before they manage others doing it?

Despite the top leaders, this UK government does indeed have a few smart programmes, probably created by experienced civil servants. Two are programmes around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM (the same, but the A stands for Arts).

(My friend and client, Tamsin Fox-Davies, now working and writing for Constant Contact, says a kitten dies every time you use an acronym. STEM and STEAM do so much good that they are bound to be exceptions.)

Both STEM and STEAM are equally useful for kids who want to go into industry and industries who will eventually want to hire them. And when industry gets involved, the combination of academic and commercial assets make the programmes more likely to spur on the economy.

Here's an example:
The Medway Science Centre Partnership is a growing community-led group, based in the relatively deprived Medway area of Kent. This group is supported by a number of local institutions, most notably The University of Greenwich and Medway Council. The aim of this group is to develop a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education centre that will ultimately act as a hub for consolidating and promoting STEM activities in the area, with the purpose of supporting education and raising local aspirations.

Medway has a strong heritage in technology and in particular engineering, however, following the closure of the Naval port in the 1980s, the area has declined, leaving a real need to promote the benefits and opportunities in science, technology and the environment to children.

The area covered by the proposed centre covers a substantial population; within the proposed catchment of our centre there are:
· 170,586 Primary pupils in 680 Primary Schools
· 147,689 Secondary pupils in 136 Secondary Schools

Such a centre would therefore have a significant impact on STEM and environmental teaching in Medway, and the wider Kent area, which is relatively lacking in suitable resources. The centre would be of benefit both directly to the students, but also as a source of continuing professional development for teachers, and we have received strong support from a significant number of teachers in the area. We also hope to provide a conduit by which local science and education students – from the nearby universities: University of Greenwich, Kent University and Canterbury Christchurch University – can obtain a first experience of public engagement on these important subjects.

Medway Science Centre Partnership has been working with the EU-funded Recreate project to host a month-long, free, science and arts festival in the POP gallery within the centre of Chatham. This “Medway Science Centre Partnership presents” festival, will host a number of science-of-art themed exhibitions throughout the month of September 2014. This festival will be run along the theme of “The Beauty of Science” and will feature local and national artists and science communicators, with individual exhibits rotating on a weekly basis.

A particular focus of this period will be the “Hands On Science” weekend, where for two days the gallery will be converted to a hands-on science centre, free and open to the public; and featuring a variety of activities similar to those that will ultimately feature in the permanent centre, once established. Activities for this weekend will include: science-education shows by the London Science Museum’s internationally renowned engagements team, hands on science activities and meet-the-scientist sessions run by researchers from the local universities, scientific face-painting and exhibitions of science-art.
Anyone interested?
They would welcome anyone who is interested in getting involved and supporting the project, from business who would like to sponsor aspects, to volunteers in any capacity: @MedwaySciCentre

Thursday, August 28, 2014

One of the best storytellers I've met: Now easy and cheap to study with Doug Rushkoff

I am a huge fan of Douglas Rushkoff -there's little that he says that doesn't deserve mulling over at least. On top of that, he's one of the loveliest, least pretentious, and committed people I've ever met.

And what a storyteller: economics is usually dry.  Not this material, ever.

Doug is now giving classes that anyone can take. As of this Fall, he'll be a Full Professor of Media Studies at CUNY/Queens, the public university of New York City. He's teaching undergraduates as well as helping start a new Graduate Program in Media Studies, specifically targeted at activists and others who want to create change through media. You can study with him easily and cheaply - how fantastic is that?


This is what Doug says about the programme
Disclaimer: I get nothing from this except the pleasure of evangelising about someone worth listening to:

The idea is that media studies for the 20th Century was largely about reception: how we can “read” media such as TV and radio in order to better assess its intent and influence. Now that we’re in an interactive era, I think media studies has a lot more to do with how we create media, from email and tweets to journalism and movies. As I explained in the press release about the new program, “the essential skill in a digital age is to understand the biases of the landscape – to be able to think critically and act purposefully with these tools – lest the tools and companies behind them use us instead.”

It’s a truly fabulous department with an activist and intellectual bias, from Richard Maxwell (the leading scholar in the environmental impact of digital media devices and production) to Mara Einstein (Compassion Inc and Brands of Faith) to Amy Herzog (working on peep show arcades of 1970’s Times Square) to filmmaker Zoe Beloff to feminist and queer studies genius Joy Fuqua. And those are just the ones I’ve gotten to meet so far.

[Cheap and easy - what a world!]

You can take undergraduate or graduate courses at CUNY/Queens as a non-matriculated student, which means a la carte. That’s one of the main reasons I picked this school. I get a few emails a week from people asking how they can study with me, work on projects, or do some reading with me. Most schools require students to be full-time, and charge tens of thousand a year for the privilege. I wanted to be able to look into the faces of students across the seminar table without worrying that I was putting them in life-long debt.

So now is our chance. The undergraduate course is almost full, but the graduate course is not. Here they are, as well as how to register. You can also find application materials to join the program and get a Masters degree - in class schedules designed to let you have a job while you study.

Undergraduate Course: Media Studies 350: Propaganda

In this 15-week course, students will be exposed to the practice of propaganda as well as the assumptions underlying its use. What does the intentional application of propaganda techniques say about the governments and institutions using it, and what does its effectiveness say about the populations on which it is being practiced? Instead of taking a strictly historical approach, we will explore propaganda by venue and medium, including spectacle, atmospherics, television, and social media. For instance, in studying the use of spectacle we will compare the Roman games to the Nuremberg Rallies to an NFL football game. Our study of atmospherics will include Victorian The Crystal Palace, the 1964 Worlds Fair (which took place next door to this college), and Disneyworld. We will give particular focus to the migration of propaganda techniques between governments and corporations, as well as the way propaganda changes the greater media landscape of a society.

Graduate Course: Interactive Media Theory
The emergence of interactive technologies has profoundly altered our relationship to media and art from the position of passive spectators to that of active players - at least potentially. For longer than we might imagine, cultural theorists have foreseen these shifts, feared them, fought for them, celebrated them, and, clearly, misunderstood them. In this seminar, we will explore the thread of interactivity in cultural media as well as the opportunities and perils posed by the associated rise of mass interpretation, authorship, and bottom-up organization. It is our purpose not only to understand theories on interactive media as they emerged, but also to be capable of developing and arguing our own theoretical approaches.

How do you enroll? If you are already in a CUNY school, just sign up through the course catalogue. I will be accepting qualified undergraduates into the graduate seminar for the first semester or two. If you want to take either of my courses as a non-matriculated student, apply for non-matirculated status here (they make it look hard but it’s very easy), and then, simply email me and I’ll put you in the course.